S. S. Stewart Banjo, ca. 1897

Value (2009) | $6,000 Retail$6,500 Insurance

GUEST:
My paternal grandfather evidently worked for a banjo company, and he left it to me in his will. Since my grandfather passed away in the mid-'60s, it's just been sitting in our family room leaning against the wall, gathering dust.

APPRAISER:
You don't play it?

GUEST:
I don't play it, no. When my grandfather passed away, we cleaned out his attic, and I found the letter. And I thought it would be a nice thing to keep along with the banjo. To my knowledge, he went to work for the banjo factory at the age of 14.

APPRAISER:
Okay, well, he worked for the SS Stewart Company in Philadelphia, and Stewart was the foremost producer of banjos, not just in Philadelphia but in the United States at that time.

GUEST:
Oh, okay.

APPRAISER:
He started making banjos in the late 1870s, and he went on until he died in 1898. The name continued a little after that because his sons continued the company, they had a few contracts to fulfill. Stewart was responsible not just for producing wonderful banjos but also for elevating the banjo to a... what he considered its proper place in society alongside the violin and the cello. And you started seeing all kinds of gorgeously inlaid instruments and quite expensive, at the time, too. In this case, this might have been $100 or $150, when the... an average student banjo at the time might have been $15 or $20.

GUEST:
Right, right.

APPRAISER:
It has the typical cherry neck with ebony fingerboard you found on all Stewart banjos-- very high-end materials. The cherry neck is beautifully carved. Also, it has this wonderful trademark branded into the dowel stick, and the serial number right here. The serial number tells us this was made about 1896-97. And that's his standard peghead design, but this peghead is a different design altogether. This is his presentation-grade peghead design...

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
Which you only see on the highest-end banjos. But normally, the presentation- grade has an equally fancy heel. This is the... the average heel. The presentation-grade heel carving goes up to here, so it's a bit of a mish-mosh in a funny way. But I understand that this might have been made by your grandfather. I think he did make it for himself. And it's possible that Stewart had employees make some banjos for themselves, and that may be why it's a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
Or it might have been custom for a client, that's possible. It has a rim made out of what they call German silver, which is essentially nickel silver. You see the brass wearing through the nickel plating on the tension hoop and on the brackets. Somebody, at some point, decided to replace probably a torn skin head...

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
...with a plastic head, which is now torn. And also would have had gut strings, not steel strings. It has the original flower on the tailpiece, which usually falls out. It's very complete. It could use a couple of things done to it, but it's a beautifully preserved Stewart banjo. I think, for insurance and a retail value, as well, about $6,000, $6,500.

GUEST:
Really? Wow. I'm amazed. My grandfather would be very proud.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Vintage Instruments, Inc.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Appraised value (2009)
$6,000 Retail$6,500 Insurance
Event
Atlantic City, NJ (June 06, 2009)
Period
19th Century
Form
Banjo

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