African-American Banjo

Description (Brief)
This banjo was made by an unknown maker in the United States around 1835-1865. It has undergone considerable scrutiny and analysis at the Smithsonian because of its attribution to American slave origins. So far, studies have been inconclusive. While the sun design carved on the body may have African origins, the polygonal shape, wood top (instead of a skin), and carved head pegbox lie outside the traditions of banjos brought to America by Africans. Nevertheless, the instrument was likely made by someone familiar with Black culture.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
wood (part material)
metal (part material)
overall: 31 in x 10 in x 3 1/2 in; 78.74 cm x 25.4 cm x 8.89 cm
overall: 31 in x 9 1/2 in x 3 in; 78.74 cm x 24.13 cm x 7.62 cm
place made
United States
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
African American
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Robert S. Jamieson
Additional Media

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