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Boucher Five-String Fretless Banjo

Boucher Five-String Fretless Banjo

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Description (Brief)
This banjo was made by William Boucher, Jr. in Baltimore, Maryland in 1845. Boucher was a drum maker and musical instrument dealer. He became the first commercial maker of banjos, perhaps through his association with the celebrated minstrel banjoist Joel Walker Sweeney.

Boucher's instruments were important in standardizing the form of the banjo in its transition from a home-made rural instrument to urban, commercial manufacture. The basic shape and string arrangement has changed little up to the present day. Boucher’s design copied important features of earlier home-made African American instruments: the skin head, short thumb string and fretless neck. He added a scrolled peghead similar to those used by guitar makers W. Stauffer and C.F. Martin, and replaced the traditional gourd body with a thin, bentwood rim construction with screw-tightening brackets similar to that used for drum heads. Boucher’s innovations were well-adapted to commercial mass-production and urban musical tastes, and played a large part in the subsequent worldwide enthusiasm for the banjo.

These commercial “improvements’ were never adopted by many traditional rural musicians, who continued to make good sounding instruments that were entirely adequate for their musical needs from locally available materials, at little or no expense.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
banjo
date made
1845
maker
Boucher, Jr., William
place made
United States: Maryland, Baltimore
Physical Description
leather; paint; wood; gut; varnish; ferrous (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 37 1/2 in x 13 in x 3 1/2 in; 95.25 cm x 33.02 cm x 8.89 cm
ID Number
MI.094764
catalog number
094764
accession number
22989
Credit Line
Gift of William Boucher, Jr.
subject
African American
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Banjos
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Comments

My mother has a Boucher banjo that was her great great grandfather's (Robert Smith). My grandmother had someone restore it and they estimated it was about 200 years old.

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