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W. A. Cole Eclipse Custom 5 String Banjo (1893)
W. A. Cole Eclipse Custom Model 5 String Banjo (1893), made in Boston, serial # 904, black varnish finish, half-spun laminated maple rim, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard, black hard shell case.
This is a nice example of a rare early Cole's Eclipse banjo with some typical player's alterations but still a fine and lovely instrument. It features some beautiful decorative inlay, including a cut pearl image of a flying bird in the headstock. This instrument dates to the first few years of Cole's independent banjo manufacturing after splitting with partner Fairbanks in 1890. The salient Eclipse features are already present including the "boat nose" heel, the Cole neck angle adjustor, the half-spun rim with the Eclipse tone ring, and the elegant teardrop bracket shoes.
This would have been one of Cole's higher grade models at the time. The abstract-shaped pearl inlay on the fingerboard is fairly lavish, although with less engraved detail than later fancy Eclipse models. The laminated black finished maple rim is fitted with Cole's distinctive oval shoes and Eclipse tone ring. The dowel is marked "Cole's Eclipse"; "W.A.Cole Maker Boston Mass" but there is no patent stamp as this instrument pre-dates the 1894 patent. This instrument has several higher-grade features including a finely-executed carved heel and the "cobra' hooks with square nuts, indicating it was a non-standard model possible custom ordered.
The original tuners have been replaced with geared Planet pegs including the fifth string peg, and there is a nail-head spike added at the seventh fret all indicating this banjo has probably been used for steel-string playing for a long time. It makes for a great-sounding frailer, although originally built for gut strings as were all banjos of this period.
Despite the alteration this is beautiful banjo from the era of the full flowering of the "classical" 5-string, from one of the most revered of the Boston makers. A similar model is beautifully pictured in an original period photograph of a young girl banjoist on page 226 of the book "AMERICA'S INSTRUMENT - The Banjo In The Nineteenth Century" by Phillip Gura and Jim Bollman.
Overall length is 34 3/4 in. (88.3 cm.), 11 5/16 in. (28.7 cm.) diameter head, and 2 3/16 in. (5.6 cm.) deep. Scale length is 26 in. (660 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/4 in. (32 mm.). This banjo has a decent amount of wear overall, but is still a nice and possibly unique example of Cole's work. As noted all the tuners have been replaced, and the tailpiece is a later No-knot repro. The elegant cobra hooks are all original and intact including the unusual square nuts, but these show scarring from years of having been adjusted with improper wrenches. The frets and fingerboard are in very good shape, one small corner of the fifth fret inlay has been patched in but all else is intact.
The screw tail adjustor on the dowel stick is present, but shows some amateur repair and setup work-this does not affect playability. The neck has a typical light bow but the banjo plays well in frailing and old-time mode with a very good skin head and fine repro Cole multi-footed bridge. It sounds great with a sparkling ring to the tone. While not a collector-grade piece this is an excellent player's example of a particularly rare and beautiful late 19th century banjo. Very Good + Condition.
Item # 8498
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