Fairbanks & Cole CLIPPER Banjos


Quoting from the preface to an 1886 F&C Price-List:

"The success of the "Clipper" Banjo during the past two years
has encouraged us to make still another effort, and we feel sure
that the "Expert" Banjos will prove a blessing in disguise to many
who do not feel like paying $50.00 for a banjo."

That said, it is surprising that the Clipper is one of the more elusive
F&C models. Only six have come to light thus far, and all six
are quite different.

Jim Bollman, in his extraordinary generosity, has allowed me to
include the 1886 Clipper catalog page on this site. Ranging in price
from $50 to $100, the Clipper was the top of the F&C banjo line.

Apparently the high price was a serious issue since several years later,
in an F&C price list from 1889, the Clipper is given only cursory
mention and there is no illustrated page devoted to it at all.

Of the six presently known:

S/N 1402  (ca. 1881) was destroyed in a fire. The remaining pot and
the stub of the neck were recovered from the slag heap.

S/N 1700 (ca. 1881) appeared on ebay in January of 2008. Here it is
as part of Bill Destler's fine banjo collection.

S/N 1916  (ca. 1881) is a highly decorated model with beautiful and
unusual inlays on the fingerboard and peghead, and a ring of
mother of pearl  leaves around the outside center of the pot.
The fingerboard has large ivory frets.

S/N 3279  (ca. 1883) is a rare true fretless with an ebony fingerboard
decorated with a variety of separate brilliant MOP designs. There
are small MOP dots along the side of the fingerboard as position
markers, with the 12 "fret" indicated by a small triangle.

S/N 5735  (ca. 1885) has metal frets and fairly simple inlays
reminiscent of the unusual style of S/N 1916. All Clippers have a
distinct metal covering on the lower portion of the pot that
extends from the center of the outside of the thick wooden rim,
down and across the bottom and then back up about 1/4" on
the lower inside. S/N 5735 is particularly rare in that the fancy cast
brackets are attached directly to that metal ring. The other
Clippers have the usual screw and washers securing the
brackets through holes in the pot.

This is possibly the first example of Fairbanks' concept of a bracket
band. The 1886 catalog states that the $75 and $100 Clipper models have:

"Clipper rim with 32 brackets riveted on German silver base
(by this process there are no holes in the rim proper)"

Other features common to Clippers are an ebony backstrap, cobra
hooks with fancy square ball end nuts, and high grade ivory fittings.

S/N 6656 (ca. 1886) appeared in 2011. It is in rather poor condition, missing most of
its inlays and with a broken heel. This is the second example of the bracket band.

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