Fairbanks & Cole CLIPPER Banjos

dowel stick stamps


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 seven have come to light thus far, and all seven
are quite different.

Jim Bollman, in his characteristic 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.


All Clippers have a  distinctive metal covering on the lower portion of
the thick laminated wooden pot that
  extends from the center of the
outside of the rim,
  down and across the bottom and then back up
about 1/4" on
the lower inside. They are fitted with a metal tone ring
which varies from instrument to instrument.

Other features common to Clippers are an ebony backstrap, 32 cobra
hooks with fancy square ball end nuts, and high grade ivory fittings.


Of the seven presently known:

S/N 1234 (ca. 1881) appeared on ebay in September of 2019. It is a
fairly plain example with not many MOP inlays, a few of
which are missing. It has flush ivory frets and was sold
with a single carved ivory peg. Here it's shown with some
plain ivory replacement pegs. It has a tone ring consisting
of a perforated hollow round tube. A more unusual feature
is the simple "outline" carving on the heel which is seen on
a small number of early F&C banjos, the first being s/n 1000.

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 ("side frets") 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  remini-
scent of the unusual style of S/N 1916. 
It is particularly unusual in
that the fancy cast
  brackets are attached directly to the lower metal
ring. The other
  Clippers have the usual screw and washers securing
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)"

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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