Washburn Elite Piccolo Banjo, c. 1900

Washburn  Elite Piccolo Banjo,  c. 1900
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Item # 9573
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Washburn Elite Model Piccolo Banjo, c. 1900, Chicago.

This is a very rare and interesting (not to mention awful cute!) tiny 5-string banjo, a product of the late 19th century fascination with banjos of all sizes. The "Piccolo Banjo" with a 7" rim and 13" scale was the smallest size generally attempted, though a few even tinier novelty instruments are known to exist. Much of the impetus for building banjos in many assorted sizes came from S.S. Stewart in Philadelphia, but other makers latched onto the idea as well. They were originally intended to be played in large banjo ensembles, with the piccolo taking the high melody or counter melody in the orchestral arrangements.

This banjo is a product of Lyon & Healy in Chicago, stamped "Washburn Elite" on the dowel stick. It bears no other markings designating model or grade and has no serial number. This level of decoration was not a standard model in the piccolo size and would have been a special order instrument, hence the lack of any style number. The neck is a truly beautiful affair, with an ebony fingerboard elaborately inlaid with shaped pearl bird designs. The headstock is decorated in a sort of botanical motif to a similar degree. The neck is made of walnut and is fairly substantial for the size of the instrument. The spunover rim is fairly basic, but typical of the era. While almost toy-like in appearance it actually plays well and has a lovely and surprisingly powerful sound.
Overall length is 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm.), 7 in. (17.8 cm.) diameter head, and 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 13 in. (330 mm.). Width of nut is 1 in. (25 mm.).

This banjo does not appear to have been played much but shows evidence of work done over its 120 or so years of existence. The neck and dowel are in beautiful original condition with only some minor checking and wear, and the metal-shaft tuning pegs appear original to the instrument. The bone nut has been neatly replaced. The inlay and frets are quite clean, and the ebony fingerboard crack free.

The rim is another story; the outside spunover area appears to have been heavily cleaned and polished, and the surface is mostly down to bare metal. The hoop is down to the bare brass as well, while the wooden inside of the rim appears to have the original finish intact. The hooks, nuts and shoes are a matched set and appear original or at least period with a nice patina; the rim on close examination does show evidence of another set of differently shaped shoes mounted at one time. The tailpiece is a later hand carved ebony part.

We cannot absolutely say this neck and rim have always been mated, but they sit well together and all are authentic period components. As a playing instrument this piccolo sounds great, although small fingers are definitely an asset here! The neck with its fantastic bird inlay is a rare and very beautiful find, and as a whole this is a simply charming and delicate piece of 19th century banjo history. Very Good + Condition.