Benary Piccolo Banjo , c. 1895

Benary  Piccolo Banjo ,  c. 1895
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Item # 9958
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Benary Piccolo Banjo, c. 1895, made in New York City, natural finish, spunover rim, mahogany neck with ebonized fingerboard, black gig bag case.

This is a well-worn but 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 14" 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 stamped "Benary New York" on the dowel stick. It bears no other markings designating model or grade and has no serial number. Benary was a fairly well known music house at the time, but it is possible this banjo was outsourced to another builder, as was common then. The level of decoration is fairly plain, with just a dot inlaid fingerboard. The neck is mahogany with Benary's distinctive pinned-on metal heelcap and the spunover rim is fairly basic but typical of the era. The tailpiece is stamped A.G.Wood, with an 1887 patent number. While almost toy-like in appearance this banjo actually plays well and has a lovely and surprisingly powerful sound.
Overall length is 22 1/8 in. (56.2 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 14 1/4 in. (362 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/4 in. (32 mm.).

This is a neat little instrument, fairly well worn but still a good player 125 or so years on. The finish and plating show a lot of wear, with dings, dents and chips to the wood and a very ancient patina on the metal. Everything on the banjo is complete and functional, including a full set of original ivoroid tuning pegs. The tailpiece looks to be missing a small decorative element, but this does not affect its function. There is some thin fingerboard material chipped off at the rim joint, but this does not affect stability at all. This instrument plays very well with NylGut strings and sounds lovely, although small hands are definitely an asset playing this one! Very Good + Condition.