Instrument, Stringed
Instrument, Stringed

Instrument, Stringed


Accession Number
Alternate Name
Five string banjo with an eleven inch metal body, wooden neck, and calfskin head. The body has 21 elbow brackets (or hooks) which pull down the tone ring, controlling the tension on the head. The metal tailpiece has decorative hooks for attaching the looped string ends. The birch neck has an ebony heal cap and finger board with mother of pearl inlaid position marker dots on the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th frets, and a mother of pearl inlay decorative diamond motif on the headstock. Celluloid tuning pegs with black incised designs on them. The dowelstick is stamped "George Washburn", with a belted circle logo containing a guitar, and "1773" to its right.
The “Washburn” model was the high-end line of stringed instruments made by Lyon & Healy of Chicago, Illinois. Within the Washburn line were various grades, with the best quality known as “fancy” or “presentation”, and sometimes, as a “ladies” model, which usually meant profuse fingerboard inlays of mother-of-pearl in a foliate motif, a more elaborately inlaid heal cap, a chamfered dowel stick with ebonized detailing, and carvings of vines on both sides of the neck near the heel.

This model is a hi-end instrument, but not a “fancy” or “presentation” model. The dating of Lyon & Healy banjos requires consideration of several factors, including analysis of construction components and interpretation of impressed serial and/or model numbers, and any impressed logo.

Two of the world’s experts on Lyon & Healey’s stringed instruments are Neil Russell of Victoria, BC and Hubert Pleijsier of the Netherlands. In his book, Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles : Guitars, Mandolins, Banjos and Ukeleles 1883-1940 (Anaheim Hills, CA: Centerstream Publishing LLC, 2008), Pleisjsier acknowledges Russell’s expertise. Neil Russell estimates the date of this instrument as 1895. He arrives at this date based on the form and substance of the components used to make it. He believes that the number 1773 impressed on our instrument refers to the model number. Hubert Pleijsier believes that the 1773 number impressed on this instrument is its serial number. He states that from 1892 to 1923, consecutive serial numbers were impressed on Washburn banjo dowel sticks, and that these range from 1 to the upper 9,900’s. 1. He further states that by 1913, banjo serial numbers had reached 3,000 at which point the word “improved” was added and the guitar image in the logo was replaced with a banjo. 2. Pleijsier asserts that from 1913 onwards, all Washburn banjos had three-piece necks with a center stiffening strip. An instrument seemingly identical to this proposed accession is depicted in Pleijsier’s book (page 188) and is described as style 1120, and dated at 1896.

The same instrument, also called style 1120, is depicted in Lyon and Healy’s 1898-99 trade catalogue (page 59) owned by Neil Russell. The information written above and the materials gathered to aid in the consideration of this acquisition, lead to the conclusion that this instrument was made during the time that Craigdarroch Castle was occupied by the Dunsmuir family.  Coincidentally, Dusnmuir family members played a banjo in the Castle’s drawing room at least once, and probably many more times than that. In 1948, the only known interior photograph of Craigdarroch taken during the Dunsmuir period was published in The Daily Colonist newspaper. Effie Dunsmuir is plainly seen kneeling on the floor, perhaps on a cushion, playing a 5-string banjo while her sister Jessie plays a guitar or mandolin. It is impossible to discern the brand, size, or fingerboard details of the banjo that she is playing. This instrument is similar to one used by the Dunsmuir family in Craigdarroch and will aid in the authentic recreation of period room settings in the museum.

1. Hubert Pleijsier, Washburn Prewar Instrument Styles : Guitars, Mandolins, Banjos and Ukeleles 1883-1940, 168
2. Ibid., 168
3. Ibid., 179
History of Use
This banjo was purchased by the donor from a seller in the United States. The history of its use is unknown.
1895 – 1900
6.5 x 31 x 89 cm
Leather, hide; Metal, alloy; Wood, birch; Wood, ebony; Shell, mother of pearl
Brand Name
Serial Number
Country of Origin
United States of America