|This is the Stradivarius of Field Drums.|
This massive dark brown shell bears a variation of the familiar and famous Brown Family tack pattern as used by master drum builder William Brown. William was born in 1802 and died in 1825. With the date of this drum being 1824, one year before his death at age 23, it's a safe bet that the number of surviving drums by this Brown would be fairly low, making them not only quite rare, but, somewhat valuable and very desirable. Taking into consideration the quality of this instrument, and given his tender age of only 22, I would think his drums could have been some of the very best made had he lived longer.
The Browns were a family of drum builders from Connecticut dating from before the Revolution to at least 1848. They were fathers, uncles, sons and brothers; farmers, coopers, tanners and soldiers. While all had trades other than drum making, only William built drums as his primary means of making a living. While it seems that many members of the Brown family built drums over the decades, the most familiar names are that of Benjamin, Eli, Moses (B. E. & M. Brown) & William. However, there was more than one drum maker by the name of Benjamin and Eli Brown associated with the Brown family's drum making. The Browns not only made a lot of drums, but they also made a lot of children. The family dates back to Peter Brown of the May Flower in America (who had 15 children), and Wm. the Conqueror in Europe. One of the most famous of these Browns in American history was John Brown, the abolitionist. With all that we know about the Browns, so much is obscured by scattered records and multiple family members of the same name involved in the drum making practice. All known Brown drums have a very distinct maker's label inside the drum identifying the maker or makers, with a date and serial number. The oldest known drum is by B. E. & M. Brown, dated 1809 and numbered "26," while the most recent, from 1848, was made by Eli Brown & Son(s). Despite their efforts to document the drums they made, we have no real idea of when the first Brown drum was made, or when they started using a maker's label, but much documented speculation points to at least as far back as the Revolution and Benjamin Brown (1748-1834), a known drum maker who served in many campaigns along with many of his family members. Several drums have documented use with various Civil War regiments. The oldest known, 1809, is identified to the 1st and 13th Vermont regiments. The latter having a pivotal role at Gettysburg on Cemetery Ridge, successfully defending the artillery battery of the 1st Minnesota on the 2nd day from a Confederate onslaught.
There are only about 100 real brown drums known to exist and are guarded closely by museums, fife & drum corps, historical societies, and private collectors. Many fakes have been made that date back to the mid-1800's, following the last known Brown drum by certain members of a New England fife & drum corps. Drums made so close to the originals that they are hard to spot by the untrained eye. Original Brown drums are very well built and made for the battlefield, which is evident in the massive, robust size and construction, as well as the large red counter hoops that suggest military use. It has been said that "a Brown drum stands out like a real instrument no matter how many drums are playing." Many of those very drums are still in use today.
This drum has new cotton rope, a batter skin with flesh hoop, and 10 leather ears. A hoop mounted, brass snare adjuster looks original and is functional with a "key-like" adjusting screw. The bottom skin and gut snares have some serious age, but this old phantom is still a player. In 1935, Bloomfield, CT historian Frederick C. Bidwell wrote: "in the late 1700's the Brown family began the manufacture of snare and bass drums, the former mostly of larger size 16" to 18" in depth. The wood was either maple or white wood and it said that regardless of the size, the price was always $12.00." Today these drums can start at $3000.00 and keep on going. The 1935 Hartford Times report on a ceremony in Old Saybrook, CT, at which Brown drums were played and displayed, stated.…."The drums still beat….and a Brown drum is to a drummer what a Stradivarius is to a violinist." After playing my Wm. Brown drum, I must agree…..these old Drums of WAR! have a dominant spirit all their own that lasts throughout the ages.
From Lancaster County PA,
Thoughts from the shop....