1893 C.G. Conn Silver and Gold Engraved Chicago World’s Fair Snare Drum
It is always exciting when a new drum appears after being hidden away for many years, especially when a drum has all the elements that inspire the collector. I think this drum has it all: rarity, collectability, interest, provenance, and value.
Rarity and provenance: This is quite likely a one-of-a-kind drum. Produced by the C.G. Conn Company as a special order/special occasion drum and/or a presentation drum purchased by, given to, or presented to H.M. Loomis at the time of the World’s Fair in 1893. How this drum was acquired by H. M. Loomis is unknown but the rest of the provenance is engraved on the shell of the drum: “H.M. LOOMIS WORLDS FAIR 1893.”
The little we do know of “Harry” Loomis was shared by the seller of the drum who purchased the drum from the granddaughter of Mr. Loomis and is as follows.
“According to the family of Mr. Loomis, he played with the Sousa Band for a time, and one of the shows that he played with the band was at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. I have a photograph of Mr. Loomis posing with the Modoc Tribe Redmen band in Elkhart, as well as some correspondence postmarked from Elkhart. Seeing how C.G. Conn Ltd. was based in Elkhart, and the 1893 world fair was only 100 miles away in Chicago, this is a plausible story.
“The more likely story is that Mr. Loomis played at the world fair with a local band; The Sousa Band played at the fair as well, so they "played at the 1893 world fair together.”
Interest and collectability: This drum has all the interest factors that excite a collector in that it is silver plated, gold inlaid or overlaid, engraved and burnished. The circumference of the drum is elaborately engraved, as is the full circumference of each rim. As one would expect, the name C.G. Conn is engraved in the shell with fancy artistic lettering. The rest of the engraving aside from the “H.M. Loomis World Fair 1893” is a typical C.G. Conn style engraving similar to that found on many of the wind and brass instruments produced by the company at that time.
This drum also shares a crossover historical interest for those who collect Chicago World’s Fair memorabilia, as from the engraving it clearly has that connection.
Value: It is hard to put a value on a drum like this; however, given its rarity, elaborate engraving, gold and silver features and provenance, clearly it stands among the prized and valuable drums known to exist.
Drum Details and Curiosities
The drum measures 4 ½ ”x15 ½”, has 20 thumb screw single tension rods, snares under both the top and bottom heads, leg rest and belt hanger, all gold plated.
C.G. Conn measured its drums inclusive of the rims, and this one would have been listed in the catalogs of the era as a drum16” in diameter, meaning the shell is 15 ½” in diameter with the rims equaling the other ½”. The same for the height of the drum: This drum would have been designated as a 16”x 6” drum with the shell only being 4 ½” high and the rims making up the other 1 ½”.
In 1887 C.G. Conn introduced the New “Wonder Drum Tightener.” This is the familiar triangular shaped tension device that consists of two hooks that grab the rim and come to one center post in the middle of the drum (see picture below). However, this drum has 20 single tension “thumb screw” style tensioners.
Like the “New Wonder Model” snare drum by C.G. Conn introduced in 1904, this drum has snares under the top head and bottom head, a feature found on many Conn drums as late as the 1920s. However, the bottom strainer has the patent date of 1904 which postdates this drum but coincides with the introduction of this “New Wonder Snare Device,” pictured below. My speculation is that Mr. Loomis had this strainer added later. Since he lived in Elkhart and the Conn company was located in Elkhart, I am going to assume he had the factory install this strainer at a later date because everything matches and there is evidence of the bottom rim having slight alterations, though no evidence of there having been a different strainer attached to the drum (no extra holes in the shell).
The history of the C.G. Conn company is an amazing story. The company was known mainly for the brass and woodwind instruments it produced. However, as all “vintage drum” collectors know, the company also made drums, and some of the more interesting designs and elaborately engraved ones too.
In researching this drum I was referred to an online site of Saxophone.org and the Sax Museum which has copies of many publications of C.G. Conn showing instruments the company produced, including its drums. This was where the information was gathered regarding the “Wonder Snare Device” and the “New Wonder Drums” shown above.
To verify that this drum is indeed silver and gold I visited both a silver smith and a jeweler that provided me with test results and expertise on the metals and on tarnish removal. My work on the restoration mainly involved removing nearly all of the tarnish, taking great care to remove only the tarnish and not the brilliance of the finish. It was was a slow but rewarding process. I also tucked one new head for the snare side of the drum. The drum was otherwise in great condition showing minimal wear from use of a drum 114 years old.
Before and after restoration
This is a centerpiece drum worthy of a prominent place in any collection. I welcome any feedback, information or other conclusions regarding this drum.
-- Bill Wanser