Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer 5

Over the years, I seem to have bought and collected almost every drum catalog I could find. Not only are they great resources for parts and information, but they are also pieces of American history (I have Premier and other British catalogs, too!). Today, we journey back to Beantown, to Boston, once a mainstay of percussion building. For about 15 years, one of the recognizable companies was Nokes & Nicolai and also seen as Nokes and Nicolai. They were in a direct line of three companies that were connected with the same strainer design that resurfaced decades later. First, there was the Harry Bower Company and that begat the F.E.Dodge Company and that begat today’s organization, whose nickname was “No-Nic”. When this catalog was published, the three firms, in this direct line, had been in the drum business for 48 years.

Today’s catalog is 100 years old. It dates to 1913, one year after Messrs. Nokes and Nicolai bought the business from Dodge. The company made solid shell snare drums, brass and aluminum shelled snare drums, solid shell bass drums, bells, tympani (1913 spelling), xylophones, traps, Rogers drum heads, and they imported Zildjian cymbals and “genuine Chinese tom toms” Even back in 1912, N&N was able to use a self aligning sleeve for tuning drums—both for a thumb rod and wrench tightened rod. You can see that a number of products carried the Dodge name. And this catalog came out two years before the better known Dodge Brothers, unrelated to F. E. Dodge, built their first car.

I apologize for the marks on each page, they are from clear adhesive tape used by the former owner to keep the now delicate pages from deteriorating more. I think this company is an important ancestor in our American drum history and needs to be included.

I have seen, from time to time, Nokes & Nicolai products on eBay, and we know that, as they ended their business run, the company was sold to Liberty Rawhide of Chicago. Liberty made drum heads and snare drums, at least, for awhile, before being sold to Slingerland. That Slingerland was everywhere! H.H Slingerland Sr. ended up with old Bower/Dodge/N& N/Liberty equipment in 1928, just as they launched their drum division and before they bought Ludwig drum making equipment before their move to Elkhart two years later. A more detailed history of N&N can be found on the excellent website Lee Vinson has done a terrific job in detailing a number of companies and their products. I hope the Northeast is filled with these great drums. The rest of us have to find the estates of old vaudeville players who retired elsewhere or wait for their families to let great-grandpa’s drums be sold on eBay.

I think, for me, the interesting thing is the strainer that dates back to Harry Bower and is pictured with the Dodge name. I saw that strainer design resurrected in the 1980s when custom drum builder Joe Montineri brought it out on his snare drums. I did not appreciate, at that time, how long that basic design, had been around.

So, now, we all know a little more about Nokes & Nicolai, part of our passing parade.