1950s Leedy & Ludwig Broadway Set

I went in to the lovely home of the owner of this set. He is in his 80s, and after a few minutes of greeting I was taken to the set. It wasn't set up, but I was encouraged to set them up and play on them or whatever I wanted to do. I just enjoyed looking at everything. There was also a wonderful cymbal set included, some of them were "K" Zildjians. There were stands, other hardware, and a box full of great old percussion "stuff." After I had looked it all over, I sat down with the man and enjoyed a long talk with him. He has a life filled with great experiences and I'm glad I got to hear some of them. If I had left without the drums and only got to talk to this guy, I would still be richer from the experience.

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The Tuxedo & Black Beauty

“No Drum Left Behind" - the restoration of an engraved 1920sC.G. Conn Tuxedo and early 1930s Ludwig & Ludwig Black Beauty

 

There comes a time when every vintage drum collector finds a “diamond in the rough” and has to decide either to: 1) keep it original (but flawed), 2) do some restoration work, or 3) walk away from the deal. From a purist’s perspective, any change to a vintage drum will greatly diminish, if not destroy, its value. However, I would argue that there are times when salvaging a drum through expert restoration is truly warranted. Here are two such examples…

Some time ago, I stumbled across two such “rough diamonds” on Ebay. One auction had no other descriptor than “1920s-30s C.G. Conn 5X14 Brass Snare Drum.” I looked closely at the pics by eye and thought I saw some engraving on the shell. To examine it further, I downloaded the auction pics and zoomed in using Photoshop. Lo and behold, it looked like a 1920s C.G. Conn engraved Tuxedo with the characteristic four diamond cross pattern! The inside of the shell still retained the black nickel so I was pretty certain the outer black nickel plating had been removed. I won the auction for a very reasonable amount, so the thought of black nickel re-plating seemed like a worthwhile investment. When the drum arrived, my presumptions were confirmed. It was indeed an 8-tube lug, 1920’s Conn Tuxedo with “Made by C.G. Conn LTD, Elkhart, IN U.S.A.” stamped on the upper hoop, 4-screw “Presto-like” strainer, Knobby Gold hardware and shell engraving in beautiful condition. Next, I set about to do some research on what it would take to properly restore this drum. I needed to think long and hard about this, as it required additional investment and had to be done correctly if done at all. Meanwhile, another orphan drum serendipitously crossed my sights on Ebay.

This time, the drum was clearly identified as a “1920s-1930s engraved Ludwig Black Beauty.” The early 1930s art gold hardware looked amazingly well preserved for its age: 10 brass tube lugs, timepiece strainer; smaller, more rounded snare gates, “Super-Ludwig” embossed on the bottom hoop in block letters. The logo engraved on the shell was somewhat unusual, reading “Ludwig – Trademark” rather than the usual “Ludwig, Chicago U.S.A.”, and bounded by a rectangular box (actually, a parallelogram as I was corrected by my daughter) one panel to the left of the strainer. The catch was that the engraving was thoroughly blackened with none of the brass visible. During its lifetime, the drum had either been painted black or poorly re-plated. I took a gamble and placed a winning bid, hoping that there was some original black nickel underneath. When I got the drum, I sent pics out to Mike Curotto and Harry Cangany for their thoughts on the shell. None of them could be certain from the pictures whether it was black paint or nickel. So off the drum went to Mike Curotto’s shop for closer examination. A short time later, Mike gave me the unfortunate news - the drum had been painted and no black nickel remained.

This now left me with two wonderful vintage drums whose hardware was in great shape, the original engraving intact, but stripped down to the brass. I consulted Harry Cangany about restoration, weighing the concerns of valuation/devaluation vs. preservation. I finally came to the conclusion that these two drums needed to be brought back to life, to the way they looked in the 1920s and 30s (fortunately, Harry agreed ☺). This was not about vintage drum investment but more so about preserving our drum heritage.

I was convinced re-plating was the right thing to do. So, I contacted the amazing drumsmith, Adrian Kirchler (“AK”), in Italy. I was aware that AK not only made great drums for Ludwig (100th Anniversary Triumphal) and Craviotto (AK/Craviotto Masters Metal series, 10th Anniversary Black Diamond) but also was the only craftsman in the world who could re-plate engraved drums and leave the engraving shining brightly through the black nickel. Mike, who had the drums in his shop, kindly sent them shells to Adrian for re-plating. Mike kept the hardware to polish/buff up and spray a coat of clear lacquer. As Mike says, “rust never sleeps."

About six weeks later, the drums arrived at my home. I think the pictures speak well to the outstanding work of AK, together with the gentle, expert cleaning by Mike Curotto. I have no regrets. The drums are beautiful. They have been kept intact with original or period-correct hardware and original engraving. However, now the artistry of the engraving glistens against contrasting dark, black nickel as it once did almost century ago. The drums are whole again. I feel content that two drums have been saved from the scrap heap, and now serve as gleaming historical artifacts of early drum craftsmanship. I guess it’s the next closest thing to a time machine… I just wish I could bring back the original owners in order to hear how the drums sounded in their hands. I’ll just have to settle with playing them myself and pretending…

Best wishes, Bob

Many thanks to Harry Cangany, Mike Curotto and Adrian Kirchler who kindly provided guidance, encouragement and their talents to this project.

 

Leedy 1940s Drum Set

Hello, vintage drum friends. I just love the old drums, and I'm sure many of you love them too. If you didn't you probably wouldn't be reading this magazine. There's just something special about the drums built in the 20s through the 40s. Most of the drums I own are from the 50's through the 70's. Those really appeal to me the most because those are the drums I grew up playing and wanting. The same is true of cars. I really dig the 50's through the 70's cars the most, but the pre 1950s cars are also very cool to me. Just like the really old cars with the big fenders, the really old drums have a special awesomeness about them. Those big bass drums and the sound of those old "tubs" give me goose bumps. I have a set to show you that I think has a great old vibe and I think you'll love them. It is a set made by the great Leedy Mfg. Company. They have a 1941 date inside. So they were built just before the United States entered into Word War II.

Leedy was one of the great American drum companies, and their drums were known for excellent quality. They were a very innovative drum company. The first drums they made were built in Indianapolis. The 20s were a wonderful time for the company. Leedy products were very popular. U.G. Leedy, the founder became sick and sold the company to Conn in 1929. The Leedy drums were made in Elkhart, Indiana beginning in the 30's. This kit has Elkhart badges. Throughout the 30s and 40s Leedy drums demonstrated American craftsmanship at its best.  I recommend you read "Mr Leedy and The House of Wonder" by Harry Cangany for the story of the "World's Finest Drums".

This set is a matching four piece set in a beautiful Cream and gold Duco finish. More than likely painted by Mr. Ray Poland who worked in the finishing department for many years. I just love this finish. I wish I had the skill to paint drums like this. The sizes are: bass drum 26"X14", the small tom is "11X7", the large tom is"13X9", the matching Reliance Snare is "14X6.5". The toms have tacked calf bottom heads. The hardware is nickle plated. The toms have Beavertails on top with single flange rims and hooks. The bass drum has single tension with thumb rods. The rod passes through a bridge on the bass drum  that matches the Beavertail lugs .The snare has 8 tube lugs, single flange rims with hooks,  and the Presto strainer. These drums still sound great. They are a work of art as well as a great musical instrument. The metal mounting bar on the bass drum is very cool. All this metal was not allowed on the metal restricted war time drums that followed this set.

I went to buy a Ludwig Deluxe (Black Beauty) from a fellow collector. He was selling the snare for a well known recording and touring drummer. He showed me this Leedy reliance snare drum and told me the complete set was for sale if I was interested. I was unable to turn down the Leedy kit once I saw the snare drum. I ended up buying the Ludwig Deluxe and the Leedy set. I was very excited about the buying trip until I thought about how I was going to explain it to my wife. I surprised her once by coming home with a Rogers kit and a Slingerland kit we had not discussed. It took a while to explain to her what a great deal it was.  Fortunately, she was very understanding, and she really liked the Leedy set. Who could resist loving a beautiful Leedy set like this? Until next time keep looking for those drum treasures.

 

1923 Conn Engraved Snare Drum

Hi All,

This is my first article on NSMD. I’m a drummer in Chicago and happened upon what turns out to be quite a cool drum.

Here’s the story: I was checking out a local vintage clothing/thrift shop in my neighborhood a few months ago. I saw this beat up looking old metal drum sitting on a corner shelf. At first I thought it was possibly an old antique toy drum for a child, but up close I saw that it was a Conn. I was more interested but was still thinking to myself if it was a Ludwig or something maybe I’d buy it (I didn’t know too much about Conns.) Then I noticed all the cool engravings including one that read “Frank Biggs 1923.”

So, I thought I better at least google Frank Biggs. It turns out Biggs was a popular jazz drummer in Chicago in the 1920s onward..He is credited as writing “That’s When I’ll Come Back To You”  recorded by Louie Armstrong’s Hot Seven. There are some articles and announcements of him playing at different Chicago Jazz hotspots, etc... including a great ad for Conn from 1922 with his photo in it (maybe that’s the drum?)

So, the jazz buff in me wanted that drum just for the cool story behind it. It’s always cool to find out where an old instrument came from. I went right back and bought it for not a whole lot of money. My initial thoughts were to restore it, play it, and bring it back to life.

On to the drum itself, this past week I contacted Adrian Kirchler, Harry Canangy, and Mike Curotto. All of whom shared their expertise with helping me further identify this drum. Turns out it’s a custom made, custom engraved gold plated Conn Victor Model.  A real “gem” as Adrian called it, a one of a kind. And while it’s not a Leedy, Ludwig or Slingerland, it’s really a neat piece with a cool connection to early Chicago jazz.  Maybe not the best idea to take out on various gigs?

There’s a bulb fixture still in tact, all the lugs, rims, and shell are in great shape, actually.  Also, Frank Biggs signed his name backwards on the inside of one of the heads presumably to illuminate his name through the bulb. It’s still completely legible.

There are some extra mounting holes by the strainer. There’s a higher end Ludwig strainer on the drum. The question Adrian had was whether or not Biggs ordered the drum with the better strainer or had the standard utility model removed and replaced it with the better Ludwig. An interesting thought…

Well, enough words, here are some pics:

Hope you all enjoy the drum. Feel free to email me if you have any more info, fun facts, etc... Jbatchko@hotmail.com. Again I’d like to thank Adrian, Harry, and Mike for their great help. And to Chicago pianist/sleuth Steven Heliotes for finding all the interesting info on Frank Biggs. And thanks, George.

Cheers, Jason

 

1936 L&S Catalog (Leedy & Strupe)

In October, 1929, an ailing U.G. Leedy sold Leedy Manufacturing to band instrument giant C.G. Conn Ltd.  For the next 9 months,  Leedy drum building was in a state of transition. In August of 1930, the Elkhart factory was up and running. In those intervening months, Conn sent in a supervisor, Ed Cortas, and many employees came and went. Leedy himself hoped that his 100 loyal employees would have jobs in Elkhart, but many of them did not or could not or, more probably would not, move. U.G. decided to create another company called General Products. Concerned that the Depression would not bring in drum sales, Leedy wanted General Products to make other products as well. But, they would make drums. The legend has become fact. He wanted to name the company Leedy & Sons. He had two sons—Eugene and Edwin, later called Hollis. Conn had just spent $900,000 in cash to buy the Leedy name, so there could be no use of that name outside the drums now made by Conn.

Best place to order essay online.

I have only seen one Strupe drum, but have seen publicity shots of others.

Mr. Leedy bought a former dairy building and started the process of turning it into a drum factory. Some of it was completed when he died in January, 1931. His widow gave this fledgling company the funds to complete the woodworking shop. Edwin joined as Secretary Treasurer. Eugene did not become involved.

Leedy and Sons became L&S and we now think that L&S also stood for Leedy & Strupe. One of the former key Leedy employees who did not leave Indianapolis, at that point, was Cecil Strupe, the engineer. He was named president of L&S. In the earliest days of production, there were also Strupe badged drums. It may have been an attempt to circumvent the Leedy name while promoting Strupe’s name since he was known to drummers thanks to frequent mention in the Leedy Topics.

Today’s catalog was made in 1936. It is the only L&S I have found. I have seen brochures, and I think this company deserves honorable mention in American Drum History. L&S drums were sold nationally by mail through Chicago Musical Instruments. Chicago Musical Instruments had formerly sold Ludwig & Ludwig drums through their catalog, but that deal soured when Conn bought Ludwig as well. So, the catalog sales company needed a new drum supplier. If you lived in Indianapolis, you could stop by the factory and buy from their showroom. Famed California jazz drummer Benny Barth, told me about that. An L&S snare was his first drum. L&S made drums, timpani, bells and other mallet instruments, but the products just always seemed a notch below Leedy in quality. You can see imperfections in the cast lugs, from the dies. The drum rods were hex headed, calling for a special key. I would say that like the Cecil Strupe designs for Leedy, we see the same kind of toggle crazy, and thin metal/weak spot strainer inventions on L&S snare drums.

The popular high end snare drum during the middle years was called the Dictator, which was probably not a wise choice during the Hitler and Mussolini years. I see example of L&S drums pretty regularly on eBay and they seem to come from all parts of the country, which may give proof to the scope of sales from Chicago.

The company was never a success, but it hung on and had an interesting ending. Strupe left the company and moved to Chicago where he went to work for WFL. Edwin Leedy sold the company to a music store owner who marketed the ready made products through his store. He changed the name to the Indiana Drum Company. At some point in the early 40s, Sears and Roebuck had a connection with Indiana Drum, using the name Drum Master and then may have bought the machinery and designs. Sears advertised that they had a factory in Chicago, and, in the one Sears Drum catalog I have seen (check out Drumarchive.com to see it), you can see L&S drums, no matter what they were called.

I am sure World War II ended Sears' need to have a drum manufacturing plant. After the war, they struck deals with Kent and Japanese manufacturers to have drum sets for sale in their catalogs.

But for 10 years, Leedy Indianapolis alums were building L&S "Drummers Equipment” and hoping for the best.

-Harry