William Esperance Boucher, Jr. American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 681

The 1840s was a pivotal decade in American music. The blackface minstrel show, which was first was performed in New York City in 1843, became America’s most popular form of theatrical entertainment. The 5-string banjo was an intrinsic part of the minstrel performance and soon became an immensely popular instrument. Baltimore drum maker William Boucher began producing banjos around1845 and is credited with being one of the first professional banjo makers. His first banjos consisted of a banjo neck attached to a drum-like steam-bent wood hoop with two skin membranes, one stretched over the top and the other over the bottom of the hoop. He soon dispensed with the second skin head. Boucher claimed that he invented the first metal screw-type mechanism for tightening banjo heads. While this is questionable, the tightening system on this banjo is elegantly simple and fuctional. Wingnuts tighten metal hooks attached to a metal band that stretches the skin over the wood hoop. The bottom of the hoop is scalloped and the tightening mechanisms are located at the narrowest portion of the hoop. This stops the wingnuts from protruding beyond the bottom edge thereby preventing them from coming in contact with the banjo player. While scroll shaped headstocks were common on early banjos — and on the earliest of C. F. Martin’s guitars — Boucher’s were especially elegant, with the added detail of a stepped cone-shaped finial gracing the volute. Like many of Boucher’s banjos, this example is grain painted to simulate rosewood. The unusually small size suggests that it was made for a woman. The "Wm. E. Boucher Jr./ Baltimore" brand is stamped on the back of the neck. (Peter Szego, 2020)

Banjo, William Esperance Boucher, Jr. (Hanover, Germany 1822–1899 Baltimore, Maryland), Hardwood, calfskin, brass, iron, American

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