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My May Bell Slingerland 4 string banjo

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    Posted 5 months ago

    (1 item)

    I am hoping someone can shine a light on this banjo. I have not seen one like it ever. I know May Bell started in Chicago in 1915 and later sold to Gipson. I think this one may be one of the 1915 year model. ?

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    1. Jhcarter Jhcarter, 5 months ago
      I would be very appreciative of any info on this 4 string Slingerland May Bell.
    2. keramikos, 5 months ago
      Hi, Jhcarter. :-)

      I am definitely not a banjo expert, but I don't know that we have a resident banjo expert, except perhaps blunderbuss2, who posted one that he said he made:

      I don't even know how to tell that yours is a Slingerland May Bell, because I don't see those names in any of your pictures. Perhaps they're on the inside like they are on this one?:

      Anyway, per this website, Slingerland didn't start making banjos until the 1920s, and the May Bell until 1923:


      Henry Heanon Slingerland (1875-1946), so the story goes, gambled his way into a business when his card game winnings one day in 1912 included a company that printed ukulele instruction books. Truth or not?

      Rob Cook makes the connection that H. H. (his name is noted both as Henry Heanon and Heanon Henry) came to be involved with the business via his music teaching efforts in the West Side Conservatory of Music. The next mention of the future Slingerland company is Henry's association with the widow of the owner of The Chicago Correspondence School of Music (with the purchase of twelve correspondence ukulele lessons, the student would receive a free ukulele), from whom he eventually bought the business in 1914. It is said that he then changed the name to The Slingerland Correspondence School of Music and moved to 431 S. Wabash. This date would appear to be accurate, as the correspondence course music that I have acquired has copyright dates of 1914 for the Slingerland Correspondence School of Music, and 1911 & 1912 copyright dates for H. H. Slingerland. See "Correspondence Course #1" to view the materials.

      At the outset, the company imported ukuleles from Germany, but soon found that they could not import enough to meet the demand. A German craftsman was hired to build ukuleles (in his garage), and eventually the demands necessitated in-house manufacturing, and the Slingerland brothers (H. H., Walter Robert, & Arthur James) rented a building on Diversey near California Ave. In 1923, they purchased their first factory building at 1815 Orchard Street, first manufacturing ukuleles, then banjos, and finally guitars. Eventually, they acquired the neighboring properties as they expanded, and their address became 1815-17-19 Orchard, and by the mid-20's had "over 1700 dealers and claimed to be the world's largest and most modern-equipped banjo factory"¹

      Other sources say that Heanon H. Slingerland applied for trademark of the May Bell name January 18, 1924, claiming to have first used the mark June 29, 1923. At the time he was doing business under the name "Slingerland Maunfacturing Co.", at 1815 Orchard St. Stated goods to be used with the mark were tenor banjos, banjo mandolins, banjos, banjo ukuleles, wood ukuleles, mandolins, and guitars. I have not yet verified this information, however. At some point between that 1924 date and 1928, the company name was changed to "The Slingerland Banjo Company."


      Here is a scan of a 1930s Slingerland catalog:

      Here is a forum of banjo enthusiasts discussing Slingerland:
    3. dav2no1 dav2no1, 5 months ago
      Awesome information Keramikos! You always come through with your great research.
    4. Jhcarter Jhcarter, 5 months ago
      Keramekos.. thanks for your input…On the back of the head is stamped May Bell at the very top. The inlay is what I have never seen on the May Bell banjos I have seen on here or on internet. So it is of course a mystery as to how old it is.
    5. keramikos, 5 months ago
      dav2no1, Thanks, but that 1923/1924 May Bell trademark is proving elusive.

      Dave Kolars on his slingerlandguitar website provided some pretty specific dates for the May Bell trademark ("January 18, 1924, claiming to have first used the mark June 29, 1923."), but I haven't been able to find a bona-fide USPTO listing.

      A basic search of the USPTO TESS database returns six hits for Slingerland, but none of them for 1923/1924.

      The nearest I could find was one for 1927, but it seemed specifically for the drum arm of Slingerland.

    6. keramikos, 5 months ago
      Jhcarter, You're welcome.

      I don't know what your comfort level would be with removing the back to look for more clues, but I suspect that red jewel-looking thing is hiding a single slotted flat head screw that holds the back in place.

      For example, here is a listing of a gorgeous Slingerland May Bell Deluxe banjo with multiple pictures with a close-up of the screw:

      This looks like the same Slingerland May Bell Deluxe in the 1936 catalog:

      Other listings for Slingerland May Bell banjos show a single round slotted flat head screw rather than a hex slotted flat head screw, but it's the same basic concept.

      Your best bet for more help might be to contact the banjo enthusiasts at that banjohangout forum:
    7. Jhcarter Jhcarter, 5 months ago
      Thanks… yes the Ruby unscrews the resonator. I will look real close and see if I can see anything about it. Will it ruin the value if I were to refinish it and make it playable? I hate having something that I can’t enjoy other than looking at it…
    8. keramikos, 5 months ago

      Probably it's best for you first to try to get more information about this particular Slingerland May Bell (i.e, actual age, model) before you make a decision about restoration. That's where the folks at banjohangout could come in handy.

      Here is some advice about antique restoration:

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