S. S. Stewart Universal Favorite #1 5 String Banjo (1894)
S. S. Stewart Universal Favorite #1 Model 5 String Banjo (1894), made in Philadelphia, serial # 15010, natural finish, metal spun-over rim, cherrywood neck with ebony fingerboard. Item # 6984
This a banjo is a beautifully preserved example of a late 19th Century S.S. Stewart, not a high end model but amazingly has survived unaltered with all original hardware and finish. The cosmetics are simple; the ebony fingerboard has mixed-size diamond inlay and headstock veneer has a single pearl star in the center. The inside of rim has attractive faux-rosewood graining and ivoroid "Universal Favorite" tacked badge. The dowel stick carries an inlayed celluloid "S.S. Stewart, Phil'a PA" logo tag alongside an impressed "SSS" headstock-shaped logo. This banjo predates the turnbuckle adjustable neck brace and does not have that feature. Originally selling for $20, this was a lower-priced Stewart model offering fine quality materials with plain ornamentation. Stewart's catalogs called the Universal Favorite #1 "made perfect as can be in general appearance…in TONE this banjo can not be duplicated for the price".
Overall length is 35 1/2 in. (90.2 cm.), 11 in. (27.9 cm.) diameter of rim, and 2 3/8 in. (6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 27 in. (686 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/4 in. (32 mm.). This banjo is amazingly well preserved for having been on this earth for over 120 years. There is a little surface wear to the nickel plating but most of the hardware is still bright and shiny, and all intact including all hooks, nuts and the simpler style Stewart tailpiece without the rose ornament. The original celluloid pegs are also still present, which is a minor miracle in itself as they are almost always either partially or completely missing or broken by now. The neck is in very good shape, not absolutely straight (very few Stewarts are!) but is eminently playable with modern Nylgut strings. Stewarts of this era are absolutely not suited to steel strings, and a majority of these banjos have been damaged by having been steel-strung at some point-this one has entirely escaped that fate. The skin head is recent but has a very vintage appearance and sounds lovely. The whole instrument is simply a lovely package of 19th century delight, not a top-line banjo but a fine example of Stewart's workmanship and an extraordinary period survivor. Overall Excellent + Condition.
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