Smithsonian Collections

Five-String Fretless Banjo

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Smithsonian Museum
National Museum of American History
This banjo was made by an unknown maker in the United States around 1875-1899. The instrument’s body is made from oak, and the body’s rim is ornamented with 12 furniture tacks. This banjo was acquired from noted traditional musician Frank Proffitt, who said that he had bought it from a local second hand store with the understanding that it had originally come from the family of a local wagoner. It is a finely crafted example of the traditional thick rim style banjo, a style which was never adopted by urban manufacturers but which continues to be made and used in the southern mountains.

In her book African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia, Cecelia Conway points out similarities between the body form and small head of such instruments with those of 19th African American gourd banjos.
Currently not on view
Date Made
overall: 35 1/2 in x 10 in x 2 1/4 in; 90.17 cm x 25.4 cm x 5.715 cm
Object Type