Smithsonian Collections

Stewart Five-String Banjo

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Smithsonian Museum
National Museum of American History
This banjo was made by the Samuel Swain Stewart Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania around 1889-1899. Samuel Swain Stewart was a noted banjoist and one of the most prolific banjo makers during the late 19th century. He advocated the "finger-style" (today's classic) technique, as opposed to the traditional "stroke style" (today's clawhammer or frailing) through his pamphlet “The Banjo Philosophically: its Construction, its Capabilities, its place as a Musical Instrument, its possibilities, and its Future: a Lecture.” Stewart pursued a determined campaign to "elevate" the image of the banjo by disparaging and even denying its African American and minstrel show origins. He produced banjos in a wide range of styles and costs and was influential in creating the popular enthusiasm for fretted instrument clubs and orchestras that persisted into the 1930's.
Currently not on view
Samuel Swain Stewart Co.
Date Made
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Richard S. Tilton
overall: 36 in x 11 3/4 in x 2 1/4 in; 91.44 cm x 29.845 cm x 5.715 cm
Object Type