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Banjos

Banjos originated in Africa. The first banjo to be recorded by a Western explorer was observed in 1620 by a ship captain on the Gambia River. It had a body made from a gourd and an animal skin stretched over the rim. During the 1800s, African slaves brought to the United States constructed their own banjos, as the materials needed were easily obtained. Banjos gained popularity with white audiences during the 1820s and 1830s when minstrel shows appeared. These shows used white performers in blackface that portrayed African Americans in a comic light.

Beginning in the 1870s, banjos appeared with frets, steel rings, tone rings, and resonators. These innovations are primarily attributed to banjo player Henry C. Dobson and banjo craftsman J.H. Buckbee. Banjos gained further popularity in the '20s through radio performances. Major manufacturers of banjos emerged during this period, including Gibson, Vega, Bacon & Day, Paramount, and Epiphone.

With a few exceptions, banjos that were highly desired by musicians at the time they were new are the antique banjos most highly desired by collectors today. Collectors should be careful of condition when purchasing an antique banjo, checking for cracks, warps, and repairs. Collectors should also be familiar with antique banjos before purchasing unmarked instruments.


Quick Facts

  • Pre-war Gibson banjos became elevated in value when bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs became famous recording and playing concerts on an old five-string pre-war Gibson banjo. Today, Gibson pre-war banjos typically sell for $3,000 to $5,000
  • A 1929 Gibson Mastertone PB-3 Arch top five-string Plectrum banjo is currently valued at $35,000. It is the only one known to exist

  • Earl Scruggs' Gibson RB-Granada Mastertone five-string banjo is now a part of the Precious Jewels display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Recommended Items at Auction

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    Three stringed instruments, 20th c.
    Dec 02, 9:00 AM EST
    Three stringed instruments, 20th c.
    by Pook & Pook Inc.
    Est: $160- $220
    $801 Bid
    Two folk art homemade banjos
    Dec 02, 9:00 AM EST
    Two folk art homemade banjos
    by Pook & Pook Inc.
    Est: $160- $220
    $801 Bid
    A Martin Smith six string contemporary banjo
    Dec 02, 10:00 AM GMT
    A Martin Smith six string contemporary banjo
    by Martel Maides
    Est: £50- £60
    £300 Bids
    bp parity badge
    GIBSON 5-STRING MAHOGANY BANJO
    Dec 01, 5:00 PM EST
    GIBSON 5-STRING MAHOGANY BANJO
    by Leighton Galleries
    Est: $1,000- $1,200
    $7000 Bids
    Vintage 5 String Resonator Banjo
    Dec 17, 1:00 PM EST
    Vintage 5 String Resonator Banjo
    by Kavanagh Auctions
    Est: $50- $15,000
    $500 Bids
    A post-war British John Grey long neck five string bluegrass banjo in a har
    Dec 03, 10:00 AM GMT
    A post-war British John Grey long neck five string bluegrass banjo in a har
    by Rowley Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers
    Est: £50- £80
    £500 Bids
    John Wesley 1890s Five-string Banjo.
    Dec 17, 10:30 AM PST
    John Wesley 1890s Five-string Banjo.
    by Turner Auctions + Appraisals
    Est: $300- $500
    $1500 Bids
    1974 Fender Allegro 5-string Banjo
    Dec 03, 11:00 AM EST
    1974 Fender Allegro 5-string Banjo
    by Ancient Objects
    Est: $600- $800
    $3000 Bids
    MANTINI ARGENTIA 12 STRING CHARANGO
    Dec 04, 1:00 PM EST
    MANTINI ARGENTIA 12 STRING CHARANGO
    by Charleston Estate Auctions
    Est: $200- $300
    $50 Bids
    Fairbanks Five-string Banjo.
    Dec 17, 10:30 AM PST
    Fairbanks Five-string Banjo.
    by Turner Auctions + Appraisals
    Est: $2,000- $4,000
    $1,0000 Bids

    Sellers Who Sell Banjos


    Pook & Pook Inc.

    Pook & Pook Inc.

    Turner Auctions + Appraisals

    Turner Auctions + Appraisals

    Martel Maides

    Martel Maides

    Leighton Galleries

    Leighton Galleries