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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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    Framus Six String Banjo with Case
    Nov 07, 10:00 AM EDT
    Framus Six String Banjo with Case
    by Paul Arsenault Auctioneers
    Est: $0- $0
    $12510 Bids
    Vintage Fairbanks Banjo with Case
    Nov 07, 10:00 AM EDT
    Vintage Fairbanks Banjo with Case
    by Paul Arsenault Auctioneers
    Est: $0- $0
    $705 Bids
    Joseph B Rogers, Jr. Tenor Banjo
    Oct 29, 9:30 AM EDT
    Joseph B Rogers, Jr. Tenor Banjo
    by Merrill's Auctioneers & Appraisers
    Est: $200- $300
    $1000 Bids
    CUCKOO vintage English four string banjo, late 19th early 20th century, 27cm drumhead, 75cm long
    Nov 07, 10:00 AM AEDT
    CUCKOO vintage English four string banjo, late 19th early 20th century, 27cm drumhead, 75cm long
    by Leski Auctions Pty Ltd
    Est: AUD150- AUD250
    AUD1200 Bids
    Epiphone Mayfair Tenor Banjo
    Oct 29, 9:30 AM EDT
    Epiphone Mayfair Tenor Banjo
    by Merrill's Auctioneers & Appraisers
    Est: $300- $500
    $1000 Bids
    ANTIQUE WURLITZER BANJO
    Nov 06, 9:00 AM MDT
    ANTIQUE WURLITZER BANJO
    by Davis Brothers Auction
    Est: $100- $150
    $100 Bids
    Vintage Banjo Ukulele
    Nov 02, 7:00 PM AEDT
    Vintage Banjo Ukulele
    by Bargain Hunt Auctions
    Est: AUD0- AUD0
    AUD200 Bids

    Sellers Who Sell Banjos


    Merrill's Auctioneers & Appraisers

    Merrill's Auctioneers & Appraisers

    Bargain Hunt Auctions

    Bargain Hunt Auctions

    Leski Auctions Pty Ltd

    Leski Auctions Pty Ltd