Loading Spinner

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

    See all items

    1978 GOLD STAR G12 HF BANJO
    Apr 28, 3:00 PM PDT
    1978 GOLD STAR G12 HF BANJO
    by Midnight Sun Antique Auction
    Est: $1,200- $1,500
    $2504 Bids
    1920’s Wizard Nautical Banjo Ukulele Hybrid Sailing Ship Motif with Case
    May 11, 12:00 PM EDT
    1920’s Wizard Nautical Banjo Ukulele Hybrid Sailing Ship Motif with Case
    by Hess Fine Art
    Est: $300- $900
    $703 Bids
    An antique banjo 69 cm.
    Apr 26, 10:00 AM BST
    An antique banjo 69 cm.
    by Hannam's Auctioneers
    Est: £30- £50
    £40 Bids

    Sellers Who Sell Banjos


    Hess Fine Art

    Hess Fine Art

    Midnight Sun Antique Auction

    Midnight Sun Antique Auction

    Hannam's Auctioneers

    Hannam's Auctioneers