This is one of the most sought-after of all prewar Gibson Mastertone banjos–an original flathead style 3 plectrum with a one-piece flange and the rare wreath inlay pattern. The majority of 1930s style 3 banjos had leaves and bows inlays, while a few featured the flying eagle pattern and a handful were made with the wreath pattern. It has been speculated that this small run of wreath-inlay style 3s was prompted by Gibson’s desire to use up inlays left over after the discontinuation of style 5, on which wreath inlays had been standard.
Aside from the inlays and tone ring, this banjo conforms to standard catalog specifications for the style 3 of the period. The wood is mahogany, with two white/black/white purfling rings on the back of the resonator and single white binding. The hardware is nickel-plated and the tailpiece is a Grover Presto. The rim is three-ply maple with a high-profile twenty-hole flathead tone ring. The peghead is double-cut. The banjo is housed in its original red-line hardshell case.
This banjo resided in Minnesota for its entire life until I helped broker its sale along with Banjo.com in the summer of 2005. We handled the sale for the son of the original owner, who owned a grocery store and used to leave his sisters downstairs to mind the shop while he sat in an upstairs room playing this banjo. I understand completely. “My dad never was the kind of guy to buy anything cheap”, the owner told us. The $100 this banjo cost him in the 1930s certainly turned out to be a wise investment!
Photos courtesy of Banjo.com, Dick Rierson, and Dan Foy.