Gibson PB-Florentine Mastertone #9227-2, the “Howard Christensen”

Despite a factory order number dating to 1928 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers), this Florentine was apparently not assembled and sold until circa 1930, when it was reportedly bought at the factory in Kalamazoo by Howard Christensen of Lincoln, Nebraska (March 25, 1910–February 28, 2007).   By this time the flathead tone ring had become a standard specification on plectrum and five-string Mastertones, and Mr. Christensen’s Florentine left the factory equipped with a high-profile, full-weight flathead tone ring with engraved skirt.

#9227-2 is in other respects a standard example of a Florentine plectrum in the finish option which Gibson called “white holly” but which was actually white-painted maple.  The fingerboard, resonator, and rim are trimmed with multicolor sparkle “Christmas tree binding”.  There is elaborate engraving on the flange plate, “two-hump” Grover tailpiece, Grover “two-band” tuners (with real mother-of-pearl buttons), stretcher band, and armrest.  The armrest is the type which activates a “Vibrato Tone-Master” mute, which Gibson promised would provide the player “tonal control like an organ.”

The resonator and neck feature fancy painted designs which Gibson described as “hand-carved” but which were, for the most part, pressed into the wood.  The “Gibson” logo on the pearloid-veneered peghead is spelled out in rhinestones; below the logo is a rhinestone design intended to portray a bouquet of flowers, but known to players and collectors as an “ice cream cone”.  The pearloid fingerboard is embellished with hand-painted scenes of Venice, despite the model’s being named after Florence, Italy.

Howard Christensen was pictured with #9227-2 in Gibson’s 1930 catalog; he formed his own band and enjoyed considerable success before teaming up with fellow bandleader Jimmy Joy in 1934 to form the band “Dance with Joy”.  Later years found Mr. Christensen working as a talent agent with acts including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Patti Page, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, and Bob Hope. 

Other banjos from the same lot include PB-Florentine Mastertone #9227-1, formerly owned by San Francisco-area musician Robert Cruz, and PB-Florentine Mastertone #9227-3, formerly owned by noted South African performer and teacher Charlie Macrow.

Photos courtesy of Arnold Clayton.