Gibson TB-1 #867-6, the “Charles Emmett Viar”

Lot #867 dates to 1934 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) and consisted of at least twenty-five style 1 tenor banjos; while #867-23 is a standard TB-1, the example seen here differs noticeably from catalog specifications.  Whereas the fleur-de-lis inlay pattern is consistent with style 1 banjos of the time, the neck is walnut rather than the straight-grain maple of style 1, and the peghead shape is that typically seen on banjos made by Gibson for Montgomery Ward under the Recording King brand name; the peghead logo featuring the word “Gibson” inside a mother-of-pearl block is highly unusual and reminiscent of the logos used on Recording King banjos.  The resonator of #867-6 is straight-grain maple as would be expected for style 1 but it, as well as the maple rim, has been stained a walnut color to match the neck, giving the pot much of the appearance of the style 2 of the period.

A likely explanation for the presence of such an odd array of specifications on this banjo is that in 1933, Gibson had manufactured a banjo for Montgomery Ward known as the Recording King #803, which featured walnut construction, fleur-de-lis inlays, and a forty-hole raised-head tone ring (see Recording King model 803 tenor banjo #485).  An overrun of components for the Recording King #803 may well have resulted in tenor necks originally destined for that model being relabeled with the Gibson name and used to fill out part of lot #867; the surplus pots from the Recording King #803 may account for the existence of lot #824, consisting of TB-2s with forty-hole raised-head tone rings (see TB-2 #824-10).  It is possible that Gibson split the surplus pots and necks into different lots to avoid creating a Gibson-branded banjo which was otherwise identical to a Recording King model.

#867-6 remains in excellent original condition with the exception of the tension hoop, which developed a crack and has been replaced with a prewar original.  The Grover “first model” tailpiece is a replacement; its cover was found in the pocket of the original #121 “Challenge” case by Geib and Schaefer.  A thin strip of maple was added to the rim at the Gibson factory to correct a too-loose flange fit.  The resonator sidewall has come loose and is bulging away from the binding from underneath the tailpiece to about a quarter of the way around toward the first-string side.  The sidewall presses in easily and should be an easy repair, although the resonator remains perfectly functional as-is.  There is evidence of moisture having entered the banjo case in the distant past, as some purple stain from the case lining has been transferred to the side of the resonator in the same area as the loose sidewall; some old water damage is apparent on the outside of the case at the same point, but no other effects of moisture are visible.

The original owner of #867-6 was Lynchburg, Virginia native Charles Emmett Viar (November 22, 1921–September 29, 2013), pictured above.  Mr. Viar was described as “jovial, musical and reliable” in his high school yearbook and was a veteran of both D-Day and The Battle of the Bulge