After the “banjo boom” of the 1920s, the instrument’s popularity declined sharply in the 1930s. In 1937, Gibson made the decision to dramatically overhaul its banjo line by introducing the three top-tension models and discontinuing all other Mastertone models with the exception of style 3, which was lowered in price from $100 to $75 and renamed style 75. The lower-priced, non-Mastertone banjos remained in production and were shipped sporadically through World War II. Among these lower-end banjos available in the early 1940s was style 11 which, according to one Gibson catalog, offered banjoists “a touch of color and flash” with its pearloid veneers, stenciled “inlays”, and blue finish.
Although many style 11 banjos were not numbered, this banjo bears a factory order number on the back of the peghead as was standard practice beginning in the late 1930s; Gibson’s shipping ledgers indicate that #F5924-9 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) was shipped to the New York Band Instrument Company on March 26, 1943 as part of a shipment including three other TB-11s, three MB-11s, and one Kalamazoo tenor banjo. It features a very pronounced blue coloration and a large truss-rod cover that actually obscures part of the peghead ornamentation, both common characteristics in late style 11 banjos.
#F5924-9 remains in excellent original condition with the exception of replaced tuners and tailpiece. It has been in the possession of its current owner since he was in his early teens and was left the banjo by its original owner, Harvey Davenport of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The banjo’s owner recalls that “Harvey was a Navy veteran and a Shriner and actually taught me small engine repair in his garage (he was a machinist or tool and die maker by trade). It was normal to hear tunes coming from the garage in the afternoon and there was always cold iced tea on the table inside.”
Photos courtesy of an anonymous collector.