Gibson TB-5 Mastertone #8252-19, the “Harold Leatherman”

Style 5 was the highest-priced model in the original Mastertone line of 1925 and remained in production until about 1929 when it was replaced by style 6.  Style 5 banjos were gold-plated and heavily engraved, with two-piece flanges and either ball-bearing or archtop tone rings.  Ornamentation included multicolored wood purfling, multicolored wood inlay on the back of the peghead, and various types of fancy binding.  The peghead was fiddle-shaped, the inlays were wreath pattern and the neck and resonator were walnut.  The gold-plated Grover tuners featured genuine mother-of-pearl buttons, and the Kerschner tailpiece was engraved “DeLuxe”.

#8252-19 (see Gibson banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers) dates to 1926, the second year of Mastertone production, and conforms to typical specifications for that time including a ball-bearing tone ring, grooved tension hoop, and flat hooks.  At least one other banjo from this lot, #8252-23, is known to exist with an original forty-hole archtop tone ring, a notched tension hoop, and round hooks, suggesting that after the rim was stamped it remained at the factory for a few years before being assembled into a banjo.

Harold Leatherman (1903–1980) of Grand Rapids, Michigan bought #8252-19 some time during the Great Depression for $25 from its previous owner, who had fallen on hard times.  Mr. Leatherman owned Leatherman Hardware (still in business today) and “dabbled in music for fun”, according to his granddaughter.

Photos courtesy of Dawn Soeth.