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What Makes A Drum Collectible
by Ned Ingberman

(Reprinted from Modern Drummer magazine, April 1991)

Editor's Note: Ned Ingberman is the owner and operator of the Vintage Drum Center, in Libertyville, Iowa. He was the focus of a feature slot in the March '90 issue of MD, and is an acknowledged authority on the subject of vintage drum equipment. As a result, many questions regarding vintage drums have been directed to Ned via MD's "It's Questionable" department. Ned's answer to a recent question was so comprehensive that we felt it should be presented as a column unto itself. Here's the original question, and Ned's response:

I recently purchased an old drumset for $10 at a yard sale. The drums are junk except for the snare, which is a 6'/2"-deep Slingerland. It has a maple outer shell and what looks like a walnut inner shell. The date "Oct. 14, 1958" with an "M" next to it is stamped on the inside. I refinished the drum and fitted it with new heads and a strainer. It has a nice, warm '50s sound. I Know it's not a Radio King, but I was wondering if it is a collector's item, and how much it might be worth.

Frank Alsing,
Porterville CA

 

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A 1920's-era Leedy bass drum, before and after re-conditioning

 

Dear Frank,

Yes, your drum is a collectible. The Slingerland Radio King has long been in the limelight, but a drum need not be such a classic model in order to qualify as a collectible. More about this later.

Having some photos or a more detailed description of your snare drum and its condition would make it easier to pinpoint its exact value. My ballpark estimate would be $100 to $150.

About the stamping inside the shell: "Oct. 14, 1958" indicates the date your drum was manufactured. The letter "M" is one of the symbols Slingerland used for assembly-line purposes. After doing research and also recalling the Slingerland drums I've personally handled over the years, it seems that Slingerland's use of letter symbols varied over the span of the company's manufacturing history. At times, "M" was used to designate a marine pearl finish, but at other times, "P" was used, as well. I've also seen "MP" used on some drums.

Although you speculated in your letter that the drum's inner ply might be made of walnut, since the drum was manufactured in the 1950s, the inner ply would be African ripple mahogany. Slingerland produced walnut shells only during the 1930s. The two woods can be mistaken for one another due to their similar reddish-brown color.

That "nice, warm" sound you describe is a typical characteristic of many vintage wood drums. This richness of tone quality is a large part of their attraction. Vintage metal drums also have their own distinctive appeal. Many vintage drummers like the full-bodied tonal range of highs and lows these brass-shelled drums have to offer.

Additional factors that determine the collectible appeal and value of a vintage drum are: rarity, historic significance (for example, whether the drum is an expression of the times that produced it), physical condition, preservation of originality, and marketplace trends.

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A Leedy 4x14 "Elite" Professional snare drum, with gold/nickel-engraved shell, circa 1920

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This unique 7x15 bird's-eye maple snare drum was made by J.W. Pepper around the turn of the century.

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A classic Slingerland 7x14 Radio King from the 1940s

 

In the past, the collection and use of vintage drums was predominantly focused on a select and limited cross-section of drums, and was enjoyed by a fairly small segment of the total drumming population. However, during the past two to three years, the hobby has rapidly expanded to encompass a much larger scope of drums and many more collectors. I estimate there to be large numbers of historic and beautiful vintage drums sitting patiently in attics, basements, closets, and garages--just waiting to be discovered by a vintage drum lover. It's an exciting and rewarding pursuit that's fast gaining momentum!

So what exactly qualifies a drum as being a collectible, vintage drum? I can only answer that question based on what I see happening around the country. Currently, the mainstream of collecting activity seems to be focused on drums manufactured between the 1920s and 1960s, and also some through the 1970s. Drums produced before or after this time period are certainly being collected, but not on nearly as large a scale.

This brings me to the next important point: A large majority of collectors-regardless of what time period drums they collect-want their drums to be in all-original condition. In their eyes, any alterations to a drum's pristine and historic glory (with the exception of replacing heads and snares) detracts from its collectible appeal and decreases its value. Purely from an investment point of view, a vintage drum in all-original condition is more likely to appreciate in value--and at a faster rate--than a re-conditioned drum. It will also be easier to sell or trade.

Yet, while the advantages of maintaining originality present a strong case, there are instances where alterations actually increase the appeal and value of a vintage drum. In the situation of a collecting studio or stage drummer who wants a highly specific sound or look, total originality might only be a secondary priority. In his or her eyes customizing a vintage drum for the purpose of enhancing its tone quality, mechanical function, or cosmetic appeal will add to its value and desirability. It might better suit his or her needs if the drum has had its shell refinished down to the maple, new rims installed, bearing edges re-cut, or hardware re-plated with shining new chrome, nickel, brass, or copper.

So, while the reconditioning route may not be the way to go for most, it may be for some. To anyone considering it, my advice is to carefully weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision. And for those who do recondition their drums, here's a practical tip: Any time a drum's original rims, lugs, strainer, etc. are replaced--but are still in working order--they should be kept and stored away in a safe place! Future sale or trade of the drum could very well depend on having these parts to offer the prospective new owner. It sounds like you had the confidence to go ahead and recondition your drum yourself. I acknowledge your initiative and adventurous spirit in doing so. Most of the time, I encourage drummers to have a seasoned professional do the job. Unless one has the necessary skills, experience, and equipment, the welfare of the drum could be at risk.

I wish you lots of fun and success in your future collecting and playing of vintage drums.

(Reprinted with permission of Modern Drummer magazine)

 

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