(This article appeared in the September 2002 issue of DRUM! magazine)
One of the intriguing aspects of collecting vintage drums is discovering when your instrument was made. Estimating the age of a drum can be done more or less by examining its badge type, style of hardware, shell construction/composition and interior/exterior finish. If you’re fortunate enough, your drum might even have a date stamp on the inside of its shell. But unlikely as it may seem, the broadcast of one television show in early 1964 played an unwitting role in helping to date more closely one particular brand of drum. To see how the story unfolds, let’s go back in time to February 9, 1964.
It was the day the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their television debut ushered in not only a new era for rock and roll, but something more. With the name “Ludwig” painted on Ringo’s bass drumhead, it marked also the beginning of the Ludwig Drum Company’s largest boom in their production history. “Even though we stepped up our production, the orders for our drums came in faster than we could make them,” said William F. Ludwig II who was then the company’s General Manager and Vice President.
This new surge in Ludwig’s production and sales coincided with a new government regulation enacted at about the same time (The regulation was brought to our attention by drum historian/insurance agent, Harry Cangany). These overlapping events would intertwine to have a direct effect on the collecting and dating of 1960’s Ludwig drums. Prompted by the insurance industry, the new regulation mandated serial numbers on certain goods including drums. (badge photo here) “Up until then,” said Mr. Ludwig, “some of our drums were date stamped and some weren’t – but none had serial numbers. Our dealers begged us to put them on, so we had our badge manufacturer imprint sequential numbers on the badges for all of our drums.”
With the debut of serial numbers, Ludwig helped the dealers comply with the new law. But unforeseen then to the drum company, these serial numbers would also be a key to unlock the mystery of how to date post-’63 Ludwig drums that weren’t date-stamped. Though in actuality, the way to pin down the elusive age of these drums would call more for the sharp pencil of a record keeper than the skill of a Sherlock Holmes.
Motivated by a growing number of customer inquiries about dating 60’s era Ludwig drums, as well as our own historical interest, we took on the task of record keeper. We began in the late 1980’s by monitoring all of the 60’s Ludwig drums that came into our shop. Thanks to the production boom of the 60’s, we had a large sampling of drums which provided enough data to do our research. When we found a drum with both a serial number and complete date stamp present, this data was entered into a serial number index. We hoped that, in time, the index would reveal a consistent chronological order in the serial number sequence. The reasoning for our optimism was that since the serial numbers were imprinted on the badges in a sequential order (of lower to higher numbers) and since the badges were installed over a duration of time as represented by the date stamps inside of the shells, a direct relationship between the serial numbers and date stamps was inevitable, even though the Ludwig factory did not intend it.
As our record keeping continued and more serial numbers and dates were added to the index, the correlation between them became increasingly evident. Although we did find some discrepancies in this correlation – which we’ll discuss later in this article – a general pattern emerged. The serial numbers increased as their corresponding date stamps moved forward in time.
In a recent conversation with Jack Lawton, restoration specialist and owner of the Lawton Drum Company (Sudbury, PA.), I discovered by chance that Jack had, over a 10 year period, also developed a serial number index like ours.
We decided to exchange and compare indexes. To our mutual relief, we found that the serial numbers and date stamps corresponded with one another and that the sequence of the serial numbers in both indexes followed the same general path through time.