What’s The History Of The Leedy Black Elite Snare?

by Ned Ingberman

(This article appeared in the June 1992 issue of Modern Drummer magazine’s “It’s Questionable” column.)

QUESTION: I recently purchased an original Leedy Black Beauty snare drum. The rims are clearly stamped with the inscription “Leedy Indianapolis Ind.” After taking the drum completely apart and inspecting it thoroughly, I noticed the letter E stamped into the shell, where it would be covered by one of the lug mounts. I know this isn’t much to go on, but could you tell me anything about the history of this drum? Is it to my advantage to polish it, or should I leave it just like it is? Do you have any suggestions for finding parts for this drum – specifically the strainer? Finally, what is a drum like this worth?

-Kit Autry
Lakewood CO

ANSWER: We tapped vintage drum expert Ned Ingberman’s research abilities for this one. His reply is: “The correct name for the drum you’ve described as a ‘Leedy Black Beauty’ is the Leedy Black Elite.During its production history (1921 to mid-1930s), the drum was first called the Multi-Model Classic, then the Elite Professional, and finally the Black Elite.

“The rim-enscribed Leedy logo was used on their snare drums only until 1930, when the company was sold to Conn and moved from Indianapolis to Elkhart, Indiana. This dates your drum between 1921 and 1929. To further pinpoint its age, more details or a photo would be needed. The letter ‘E’ stamped into the shell is most likely a symbol used on the assembly line to earmark a drum for fancy finishing as an Elite model. (I inspected another model Leedy drum of the same period, identical to the Elite except for the finish, and found no such marking.)

“Leedy produced two Elite models. One was the Black Elite, the other was the White Elite, which featured a glossy white enamel finish. For a time, both drums were offered in a creative variety of plating, engraving, and enamel combinations.

“Finding original replacement strainers for vintage drums is no easy task. If your strainer is broken, try to have it repaired by a qualified drum or machine shop. If it is missing completely, a machine shop could possibly fabricate a look-alike replacement. You might also consider placing a want ad in the classified section of Modern Drummer or in the Not So Modern Drummer vintage-drum newsletter published by John Aldridge (5 West 9th St., Shawnee, OK 74801).

“Owning a vintage drum with a disabled or missing strainer is a predicament that tempts some drummers to drill extra holes in the shell of their drum to accommodate a new or substitute strainer. A far better approach is to utilize an adaptor plate between the snare strainer and drumshell. This method of installation allows a strainer and drum with un-matched bolt-hole patterns to be connected together without drilling any extra holes in the drumshell. This way, the drum is put back into action, while the integrity and beauty of the shell are preserved. For more information on how to fabricate and install an adaptor plate, contact Not So Modern Drummer.

“To clean your Black Elite, I recommend gentle rubbing with a mild, non-abrasive cleaner such as Windex. Avoid strong chemical cleaners and polishing compounds, as they could actually remove the finish.

“Concerning the drum’s value: The regal beauty of its engraved black nickel finish shell and brass-plated (‘Nobby Gold’) hardware, plus the exceptional tone of its seamless 20-gauge rolled-brass shell, make this drum a highly desirable collectible worth $1,300 to $1,800 – depending on its overall integrity and condition.”

* * Vintage Drum Center Update – The value quoted above was based on the vintage drum market at the time this article was written in 1992.