Today in Mountain Dulcimer History: 10 January 1891

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Today in Mountain Dulcimer History: 10 January 1891

Postby dbennett » Tue Jan 10, 2017 6:40 am

January 10, 1891 is the date on the label of dulcimer Number 469 made by James “Uncle Ed” Thomas (1850-1933). This dulcimer is painted black and the scroll is outlined with white paint. According to the label it was made in Buncombe, Knott County, Kentucky. Though Uncle Ed started making mountain dulcimers in the 1870s this may be the earliest known dulcimers that he made still in existence.

L. Allen Smith describes Uncle Ed's double bout (hour glass) style "...characterized by round shoulders, narrow waists, and mortised ribs, or ribs that are mortised into the tuning head and tailpiece blocks..." (page 81 of A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers).

Uncle Ed Thomas (1850-1933) was born in Letcher County, Kentucky and lived part of his life on Big Doubles Creek in Knott County, Kentucky. Along with Charles Prichard, James Edward Thomas is credited with being one of the first to build and popularize the Cumberland-Style Dulcimer (modern hour-glass) in the Kentucky and West Virginia region. It is reported that Thomas began to make dulcimers in 1871 and made dulcimers for about 62 years. He sold them as a traveling peddler through remote areas of Kentucky, carrying them on his back or in a pony cart. His instruments cost $3 for Poplar and $5 for Walnut. He made an estimated 1,500 instruments in his lifetime and influenced many dulcimer makers over the years.
Uncle Ed Dulcimer.JPG


David Bennett
Last edited by dbennett on Wed Mar 01, 2017 6:06 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Today in Mountain Dulcier History: January 10, 1891

Postby KenH » Tue Jan 10, 2017 8:46 am

That "white outlined scroll head" is interesting; I don't remember seeing that on other Thomas dulcimers. I wonder whether it was Thomas or one of the owners who did that...
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Re: Today in Mountain Dulcier History: January 10, 1891

Postby kwl » Tue Jan 10, 2017 9:52 am

Also of interest on that dulcimer are the "crescent moon" and "diamond" sound holes. I have Thomas #1465 and have not found anyone reporting an extant instrument with a number higher than that. Thomas may have made 35 or more dulcimers before he decided to start numbering them.

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Re: Today in Mountain Dulcier History: January 10, 1891

Postby dbennett » Tue Jan 10, 2017 10:23 pm

Today Ralph Lee Smith commented on the ED Facebook page regarding this post:

"I own this instrument. It has a 6 1/2 fret. All the frets are replacements, but it seems that there originally was a 6 1/2. The instrument was purchased in broken pieces by H. E. Matheny from Jethro Amburgey. Matheny assembled and restored it. I bought it from Matheny."
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Re: Today in Mountain Dulcier History: January 10, 1891

Postby dbennett » Wed Jan 11, 2017 6:42 pm

I asked Ralph Lee Smith on Facebook if #469 was still believed to be the oldest Thomas dulcimer and if thought the white paint on the scroll was original. He replied:

"David, to the best of my knowledge, #469 remains the oldest Thomas dulcimer that has yet been recovered. My suspicion is that Matheny added the white line on the scroll, but that's only a suspicion. Matheny has passed away, and darn it I never asked him." Ralph also added. "The pieces of this instrument ended up, tied up in a bundle, in a barn, and a 12-year-old boy rescued them from being thrown away."
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