I've had my eyes on a Clifford Essex Concert Grand for some time now (this one was built between 1912 and 1919 so it satisfied my historical interests given my passion for WWI history).  I know a number of players on this discussion board play Concert Grands, so I was hoping to hear their opinions on them.  I've never seen one in person and I can't try before I buy, but I love how they sound in recordings and am aware that they are often regarded as tonally improved Whyte Laydies.  Right as I was about to pull the trigger on the Concert Grand, I was offered a 1897 Cole's Eclipse 4000 (butterfly inlay) in mint, unplayed condition with its original case.  From a monetary standpoint the Cole is a fantastic deal since the seller is only asking for $1700!  The Concert Grand I was looking at is $1400, which is still a good deal I think.  How does the Eclipse compare tonally to the Concert Grand, and in terms of general playability which banjo is superior?  I've heard that Eclipses have wider fingerboards and chunkier necks than late 1890s Fairbanks banjos, so it may have a comparable feel to the Concert Grand. Having played neither, I just don't know.  There is a video on Youtube of Bill Evans playing Ragtime Episode on an Eclipse and I really like the tone he is getting, but upon closer inspection he is using a three-legged ebony-topped bridge and appears to be playing with his nails pretty far from the bridge, so I doubt it will sound the same with a proper bridge and played without any nail. 

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you have the factory / batch number 5 of this serie , Jody . they only used X  or  I    and never the V (i have never seen V )  ; i have one stamped X I I I I I  .
 
Jody Stecher said:

My XX Special is from the first era. Clifford Essex Co. Grafton St. (by the way the websites that date Clifford Essex banjos all say that the first era were marked "Clifford Essex & Co. I have never seen the ampersand used on an actual banjo preceding the word "Co". Has anybody? ). Anyway I also have markings on the underside of the dowel and on the tension hoop. It is five nearly vertical lines. I don't know what to make of it. Also there is some kind of p and b combination roughly gouged into the wood of the underside of the dowel. Bear in mind that this is a mirror image. Can anyone make sense of any of this. Here are the relevant photos:

you have the factory / batch number 3 of this serie ;

the number ( my opinion ) writed on the back of the peghead is not a  CE serial number ; i own some CE ' Bjs  originally without serial number  but have  a number on the back of the peghead ;  and ...........important , i have a CE Clipper with the original serial number on the DS & this banjo has also another number on the back of the peghead . i think these numbers are CE refurbished banjos . when customers came back to the factory to buy a higher grade model , they took the old banjo , refurbish ,news strings , vellum ,  setup , number back of the peghead and re sell second hand ; of course , i guess


 
John Field said:

My rosewood necked CE Special XX has the Clifford Essex Co 15a Grafton St Bond Street London W label as per Jody's example above , but has only three vertical lines engraved on the inside of the dowel and on the tension hoop.   The no. 1463 is stamped on the back of the peghead.  I don't think anyone has determined what the numbering/marking system was on CE instruments.....(if a system existed at all)..  All attempts at some sort of chronological sequencing that I have seen have been inconclusive.   All I know about mine is that it was very old when I got it in 1961.....

So if the Special XX made it to at least batch 5, then my batch 9 Concert Grand must have been one of the first batches with the new model name.

marc dalmasso said:

you have the factory / batch number 3 of this serie ;

the number ( my opinion ) writed on the back of the peghead is not a  CE serial number ; i own some CE ' Bjs  originally without serial number  but have  a number on the back of the peghead ;  and ...........important , i have a CE Clipper with the original serial number on the DS & this banjo has also another number on the back of the peghead . i think these numbers are CE refurbished banjos . when customers came back to the factory to buy a higher grade model , they took the old banjo , refurbish ,news strings , vellum ,  setup , number back of the peghead and re sell second hand ; of course , i guess


 
John Field said:

My rosewood necked CE Special XX has the Clifford Essex Co 15a Grafton St Bond Street London W label as per Jody's example above , but has only three vertical lines engraved on the inside of the dowel and on the tension hoop.   The no. 1463 is stamped on the back of the peghead.  I don't think anyone has determined what the numbering/marking system was on CE instruments.....(if a system existed at all)..  All attempts at some sort of chronological sequencing that I have seen have been inconclusive.   All I know about mine is that it was very old when I got it in 1961.....

I have often wondered about the chronology and construction dates, stamped nos. and marks on CE banjos .   If there was a system used by the builders (and there may not have been), then I don't think anyone has figured it out.   I did make an attempt about 20 years ago by studying the complete set of bound volumes of "BMG" magazine that were held in the National Newspaper Library (then in Colindale, N.London). "BMG" was the house publication issued monthly by the CE Co. The idea was to go through all the issues from the start of publication (I think in 1903), and by reference to advertisements, pictures and articles in the magazine, to chart the dates of introduction of the various models produced by the company.  I only had about 6 hours and (I think) got through the period from 1903 to around 1917.   It was possible to determine fairly exact dates when various models first appeared (including the Special XX).  Also I found several adverts in the "classifieds" section for second hand banjos, where a "serial no" was quoted....thus determining the approximate date of that serial no.  In addition, certain inlay characteristics would appear to be repeated during the early years of manufacture.....although maybe the same picture was being repeated.... Also, the very early Special XX's had a fancy tailpiece not seen on later versions, and were generally inlaid more profusely than those later versions.

Overall, the exercise indicated that a complete study of BMG up to, say 1939 might throw more light on the subject.  Unfortunately I never found time to go back and finish the research, and not only that, I have lost all the notes I made....probably due to a later house move.  I should think that a repeat search through all those old magazines might throw light on this obscure topic.  All it needs is a volunteer!

I'd be happy to do it, but I don't have access to the issues of BMG. Now, if they were scanned and digitized, I'd be happy to do the analysis.

That may be a project for the future John, what we are really missing is the Clifford Essex "BOOK" which detailed the sale and purchase of every instrument from day 1 to the "end of days". It's out there somewhere, hidden away in somebody's private collection...... 

..............! ..............   if  we can never recover the  " BOOK " ; it would be fine to start  a database  like this one .....

http://www.acoustudio.dk/BD_and_Bacon_database.html

what do you think ? i ' ve got a base to start ;i own  these two banjos ; they are 4299 & 4300 ; the 4299 is stamped   I I   and the 4300 is stamped I I I . prooving something logic ; Marc , tell us the Roman number of your beautiful n° 4330 you described in a precedent blog .  may be , by a combination between the serial number & the factory/batch number , we could discover how many banjos was a serie ? at least for the CE special / metal rim

My C E Special XX does not even have a name plate and never has. The name 'Clifford Essex' and 15a Grafton Street w is stamped on the perch pole.  There are two notches on the inside edge of the tone ring but no serial number.

Jody, Jody, Jody...you have seen one with the ampersand. Mine!

SN 4330 is from batch I (stamped on the back of the dowelstick...but I don't have a small enough mirror). Eli Kaufman dates it to 1934, based on his CE Special which is numbered just a few digits away from mine. He has the original sales ticket with his.

Jody said he's never seen a Clifford Essex & Co., not a Clifford Essex & Son.  I've never seen one marked & Co. either.

Trapdoor2 said:

Jody, Jody, Jody...you have seen one with the ampersand. Mine!

SN 4330 is from batch I (stamped on the back of the dowelstick...but I don't have a small enough mirror). Eli Kaufman dates it to 1934, based on his CE Special which is numbered just a few digits away from mine. He has the original sales ticket with his.

Marc, Marc, Marc: What John said.  :-)

Details, details, details! ;-)

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