Hi all,

any idea what was the earliest music for banjo published in the UK? Be it a tutor book or music score.

Most of the tutor books don't have any years published in them....

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Good question. No answers. Surely someone here has a rough idea at least? Just to get the ball rolling. 

The starting point for the answer to this question must surely lie in the pages of the B.M.G. magazine and A.P.Sharpe's articles listing the various banjo tutor books which were to form part of his book which he never completed/published due to his unexpected demise. They will have been published in the magazine in the late 60s/early 70s. 

Rob MacKillop said:

Good question. No answers. Surely someone here has a rough idea at least? Just to get the ball rolling. 

The earliest music published specifically for banjo in England that we currently have evidence of is:

Tutor for the Banjo, Cecil Hicks, Duncombe & Moon., London, 1852.

Pictured is the 1858 reissue as per the original except for the addition of a new paper cover. Republished by H. White & Son, who bought the stock of Duncombe & Moon at auction in 1853 following Duncombe's death. The interior text includes the earlier printer details (see detail image).

Cecil Hicks (1827-1905) was a teacher of music, composer and performer on pianoforte. At the time of publication of his banjo tutor he was living in Lambeth, South London.


It was not uncommon for 19th century publishers to omit a publication date. However, publication date may be ascertained by cross-reference with British Library catalogue detail (date of deposition) and other primary source print references. Prior to the British library a copy of every English publication was deposited at the British Museum. The 1858 date stamp on Cecil Hick's banjo tutor is the British Museum date of deposition. At the present time we have date of publication/date of deposition for all English banjo material published between 1848-1885. My own research does not extend in any significant detail beyond 1885.

I'm currently sharing specific examples of English banjo material in the public domain published in the 1860's and 1870's. There is a 5 page per day upload limit here. Later this week I'll dip in with the title and interior pages of Cecil Hick's 1852 publication.

As a follow-on to your OP, published banjo music from the early period 1842-1880 should be viewed with an awareness that there is no 'definitive' value attached in regard to contemporary activity and repertoire. There are certainly important key pointers and interest contained within these tutor books and self-instructors. However, by far the more relevant and informative research area is the cultural context i.e. the influence and overlap with wider Victorian popular music. The idea that all English banjo players in the 1860's were somehow strangely 'isolated' and passively awaited publication of material for the banjo is not borne out by the evidence. Musicians then as now tend to be creative and proactive and are led by ear. This is supported by the fact that the English system made it much easier to arrange popular pianoforte pieces for the banjo. We are constantly finding early period examples of dance music by well-known composers (Montgomery, Smallwood, Coote Jnr, Marriott, Bucalossi, Bogetti etc.) of the day being performed on banjo. In the more easily accessible later printed banjo material of the 1890's we commonly see the characteristic key change and Trio structure signature of this popular Victorian dance music. Another huge area of influence and overlap are published popular comic and sentimental songs. Another fascinating area for research are the compositions written for banjo by banjo players themselves. Very often we see that English banjo players repertoires included all the above, and blackface repertoire. We have to abandon any modern concept of neat genre boundaries if we seek to better understand this period of our banjo history.

Contemporary print source confirming an 1852 publication date of the Duncombe & Moon edition of Cecil Hick's banjo tutor. The Morning Advertiser, Wednesday May 19 1852:

Great stuff, Mike! Thanks alot.

You're welcome.

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