Fairbanks & Cole Le Grande Imperial 5 String
S/N: 7237 1887 12 11/16 x 26 ˝ “ 4 3/4 lb.
Originality and Condition: A heel crack was professionally repaired and the neck was refinished. The tuners are appropriate-looking fancy celluloid and the tailpiece is ivory but I doubt either is original. Restored to near mint condition.
Background: Not mentioned in the 1886 catalog, this model apparently was first written up in the 1889 catalog where it is stated they had been making them for 3 years. They also explain that extended fingerboards had long appeared on other instruments but here for the first time on a banjo. This model headlines the front cover and is featured inside with a double-size picture and a detailed description. At $ 75 it was the top priced standard catalog offering. Since the dowel stick is stamped “Imperial” but not “Le Grande” and the catalog is quite confusing, calling this what I have is my best guess. The catalog names 2 models with extended boards and rim diameters above 12". This pot of 12 11/16 does not precisely match either but overall this instrument seems to be too elaborate to be the other model.
Features of this model: San Domingo mahogany neck with extended fingerboard to provide a full 3 octaves. Half-spun pot with Cobra (flat )hooks. Ivory tuners and tailpiece. Elegant peghead and board inlays.
About this instrument:
1) Extended fingerboard, apparently the first time on any banjo.
2) Inlays are large, elegant saw-cut shapes and alternate white pearl and abalone pearl.
3) Unusual and very attractive heel shape. Basic boat shape with the sides quite contoured.
4) Neck is quite light; question if this is San Domingo mahogany or a result of the stain used in refinishing.
5) Wide walnut veneer under the board.
6) Tension hoop has a higher inner surface with a beaded top and a lower outer surface that hides the flesh hoop.
7) Cobra (flat) hooks with square nuts with ball-ends.
Click to enlarge: