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Samuel Swain Stewart was born in Philadelphia , PA on 8th January 1855. He originally studied the violin but in 1872 took banjo lessons from George C Dobson. Six years later he opened a studio for teaching the banjo in his native city which laid the foundation for what became a vast publishing and manufacturing businesses.Being dissatisfied with the banjos currently being produced he spent a lot of time studying construction and in 1879 opened a factory at 221/223 Church Street. Improving on the designs of Clarke, Dobson, Schall etc., as George Lansing Said many years later “he took the reins of banjoism in his hands and it is to him … we owe a debt of gratitude for the popularity of the instrument”.By 1894 his factory was turning out really first class instruments by the hundreds (priced from as low as $10 to as high as $200) and he had an agency in every town in the country as well as selling to agents in countries all over the world. At different times he kept full page advertisement running in “The New York Clipper” and he did a lot to make America “banjo conscious”. Demand for Stewart banjos far exceeded production for some years.At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 he had a display of banjos and the catalogue for the Exposition stated: “SS Stewart’s banjo manufactory in Church Street, Philadelphia, is the only establishment of its kind in the world – the largest and most complete banjo manufactory in existence”. It conceded the fact that there were other larger factories making banjos but added that they also made other instruments. “Stewart’s factory only made banjos” it proclaimed.Stewart was the first maker to strengthen the banjo neck with inlays of hardwood set on the cross grain to prevent warping. He once said “on my banjos I claim no new inventions nor have I any patents connected therewith. I do claim an improved and more perfected banjo, secured by processes of manufacture; some of which remain secrets of my own and which to attempt to protect by letters of patent would merely place part of my knowledge in the hands of others”.It is interesting to note that in the late 1890’s Francis Beddard, an Englishman, settled in Philadelphia and secured employment in the Stewart factory. He returned to England in 1901 and made the first “John Grey” banjos for Barnett Samuel & Son Ltd.On 1st January 1898 SS Stewart merged with George Bauer, mandolin and guitar maker, and the firm of Stewart & Bauer opened a new factory at 1414/1412 North 6th St., Philadelphia, with Stewart’s eldest son Frederick S. taking up a position in the office. On 6th April of the same year Stewart died of apoplexy and three years later the firm failed.George Bauer then formed his own company and the Bauer Company of 726/730 Girard Avenue, produced “Stewart” banjos “made on the original models and designs in the original Stewart Factory” but, despite the announcement that “every effort to maintain the high standard of these celebrated instruments would be made” inferior materials were used and the instruments did not sell. Fred J Stewart had joined Jos. W Stern & Co of 34 East 21st St., New York City, when Stewart & Bauer had failed and Stern’s started to produce the SS Stewart’s Son Improved “4S” banjos. At prices ranging from $9 to $65 the instruments were said to be made under the personal supervision of Fred J Stewart. They were advertising this instrument for at least three years but no later mention has been found.In August 1914 Buegeleison & Jacobsen of New York City announced that they had bought the “patent rights” of the Stewart banjo and would resume the manufacture of banjos bearing the SS Stewart name but these instruments were mass produced factory made banjos and did not compare in quality or tone to the original Stewart instruments made in Philadelphia. Buegeleison & Jacobsen ceased to make banjos when America entered the 2nd WorldWar.- Information Courtesy of http://www.vintagebanjomaker.com/
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I can personally attest to the quality and longevity, as well as projection and tone of these wonderful banjos. After all, I owned one, myself!