Searching for Uncle Enos - a brief history of cigar box instruments
Cigar Box instruments have been around since at least the mid 1800's.
During my research I found a reference to a three string cigar box instrument within a Simmonds's Colonial Magazine that is dated 1845.
Artist Edwin Forbes created a copper-plate etching in 1876 titled "Home Sweet Home" which shows a civil war soldier playing a fiddle made from a Figaro's cigar box.
Here is a Figaro Cigar Box in my collection dated 1898
My tribute to the Edwin Forbes 1876 etching
Later, in 1884, Daniel Carter Beard published a story called "Christmas with Uncle Enos" that included plans for building a fretless, 5 string, cigar box banjo. In 1890 the plans were republished without the accompanying story in the American Boy's Handy Book. I own copies of each of these books and I even have a copy of the Edwin Forbes etching hanging on my wall.
The only example of the Uncle Enos banjo that I have seen is housed at the Cigar Box Guitar Museum owned and curated by Bill Jehle (bellyjellymusic.com).
I have been a builder and collector of folk art instruments for many years and I hope to one day acquire an authentic example of this instrument. While waiting for that day to arrive, I took it upon myself to build my own.
Uncle Enos fretless 5 string banjo built using the specs published by Daniel Carter Beard in 1884 & 1890. Built by Charles Atchison - August 2014
If you would like to learn how to build your own roots instruments, grab a copy of my latest book: "The Folk Art Instrument Builders Reference"