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The Banjo and William Sidney Mount

Banjos appear in artwork by American genre painter William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) appears to be a Boucher instrument. Mount's portraits, landscapes, and scenes document daily American life, primarily in his native Long Island, NY. His keen curiosity led him to explore a variety of interests, including folk music.

Mount was fascinated by the violin and was admired for his talent as a country fiddler. He assembled a large volume of dance tunes such as waltzes, polkas, jigs, and schottisches adapted for fiddling. The desire for a more powerful sound in a dance hall probably led him to invent a new instrument, one whose concave shape and short soundpost, he believed, would result in a fuller, richer, more powerful tone. In 1852, he received a patent for his invention, which protected his exclusive manufacturing and vending rights of this improved violins for 14 years.

He displayed his instruments at the 1853 New York World's Fair at the Crystal Palace, demonstrating the hollow-back model himself and earning the praise of contemporary musicians. However, the manufacture of his invention never reached a level of mass production. Mount also invented a steamboat paddle wheel, a two-hulled sailboat, and a painting studio on wheels.


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