Our British banjo collector friend, Richard Evans, succumbed to cancer last Sunday, 5 October, just a few days short of his 71st birthday.
In 2003/2004, probably as the result of a combination of my activities with the Banjo Collectors Gathering and my auctions (and purchasing efforts) on eBay, I met up, electronically, with Richard who, for me, personified the eccentric trajectory of both British and American collectors.
Richard told me that in the Spring of 2002 he watched the film “Hi-Fi,” and later looked to see what vinyl records were fetching on eBay. On a lark, he looked at musical instrument auctions. Some years before he had wanted an alto sax to hang on a wall in his home in England to give expression to his love for swing music and traditional jazz.
Richard purchased a tenor sax, and this led to the acquisition of other brass instruments, but before long he realized that displaying these on his walls would become a challenge. He already had a long necked Framus that had languished in the big family house for 30 years, and then migrated to the cellar of his modest cottage. He dug it out, held it against the wall, and discovered that stringed instruments were indisputable easier to mount on walls.
With no particular notion of what he was doing -- by his own admission -- Richard began buying banjos, engaging luthiers to do restoration work, and creating friendships with other like-minded obsessive compulsives that helped him narrow his focus and refine his ability to spot unique items.
Richard once described his collection as consisting of an outrageous number of “nothing in particular” banjos. Some years back it seemed that he turned his attention to collecting bowling league shirts and bowling shoes, but never really abandoned his taste for banjos.
I had two “Defiance” banjos by Joseph Daniels in my collection. Daniels, born Joseph Toledano, was a professional musician and member of a well-known family troupe. In 1887 he took out a patent for a metal “sound pan” and a tailpiece distinguished by its adjustable hinge and tension spring mechanism (number 14,162, 18 October 1887). I owned one of these as well as an all-wood version of the top tension patent model, purchased from Richard Evans, and to a large extent I owe my fascination with the possibility of writing about British banjo builders to Richard. I eventually sold the earlier wooden banjo to Jody Stecher who, I’m told, still has it in his collection.
Richard was forever scarfing banjos up in eBay auctions, and if the seller was in the U.S. I was often Richard’s accommodation address, and his shipper. All manner of interesting banjo related stuff came my way enroute to Richard’s home. He was generous enough to let me spend a couple of weeks with some of his great eBay finds, and he occasionally sent some challenging projects to me, such as restoring a C.E. Lennox banjo from the 1890s. Lennox's patented way of getting around the need for a dowel stick did not win any awards. It depended partially the three screws, and partially on string tension that hold the thing in place. It wasn’t necessarily a real advance – it didn’t really catch on, but Richard’s efforts resurrected this old one-of-a-kind vintage banjo. Richard enlisted Mark Hickler to build a facsimile of the rim. He’d often come up with multilateral cooperation schemes involving numerous friends, frequently cross border operations entailing complex timing strategies.
During my ten or so years of flirtation with collecting, and my associated interest in research concerning British banjo history, I had some intriguing encounters. None top the long lingering email-fueled relationship with Richard. Such a sweet man.
Rest in Peace, Richard.