Bill Reese

In about 1897 two New York instrument makers, Lange and Rettberg bought the J. H. Buckbee banjo factory. Buckbee of New York had been the banjo maker for many famous players, among them Farland, Foote, Converse, Bruno, Mather, H. Dobson and G.C. Dobson and produced banjos with the names of these performers as the manufacturer. Indeed, Buckbee had been the largest of the post-war banjo manufacturers and produced both handmade and mass produced instruments. Why they sold out to Rettberg and Lange remains a mystery. R & L continued to make banjos for these performers, as well as a line of there own.

Exactly when R & L began to make the Orpheum is not known, but in 1903, W. B. Farmer was granted a patent, # 724833, for a tone ring which sits on brackets which are attached to the rim. This is the tone ring that was used on all Orpheum banjos by R & L and which gives the Orpheums their distinctive sound. It is not known who W. B. Farmer was or whether he worked for R & L. He was granted two additional patents for the banjo but these do not seem to have been used by R & L.

Orpheums were made in Styles 1, 2, 3, 3 Special, Brass Band and the rare #4. They were made as Tenors, 5 strings & Mandolin Banjos. There were also many custom models such as the "Duchess". Most Orpheum 5 strings have Serial numbers from #1-#3000. Tenors have #3000 and higher. Highest serial number seen is around #17,300. R& L did not keep records on the dates for their Orpheums. That is why most vintage instrument catalogues list R & L Orpheums as "c. 1915".

Many more tenors were made because Lange continued to make the Orpheum after he left R & L. in 1921. Many of the earlier features that were in the R & L Orpheums were incorporate by Lange in his top of the line Paramount Banjos which continued in production until about 1935. The Lange Orpheum 3 and the Orpheum 3 Special were among Lange's most popular Tenor banjo models during the "Jazz Age".

I have not been able to locate a price list for the R & L Orpheums. In 1929, the Lange Orpheums' selling prices were: #1-$70: #2-$90; #3-$110;-#3 special-$135.

The R&L Orpheums are not noted for their volume but do have a very distinct and pleasant ring. The 2 recent banjo CDs by Walt Koken, are fine examples of the sound of the Orpheum. Walt uses an Orpheum #4 on these recordings.

Price Track: (These are some of the prices I have seen for R & L Orpheums offered for sale during the last 10 years by reputable vintage instrument dealers..)

1987 5 string #1    $650
1988 5 String #3 Spec.    $1250
1988 Tenor #3 c. 1915    $400
1989 Tenor #1 c. 1915    $250
1990 Tenor # 1 c. 1915    $350
1990 MB #1    $350
1990 5 string # 1    $800
1990 Brass band, c. 1910    $850
1993 5 string #1 c. 1915   $575
1993 5 string #3 special    $1600
1994 5 string model #3     $2500
1994 5 string Brass band    $2500
1995 5 string #3 special    $1000
1995 Brass Band, 1922   $1095
1995 Brass Band    $950
1997 5 String #3 Special     $2000

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