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Question from Helsinki

Q: Hi Steve, I attached two images of a banjo I got my hands on about some 30 years ago. I bought it from an american street-playing friend of mine. Is it one of those mail-order banjos???
All the possible best from Helsinki, Finland,

A: My sister bought one of those banjos, brand new, in 1963. Harmony was in Chicago. At their peak of production in the 60s they were making 1600 instruments per day. Most of the guitar players in my age group, the "baby boom" started playing on Harmonys (or Kays). I started on a Harmony ukulele. By the early 70s Japanese imports put them out of business. Very technically, the "mail order" banjos were made by Kay and Harmony, but they were sold by Sears, under the brand name "Silvertone" and by Montgomery-Ward under the brand name "Airline." The 5 string banjo almost disappeared in the 1950s. It was saved by banjos like yours (and Pete Seeger).

Steve Mason