The First time I met Brian Hill in Person was at the 2011 Pennsylvania Drum and he purchased a unique looking Duplex snare drum from me with a perforated metal shell. He wrote an article that was published by Not So Modern Drummer in in October of 2012 on that same drum so I found it very fitting to mkae that article the first of many that will be reprinted here. Enjoy.

Matt Alling




Victorian Classics

“Perforated Heavy Metal”


Maker:  Duplex Mfg., Co.  St. Louis, MO        

Circa:   Late 1800”s-early 1900’s.

Dimensions:  6”(h) x 16”(dia.)

Published:  NSMD Oct. 2012.


In the early 1880’s, Emile Boulanger set in motion a series of inventions and innovations that would revolutionize the modern drum into the instrument that we love today.  In so many ways, Boulanger was decades ahead of the competition.  With the advent of the separate tension single-post tube lug in 1883, he experimented and followed with such ground-breaking ideas as perforated metal shells, counter-hoops that allowed for a tension rods to pass through it (instead of using a clip, claw, hook or hole), the first snare through-offs, and clear celluloid shells.  Boulanger sold his drums to many of the music houses and retailers of the 1880’s and into the 1900’s as Duplex drums or relabeled and renamed them for the convenience of the buyer.  As early as the mid 1880’s, companies such Harry Coleman’s American Excelsior Solo and Military Band Instruments, Lyon & Healy, and the Whaley Royce Co. of Canada sold Duplex drums as their “top-of-the-line.” 

This is the “Perforated Metal Duplex Drum.”  It was offered as a band and an orchestra drum, with head sizes in 14”, 15”, and 16”.   The earliest reference I found on this model is from a Harry Coleman catalog from 1885, of Philadelphia, PA, but I would think there might be a Duplex catalog or two out there that would be slightly earlier.  Many of the metal shell drums listed by Duplex are of nickel-plated spring brass, but Duplex also had a category of shells listed as “made entirely of metal,” from which this model is from.  The shell is made of a single piece of “metal” and is butted and brazed in place forming a “seamless” high-polished shell.  There are two rows of perforations going horizontally around the shell stopping short of coming together by one set of lugs.  I believe that the idea behind the perforations then, as with today, was that they would increase the over-all volume of the drum, as it was reported that this model was popular amongst drummers as a parade drum. 

The counter-hoops represent an advancement in hoop design that will continue far into the future.  Combining the best of both worlds, Boulanger designed a metal hoop with a thick interior wood (maple) veneer lining  The wood was an attempt to lighten the drum as this drum does have some weight to it.  Attached to the outside metal portion of the hoop, is a metal “ear” for the tension rod to pass through freely.  Boulanger called them “Skeleton Rods” as they are comparatively “bare-bones” in appearance and design to anything else available at the time.  This drum has 12 Skeleton Rods top and bottom and also incorporates the patented Duplex single-post tube lug for separate tension tuning.  Attached directly to the top hoop is a rectangular attachment for the sling hook when using as a parade drum.     

Emile Boulanger was clearly thinking ahead when he added a “throw-off” to the snare adjustment assembly.  Up to that point, you only had the option of adjusting the tension of the snares with a screw rod.  Boulanger came up with a way to remove the snares from the snare head with a flick of a switch.  In essence:  the snare through-off was invented.  Although it was billed as a “combination snare strainer and muffler,” it was non-the-less a through-off, attached to the bottom hoop on the opposite side of the drum from the adjusting screw rod assembly. (Earlier models of this drum simply employed a leather snare butt.)  Duplex offered this feature on several models in the later-1800’s through the early 1900’s.  All models of snare drums came with “water-proof woven snares.”  This particular drum has coiled wire snares that are placed in the adjuster clamps individually on each side of the drum.

As with all Duplex drums of the era, calf-skin heads were offered in different styles from Jos. Reitz, maker of “Kangaroo” and “Angora” heads.  These skins were found consistently on drums of Duplex origin with various makers labels throughout the many retail outlets of the period.  The drum has two Duplex badges, a round metal badge centered on a wooden vent grommet, and a square, brass plate attached to the top hoop complete with a small rendering of the round badge. 

This Perforated Duplex Snare Drum with 12 Skeleton Rods and 16” heads is one of the “Band” models designed for the street and out-door playing situations. It’s loud and shinny and is certainly a precursor to the modern snare drum.  In researching this drum, I found part of an old Lyon & Healy catalog that was undated.  The heading on the page read…. “The Famous Duplex Drums,”  and listed several snare and bass drum selections (including this drum) each with a funny little code name printed in italics just before the catalog number of the drum.  At the very bottom of the page was one of the most memorable lines from any catalog I ever read:  “Code words in italics preceding numbers of instruments are for when ordering by Telegraph.”  


From Lancaster County PA,

              Thoughts from the shop………….


Brian Hill

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