Saturday, January 11, 2020

Research project: "Deco" pad, 1940s

I will be taking delivery on a very distinct vintage pad sometime next week.

In advance of receiving it, I decided to begin researching its history.
I ended up going down a cool little rabbit hole, and thought I'd share.

Here's the pad.

The pad, which doesn't seem to have a brand or model name that I can find, was designed and made by Robert I. Woods in the 1940s, and sold through his local music dealer in Liverpool, NY.

What's interesting about this pad, besides its distinctive design and looks, is that it can be adjusted to change the pitch using the bolt that runs through the middle -- tightening it will give you a slightly higher pitch; loosening will lower the pitch. According to the seller, later models in the 1950s included another adjustment that allowed one to open or close side panels for a change in tone. This is an earlier model from the 1940s, before that feature was added.

Some of the pad's historic info was provided by the seller; the rest I had to go looking for.
What I found included stories about the music shop's origins and the sale of the building for conversion into condos (sigh); some hunting to determine which Robert Woods actually invented this pad (Robert I. had a son named Robert F, who was not a musician); and the history of the business where Robert I. did his inventing.

Most of this info was found by scouring the web for obituaries. You can find out quite a bit from reading someone's obituary about how they lived and what they did with their time on earth. And you don't need to pay for an Ancestry subscription, either. Many newspapers keep records of obits going back into the late 19th century. You just have to be willing to do more digging on your own, which for my money beats paying Ancestry to do it. It's more fun to do it myself, anyway.

Here's what I found about the music dealer that sold Woods' pads:

From Syracuse historical site:

Business started in 1935.
Owners Dave Gersony,  Howard Gersony
Location- 119 So. Jefferson, later moved to So. Clinton Street.
Lines- Gretsch, Martin, Fender, Haystrom, Yamaha, Ampeg,
Marshall Amps, Peavey, Polytone, Korg, Crown, JBL,
Malatchi, various sax, trombone lines, Vinyl Records (45's, Lp, 78, EP's)
Recording tape & accessories, Vinyl Records (45's. Lp, EP, 78 RPM)
Musical Instrument sales & lessons, a full serve music store.
Huge selection of Jazz Recordings
Sadly our good friend Dave Gersony passed away Aug 31, 1997

And here is what I found out about Robert I. Woods, who was an inventor, the local school band director and a lifelong musician (obituary from 1984):

Finally, digging a little further I was able to learn about Woods' employer, the Lipe Machine Shop:

(from Wikipedia)

The building became an industrial incubator after Charles E. Lipe, 29, a young Cornell University engineering graduate of the Sibley College of Mechanics in 1873 and son of a German-born farmer from Fort Plain, Montgomery County, New York, moved into the building in 1880 and set up the C. E. Lipe Machine Shop. The building was commonly known as the Lipe Shop.
The Lipe Shop was a "haven for inventors and an incubator of industries" and Lipe himself was a prolific inventor. He had invented a cigar-rolling machine, a broom making machine, motion picture equipment, automatic looms and time recorders.


Now, I didn't absolutely have to go digging this far back to get the basic facts. It would have been enough to know who invented and sold this pad. But going back further gave me a richer picture of the environment in which Woods was encouraged to innovate and invent things that would make something better out in the world. As a high school music teacher, he certainly would have seen his share of cheap practice pads that offered nothing other than a flat surface to practice on. His design added in some adjustability, and some nice design elements as well.

What's interesting (to me, at least) is that Woods doesn't appear to have registered a patent for his invention. This could be for several reasons:

-- he may have attempted to file a patent claim that was rejected because his design either copied too many aspects of someone else's or because not enough of Woods' design was considered "new" and/or "original" to be granted a separate patent;

-- he may not have had the means to file -- it costs more than applying for, say a simple copyright for a song -- but that's not likely considering his lines of work;

-- he was making them on his own time and selling them through his local music shop, which means this product was never produced on a large enough scale to go forward to patent registration and marketing beyond the Syracuse area. If that's the case, it also suggests that relatively few were made, and therefore even fewer exist today.

My money is on the last possibility.

I am hoping to find out more about this pad, but like all my vintage pads, information can be difficult to come by because practice pad innovation wasn't as big a deal as new drum designs (Remo Belli's tunable practice pad excepted).

But if any of my readers have ever seen another one of these, I would love to know about it.

I'll share more pictures and, if the pad is safely playable, a short video after it arrives.

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