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This story was written by:
Mike Ellis

The John Grey Drum Company and Autocrat Snares

The story of John Grey can be traced to the year 1830 when Jacob Solomon and his family left Exeter in Devon for London. In 1832, Jacob's son Henry started a fancy goods business (beads, costume jewelry and steel pen nibs) and eventually, musical instruments were added into the companyís wholesale catalogue issued in 1860 by Henry Solomon & Co.

Henry Solomon sold the musical instrument side of his business to Barnett Samuel in 1861. Samuel had married Solomonís sister Caroline in 1849 and lived in Sheffield manufacturing tortoiseshell (doorknobs, knife handles and combs. However, the musical instrument business appeared to offer him better prospects so he moved to London with his family and took over the warehouses at 31 Houndsditch and 27a Duke Street.

In 1869 Nelson Samuel (Barnett's third son) entered the business and the selling of musical instruments seems to have been a success. In 1872, Barnett's eldest son was taken into partnership and the title of the firm became Barnett Samuel & Sons moving to 32 Worship Street, London, E.C. in 1878.

He proved to be a force behind even greater expansion

of the firm's activities. By then they were dealing with every type of musical instrument and musical merchandise-including banjos and zither-banjos made for them by the usual Birmingham and London factories. Barnett Samuel died in 1882 but Nelson Samuel's guiding hand led the firm from strength to strength.

In 1901 Barnett Samuel & Sons became a limited liability company, with Nelson, Selim and Max Samuel as directors. By this time the firm was one of the largest musical instrument wholesalers in this country and, in addition, had established their own piano factory in North London. John Grey & Sons Ltd. became a subsidiary company of Barnett Samuel & Sons for the making and selling of banjos, guitars and drums and the banjos were designed and manufactured by Francis Beddard, an Englishman who originally worked for S.S.Stewart in America.

When Stewart failed in 1901 Beddard returned to England and soon after secured a job in the factory of Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd. It was his craftsmanship and flair for knowing how to sell the banjos he made which put John Grey instruments "on the map." (His son Robert, an expert banjo player and banjo maker himself, has been on the staff of Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. for many years as production manager.)

By 1911 the subsidiary company "John Grey and Sons" had formed and used the name as a trademark on its instruments. Grey and Sons LTD was a trademark invented by Barnett Samuel for banjos and drums and was used from 1905. It is not clear whether John Grey was an actual person or not apart from the historical figure.

It should be noted that in 1914 Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd. patented and marketed the first portable gramophone under the trade name of "Decca." With the slogan "she shall have music wherever she goes". By 1927 the sales of these portable machines was enormous and dwarfed the sales of all other goods made by the company, although the manufacture of banjos was thriving because of the dance-band boom.

In 1918 the firm founded another separate company - British Music Strings Ltd., with a factory at Monsell Road, London, N.4. With a tie-up with Olly Oakley, they were soon supplying all types of banjo strings to players all over the world. In 1927 the piano side of Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd., was merged with Brasteds and floated as the Associated Piano Co. Ltd.

Truly the firm had become a vast empire in all aspects of the musical instrument business.

In 1928 Barnett Samuel & Sons was bought by British Equity Investment Co. Ltd. but did not have the right to use the title (The firm's holdings in Associated Piano Co. Ltd. and British Music Strings Ltd. were not included in the deal.) so it was renamed as the Decca Gramophone Co. Ltd. The company became the Decca Record Co. Ltd. The entire instrument part of the business was included in the eight shares of John Grey & Sons Lid and these shares purchased by Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. who was set up in 1919 by Charles and Leslie Rose and Victor Morris at number 11 Denmark Street, London, expanding to six floors of musical instruments and printed music.

Rose Morris continued to make and market "John Grey" banjos and drums as well as Autocrat, Broadway and Clansman military drums at 32 Worship Street up to the outbreak of World War 2 and after the war started again in a spasmodic fashion. The company was bought by Grampian Holdings LTD in 1960 and continued to produce cheap banjos labeled "John Grey" in vast quantities to meet the demand of retail shops.

The John Grey Broadway drums were the budget version of the pro-line Autocrats with single headed toms instead of double and less tension lugs to cut production costs. The John Grey drums were well built instruments and helped fill a much needed gap in the lower to mid ranges offered by Premier, Beverley, Carlton and Ajax in the late 40ís to mid 60ís.

John Grey had a few endorsers but never really reached the heights of their British competitors. In 1967, Rose-Morris stopped using the John Grey brand and reverted to marketing drums under their own RM brand along with RM Head Master drum heads. In 1971, the range was renamed Shaftsbury drums which continued until about 1977 when Rose Morris acquired the distribution rights for Ludwig drums and drum production was finally discontinued. Rose Morris were also UK distributors for Zildjian cymbals around this time.

Sadly, when the factory finally closed, the remaining inventory was destroyed along with the tooling and many finished but unsold drums were simply dumped. Rose Morris still operate their music store at Denmark Street in London.

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