The Boston Drum Builders

Nokes & Nicolai

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Enes J. Nokes

Enes J. Nokes

Edward F. Nicolai

Edward F. Nicolai


Nokes & Nicolai was a Boston, Massachusetts based musical instrument manufacturing company from 1912 to 1926. Proprietors Enes J. Nokes and Edward F. Nicolai were direct successors to the company of Frank E. Dodge from whom they purchased the business in 1912. Prior to partnering with Nicolai, Nokes had a drum repair business of his own as early as 1911.1

Both Nokes and his business associate Nicolai came from backgrounds in music. Nokes, originally from Canada, took up drumming at the age of twelve and went on to an eighteen year performing career with Boston's Tremont Theatre Orchestra.2 Nicolai, originally from Lawrence, MA, was also a professional drummer in Boston.2

1911 E. J. Nokes & Company<br>Drum Manufacturers Ad

Advertisement for E. J. Nokes & Company
Drum Manufacturers - February, 1911
In 1922 Nokes & Nicolai acquired the banjo business of Boston's F. E. Cole Company.3 This may have lead to the company's expansion from their 5 Appleton street address to include 7 Appleton Street as well. The same building also housed the Poole Piano Company and the Morris Noiseless Pedal Action Company.

In 1926 Nokes & Nicolai merged with the Liberty Rawhide Company of Chicago, which had previously made only calfskin drumheads, to form the Liberty Musical Instrument Company.2 E. J. Nokes moved to Chicago at the time of the merger but soon resigned from the failing company and in 1927 went to work for the Novak Drum Company, also of Chicago, as General Sales Manager.4 In 1928 Nokes returned to Boston where for a short time he restarted his own manufacturing firm known as the Nokes Manufacturing Company which located at 97 Haverhill Street.5 He would later go to work for C. G. Conn Ltd. as a repairman and drum corps specialist.2 By 1928 the Liberty Company was bankrupt and it's drum building equipment was sold at auction to the Slingerland Company of Chicago.6


The Nokes & Nicolai company offered a wide variety of instruments in their catalogs including snare drums, bass drums, timpani, orchestra bells, xylophones, bass drum pedals, and a myriad of traps and sound effects. They were able to supply everything that the drummer would need for work in a virtually any performance setting. The popular music scene was thriving in Boston at that time with musical theater, vaudeville acts, variety shows, and silent films crowding the city's entertainment landscape. Opera orchestras, symphony orchestras, dance orchestras, and drum and bugle corps also would have accounted for a significant segment of the company's business.

1921 Nokes & Nicolai Advertisement
Nokes & Nicolai Advertisement - December, 1921
Nokes & Nicolai's product line was very similar to that of their immediate predecessor, F. E. Dodge. Dodge, who had been in business since 18687, acquired the patents of Harry A. Bower including those for a snare strainer, drum holders, and a timpani tuning device.6 These designs would become the property of Nokes & Nicolai who continued to operate out of the same facilities at 3 Appleton Street in Boston.
Of note among the many models offered by Nokes & Nicolai were the single headed and trap door bass drums. For the pit orchestra drummer of the day these were easier to transport and created extra storage space for other drums, traps, and hardware. The vast selection of snare drums available from Nokes & Nicolai included solid wooden shell drums made from maple, mahogany, rosewood, or bird's-eye maple, an all metal snare drum, both single and separate tension models, single headed snare drums, and field drums built either with rod tensioning or in the more traditional rope tension style.8 The most innovative of their snare drum designs featured a separate tension lug that adjusted at the lug using a small wrench while self aligning swivel nuts were housed in the claws which fitted over the wooden drum hoops.8

Nokes & Nicolai Snare Drums
Nokes & Nicolai Catalog No. 5, circa 1910s

While product assembly and the forming of wooden shells and hoops would have taken place at the Nokes & Nicolai Appleton Street factory, hardware and other metal parts may have been fabricated for Nokes & Nicolai by outside sources. It was not uncommon in that era for music retailers, also referred to as jobbers, to carry instruments made by a third party and then brand them with their own name. Nokes & Nicolai was no stranger to this practice and produced drums for the Oliver Ditson Company at one time. Additionally, a Thompson & Odell Band Instrument Catalog dating from the 1910s while under Vega ownership clearly shares catalog artwork from Nokes & Nicolai's Catalog No. 6 demonstrating an agreement between those two firms.


When Nokes & Nicolai acquired the F. E. Dodge Company in 1912, the factory was located a 3 Appleton Street in Boston. In 1920, Nokes expanded and began operating from the address of 5 Appleton Street.2 It can therefore be assumed that Nokes & Nicolai instruments marked with the address of 3 Appleton Street date from between 1912 and 1920. Instruments marked with the 5 Appleton Street address must have been produced no earlier than 1920. Instruments labeled 5 - 7 Appleton are assumed to have been made very late in the company's existence, likely after 1922 but no later than 1926 when the company was absorbed into the Liberty Musical Instrument Company of Chicago.


Nokes & Nicolai Badge, 1912-1926

Nokes & Nicolai Badge, ca. 1912 - 1926

The most commonly seen and widely used Nokes & Nicolai badge appearing on snare drum and bass drum hoops, glockenspiel cases, and even small traps.

Nokes & Nicolai Badge, 1912-1920

Nokes & Nicolai Badge, ca. 1912 - 1920

A larger and more detailed rectangular brass badge lists the company's address from 1912 until 1920. Instruments bearing badges and labels with this address most likely date to within that eight year period of time.

Nokes & Nicolai Drum Label, ca. 1912-1920

Nokes & Nicolai Label, ca. 1912 - 1920

A paper label frequently used inside of snare drums shells.

Nokes & Nicolai Drum Badge, ca. 1920-1926

Nokes & Nicolai Drum Badge, ca. 1920 - 1926

A later version of the rectangular badge, also appearing in a smaller size, listing the company's 5 Appleton Street address.

Nokes & Nicolai Drum Badge, ca. 1922-1926

Nokes & Nicolai Drum Label, ca. 1922 - 1926

A paper label dating from very late in the company's history.

Nokes & Nicolai Stamp

Nokes & Nicolai Stamp

This stamp appears frequently on metal hardware including bass drum pedals and bass drum hoop mounted cymbal holders. It was also used on metal shell snare drums and some small 'traps' such as wood blocks.

Lee's Nokes & Nicolai Separate Tension Orchestra Drum Drum Nokes & Nicolai Separate Tension Orchestra Drum

The Nokes & Nicolai Separate Tension Orchestra Drum was their premier wooden shelled snare drum offering. Bird's-eye maple, seen here, was an available option at an added cost.

The separate tension models employed a unique lug design allowing each head to be tuned independently by adjusting the tension rods with a wrench near the center posts. Stamped metal hooks attach over the wooden rims and house swivel nuts into which the tension rods feed. The posts are formed from milled brass and allow the rods to turn freely. Tight fitting metal caps cover the posts giving a more complete appearance while keeping the tension rods in place when not under tension.

Lee's Nokes & Nicolai Trap Door Bass Drum Vaudeville drummers needed a way to transport all of their instruments from one orchestra pit to the next. This need for greater portability led many companies to introduce models such as the Trap Door Bass Drum.

Nokes & Nicolai Trap Door Bass Drum Catalog Illustration

Lee's Nokes & Nicolai Piano Pedal Action Bass Drum and Cymbal Beater "New Dodge Folding, Piano-Action Pedal Bass Drum and Cymbal Beater"

Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer No. 5 modestly describes the pedal as follows:

    ALL THE GOOD QUALITIES ever claimed for any ten pedals are combined to make this PERFECT LITTLE 18 OZ. BEAUTY. All the faults formerly found in pedals are eliminated.
    It is INSTANTLY attached to ANY SIZE bass drum.
    It is detached and packed up in THREE SECONDS.
    EVERYTHING is right under the foot from a DEAFENING CRASH to a most delicate PATROL APPROACH.
    It can be played from the FRONT or from EITHER SIDE.

Lee's Black No-Nic All Metal Drum Nokes & Nicolai "No-Nic All Metal Drum"

The 'All Metal Drum' was Nokes & Nicolai's only metal shelled drum offering. While this drum does not match identically the artwork Nokes & Nicolai catalogs, the shell, hoops, and strainer are all stamped Nokes & Nicolai.

This drum is a particular curiosity in that the aluminum shell is finished in black enamel with the hardware bearing a gold-colored lacquer or plating. This was either Nokes & Nicolai's answer to the black engraved drums of the day such as Ludwig's 'Black Beauty', or a previous owner's way of changing the drum's appearance to suit his personal taste.

Lee's Nokes & Nicolai Double Tension Rod Orchestra Drum Nokes & Nicolai Double Tension Rod Orchestra Drum

The 'Double Tension Rod' model is in fact a single tension drum. Both heads are tensioned at the same time by turning the tension rods using a small wrench. It does however provide for a true free floating shell with only one hole being drilled in the shell serving as an air vent. The snare throw-off attaches to the bottom hoop and can fully engage or disengage the snares from the bottom head.

Lee's Ditson Thumbscrew Rod Orchestra Drum Ditson Thumbscrew Rod Orchestra Drum

While the Oliver Ditson Company dates back as far as the 1830s as a music publisher, this drum likely dates from the 1910s or 20s. And although the Ditson Company had great success as a publisher and musical instrument distributor, they were mostly a retailer as opposed to a manufacturer by this time.

This drum was most likely produced for Ditson by Boston's Nokes & Nicolai or their predecessors F. E. Dodge. The snare strainer, hardware and shell construction are all characteristic of Nokes & Nicolai. The bottom hoop also shares Nokes & Nicolai's distinctive semicircular snare gates.

1. E. J. Nokes & Company. Advertisement. Program Booklet from the Seventh Annual Grand Concert, Benefit of the Boston Musicians' Relief Society. February 19, 1911.
2. Christine Merrick Ayars, Contributions to the Art of Music in America by the Music Industries of Boston 1640 to 1936. (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1937), 272.
3. "Cole Business Sold." Music Trade Review April 8, 1922: p. 37.
4. "With Novak Drum Co." Music Trade Review June 11, 1927: p. 33.
5. "Nokes Again Making Drums." Music Trade Review February 11, 1928: p. 17.
6. Christine Merrick Ayars, Contributions to the Art of Music in America by the Music Industries of Boston 1640 to 1936. (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1937), 271.
7. F. E. Dodge Co. Catalog. (Boston, F. E. Dodge Co., 1907)
8. Nokes & Nicolai, The American Drummer, No. 6. (Boston: Nokes & Nicolai, ca. 1918)     :     Nokes & Nicolai © 2012 by W. Lee Vinson