© 2012 - 2019 by W. Lee Vinson

Ira Herbert Odell (1842 - 1928) originally partnered with fellow musician J. Harrison Woods in 1872 to form 'Woods & Odell'. In 1873 the pair took in a third partner in Charles W. Thompson forming 'Woods, Odell, and Thompson' - a music store and publishing business. By 1874 Woods had left the business which was to be known from that point forward as 'Thompson & Odell'.


Commerce, Manufactures and Resources of Boston, a historical, statistical, and descriptive review of industries in Boston published by the National Publishing Co. in 1883 provides the following description of Thompson & Odell:

"One of the most important manufacturers, dealers, and importers of musical instruments in Boston, is the firm whose name forms the heading of this sketch. Established in the year 1873, they have since then developed, until they have achieved the important position in the trade they now occupy.

The concern deal in all kinds of Musical Instruments, and import direct from Europe Brass-band Instruments, which for quality cannot be surpassed. The Cornets, Trombones, etc., handled by this concern, have earned numerous testimonials from eminent Instrumentalists as to their tone, beauty, and finish. Another speciality of the concern is the Calvin Baker Violins, Basses, and 'Cellos, which are acclaimed as equal to any manufactured. Drums and the "Artist Banjo," are also made by the house, of superior workmanship; and the firm handle large stock of Sheet Music.


The individual members of the concern are Messrs. Charles W. Thompson and I. H. Odell, both gentlemen long resident in Boston, and who are too well known in musical circles to need personal comment at our hands.


The trade of the house extends over the United States and Canada, where their goods are well known for their superior character and proportionately low prices."


Thompson & Odell was legally incorporated in 1891. Odell retired from the company a year later in 1892. Thompson passed away in 1903 after which the business went bankrupt in 1905 and their remaining assets were sold off. The music publishing side of the operation was absorbed by Carl Fischer while the band and orchestra instrument segment was taken in by the Vega Company.


From the very beginning, Thompson & Odell sold instruments from other manufacturers in addition to those made in house. Drums virtually identical to the one pictured below dating from the 1880s frequently surface with labels listing music retailers from New York, to Cincinnati, to Chicago.  It is quite likely that this 'Prussian' style drum was built by Lyon & Healy of Chicago and then labeled and sold by Thompson & Odell in Boston.

Thompson & Odell
 

Thompson & Odell Snare Drum, ca. 1880s
Thompson & Odell Label, ca. 1880s

Thompson & Odell's "Artist" line of drums, however, appears to have been made in house, or at least by local makers through an agreement with Thompson & Odell. The "Artist" drum was a described as a "street instrument" intended for "military and semi-military purposes" and was made for many years by J. B. Treat and later by Charles A. Stromberg.

Boston based drummer and instrument builder Joseph B. Treat's involvement with Thompson & Odell dates to the 1880s and early 1890s during which time he produced "The Celebrated Artist Drums" which were large, rope tension drums. Shells were typically single ply maple, tacked at the seem, with single ply maple reinforcing rings. Hoops were often painted black around the outside with the rope connecting to the hoops via cast iron hooks.

J. B. Treat Drum Label for Thompson & Odell
J. B. Treat Drum for Thompson & Odell

The most notable drums to come from Thompson & Odell were those produced in house during the tenure of Charles A. Stromberg as Factory Superintendent from the 1890s until 1905. Thompson & Odell's "Artist Drums", built first by J. B. Treat in the 1880s, were now manufactured with Stromberg's name attached as the maker. Stromberg's own Patented "Invincible" Orchestra Drums were built and sold through Thompson & Odell just prior to the company's demise in 1905. Stromberg would then go out on his own founding Charles A. Stromberg & Sons.

Dating Thompson & Odell instruments using addresses alone may not be conclusive as the company likely ran separate manufacturing and retail locations simultaneously. That being said, the following information has been documented and can be used as a rough guideline.

As early as 1875 - 1879, directories list Thompson & Odell at 86 Tremont Street in Boston. From 1880 - 1886 the company was located at 177 Washington Street though they may have used other addresses during the late 1880s including 186 Washington Street. From 1890 - 1900 the company operated at 523 Washington Street and by late in 1901 was using the address of 523 - 525 Washington Street. Beginning in 1902, Thompson & Odell is listed in business directories as being located at 749 Washington Street.

The Thompson & Odell name did not die completely with the company's bankruptcy in 1905. An attempt by Vega was made through the 1910s to distribute Thompson & Odell instruments as Vega's line of band and orchestra instruments. A Thompson & Odell catalog from that time period (pictured below) lists a very modest offering of mostly entry level drums, the catalog artwork for which is clearly borrowed from Nokes & Nicolai and would appear to demonstrate an agreement for the Vega owned Thompson & Odell brand to distribute Nokes & Nicolai's lower end models.

Vega / Thompson & Odell Band Instrument Catalog, ca. 1910s
Vega / Thompson & Odell Band Instrument Catalog, ca. 1910s
Vega / Thompson & Odell Band Instrument Catalog, ca. 1910s
Vega / Thompson & Odell Band Instrument Catalog, ca. 1910s