A Rare Treasure Found in the Twin Cities – Minnesota.
In the summer of 2011, I noticed an online advertisement in Minneapolis, MN offering two Valje drums of an unknown build date for $1000.
From the pictures, it was clear that the author was offering the “real” Valje drums from the 1970s and not the Latin Percussion line.
There were only two grainy photos by which to judge the condition and authenticity, so a visit was required.
I had just begun a search on Ebay and other sources to locate drums made by Tom Flores in California in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. Seeming like a miracle so far away from the east and west coasts of the United States; these drums offered in my home town were definitely a rare find.
My heart raced dialing the phone number of the seller. If these were true Valje antiques, then some other person surely would know their value and buy them from under me, I thought. I raced to the bank and withdrew the cash that afternoon and set a time that day to travel out to New Hope, MN to inspect them.
That evening I arrived at the home of a couple and sat down to look at the drums in their living room. I asked about how the man came upon this set. He told me he bought them from a friend back in the early 1970s and that he played them in jazz groups through the eighties. He had not played them for quite some time and was more focused on the East Indian Tablas now and saw no reason to keep them stored and silent.
One was an 11-inch Conga, the other a 12-inch Tumba. The conga was unstained; the Tumba had a dark stain. The skins were original, bleached cowhide. They were dirty and old, but playable. There were some blemishes from being banged about, but actually the exterior condition was not that battered. The man had some makeshift stands of iron rod, like the old style Gon Bops stands. They did not fit the drums well (I threw them away). There were clues that the drums must had been stored in a wet area as there were dark stains in the wood where the iron rod stands contacted the drums. This staining, too, was not extensive. The use of the iron stands left a permanent indentation around the drums where the drums sat on the poorly padded iron rod. Next I looked for the tell-tale scoring on the interior of the drum.
The scoring was to help the oak staves bend without blowing out at the apex of the bend. Yes! The scoring was there. I checked the hardware and it was of the typical shield-type seen on photos of older Valjes. The bolts, nuts, and washers also were not of recent make and were slightly oxidized. The condition of the chrome varied on each of the drums. On both drums the chrome had become pitted and was rusting where steel was exposed in the pits. Furthermore, the grain was slightly raised on both drums suggesting storage in a moist or wet environment. Both had the characteristic band at the foot of the drum. They were quite loose, but still there and not lost. I reasoned that I had indeed found a pair of authentic Valje drums and bought them on the spot for $1000, no haggling. These are worth far more to me than the $1000. The couple helped me to pack them in the car and I left for home with what I felt was an exquisite treasure.
These drums needed some tender-loving-care. The drums were not stored in a climate control setting and the chrome and finish on the drums was shot. I would need to disassemble them and restore the condition of the hardware, skins, and wood barrels.
Continue with 2 to see how Jason took lovely care of this treasure with an accurate restoration: Restoration of Congas Valjes from the 1970s (Part 2/3)