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Civil War Ox Bones?
Vintage Musical ox Bones
Old natural rib bones from California estate sale

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Civil War Ox Bones?

I found this intriguing pair of vintage bone-bones in September of 2005. In the same lot was a pair of vintage rosewood bones.

They came from an antiques dealer in Santa Monica, California who "got them from an estate sale, never played them, don't know how, not cracked or split, two look like they are made of hardwood."

The rosewood bones are professionally crafted and currently in my private collection. (Rosewood bones were popular during the Civil War.) The bone-bones, however, were crafted by a person with, in my opinion, limited workshop skills. I say this because the ends of one of the bones are not perpendicular, one end of the other bone is composed of spongy marrow, and no edges are beveled on either bone. The pair seems like it was made 'on the run.' M
aybe they were fashioned for a minstrel jam around the campfire the night before a big battle by a Confederate infantryman who had no tools but his mess utensils.

Although the bone-bones are playable, they are chipped and somewhat fragile, so I have kept them safely in a box all these years. Yes, you can play them, but they might be better off displayed in a museum exhibit.

One bone is dark in color. The other is light. One end of the dark bone is okay, but you might want to avoid playing the spongy end (which comes from the lower end of a natural rib) as it will certainly crumble with continued use. I usually trim this spongy area from musical bones I craft myself.

Both bones reveal a dark patina and ancient distress marks. Both bones are playable, but you would be well advised to excercise special care as both instruments show recent chipping along the edges.

The sharp tone they produce is characteristic of instruments made of solid natural bone.

Minstrel Style Design
The set resembles traditional minstrel style bones, although the curve arcs slightly more than my 28 degree template.
Dark Rib Bone
  • Length: 6-1/4"
  • Width: 15/16"
  • Thickness: 1/4" to 3/8"
  • Weight: 1.0 oz
  • Camber (arc): A little rounder than 28 degrees
Light Rib Bone
  • Length: 6-1/2"
  • Width: 1" to 1-1/8""
  • Thickness: 1/4" to 5/16"
  • Weight: 1.55 oz
  • Camber (arc): A little rounder than 28 degrees
Both Rib Bones
  • Composition: Natural bone, probably ox ribs
  • Color: Brown antique bone patina
  • Weight of Pair: 2.7 oz
In a nutshell
This set of musical bones looks like it was made long ago from the remains of someone's supper. A similar pair recently sold on eBay for $56.00

Click More Photos button above to see additional images.

Can you solve the mystery of these bones?
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  • Minstrel Style Design: Still popular after 150 years.
  • Possible 19th Century Artifact: Wonderful museum exhibit or historical display item.
  • Authentic Vintage Items: Great for living history events.

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