RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Three vintage banjos valued at more than $16,000 were recovered by a North Carolina music shop after they turned up at an auction house the same day they were stolen.
Ed Lowe of Lowe Vintage Instruments said Thursday that the banjos were stolen Wednesday while his son helped another customer at their Burlington store. Lowe believes the customer, who was buying an inexpensive cable for an electric guitar, was in cahoots with the thief.
Lowe said he never doubted the banjos would be found. "It's not like they weren't going to show up," he said in a telephone interview. "These are unique instruments, and people know what they are."
The most valuable is a 1930s-era blue Gibson RB-11 valued at $8,995, Lowe said. He said it's particularly valuable because Gibson wasn't making many five-string banjos then. "It was their low-end level," he said. "It's just that it's an original five-string. That's what makes it rare. In the world of rare banjos, $9,000 is not that much."
Also stolen were a 1930s wood grain Gibson TB-2 valued at $5,495, and a 1960s wood grain Fender Artist, valued at $1,595.
The thieves sold the banjos to an auction house in Greensboro, which then called Lowe on Wednesday to find out if he wanted to purchase them, Lowe said. His son and the store's co-owner, Will, drove to Greensboro and picked up the banjos Thursday.
Police got a lead when a customer leaving a nearby barber shop became suspicious when he saw a man running down the street with three banjos under his arms and was able to get a license plate number. Lt. Mark Rascoe of the Burlington Police Department said that witness also saw someone else driving the getaway car.
Police are investigating whether the customer buying the cable was part of the theft as well, Rascoe said.
His first appraisal of the damage shows the least expensive banjo suffered "pretty significant scratches," while the other two had minor scratches, Lowe said.
He's taking the theft in stride, saying he doesn't plan to change the way he displays instruments so customers can play them. He will, however, update their conditions.
"In our description, we originally said they had normal play wear," Lowe said. "Now we'll say instead they have normal play and robbery wear."
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner