Amongst the best English violin makers, Banks is particularly celebrated for his great output of cellos, made on good proportions and in particularly distinctive styles based on Stainer and Amati. Banks is unusual for the period in working outside London throughout his career, which was spent in his home town of Salisbury in Wiltshire. Born there in 1727, his apprenticeship was made with his uncle, William Hutoft from 1741, whose workshop in Catherine Street he inherited after Hutoft’s death in 1747. Nothing is known of Hutoft’s trade and there are no instruments known bearing his name, but Banks’ early occupation was with keyboard instruments and an English Guitar or Cittern is known bearing an original label dated 1757. His violins and cellos first appear from about 1775 and are very much in the style of other London makers of the period, most notably William Forster, both makers employing a very similar deep red-brown varnish, which is a point of distinction throughout Banks’ work. Banks then began to supply instruments to the London dealers Longman & Broderip and many of his instruments bear their brand. Banks himself then started to brand and stamp his work profusely on most parts of the interior and on the back. Banks’ work is meticulous and very stylish, although the Stainer model employed most commonly is high-arched and deeply scooped around the edge. The pegbox is distinctive, with a very slender swan-necked throat. The cellos perform particularly well and are much-sought after, but violas are generally of small proportions.
Benjamin died in 1795 and three sons, Benjamin ll, James and Henry, continued in the profession, although Henry worked chiefly with keyboard instruments. All three brothers ultimately moved to Liverpool, where Benjamin died in 1820 and Henry in 1830. Several instruments left in the premises after the death of James in 1831 were acquired by the Palmer brothers, and were finished and resold by London dealers.