Bach's Mercurys

For The Conservatory

Part 1 (Revised)

(Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer)

 

            Within the last few months, a person with an unusual Mercury cornet asked the authors if they knew anything about his instrument.  The effort to explain this Mercury led to this article.

 

The authors always had assumed that Mercury and Stradivarius instruments followed roughly parallel development paths.  They did not.  Mercury development was more sporadic and is not easy to understand.  This article may help illustrate why.  It describes one large but unusual set of Mercury trumpets and cornets made in 1939 and 1940.  Understanding these instruments may help put together a more complete picture in the future.

 

            (All of the revisions to this article are in the Introduction Section.)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            From the time they were introduced, Bach's Stradivarius instruments were pricey, and Bach thought that he needed to offer some lower priced instruments.  He did just that, of course, but he did not refer to any of them as "student models".  Rather, he explained that he was producing quality instruments that had fewer options and adornments.  Thus, they were said to be more accessible to everyone.  Of these "other" instrument lines, the Mercury line was to contain the least expensive or bottom-end models.  (Bach would not have used the term "bottom-end models".)

 

The Mercury name spanned Bach's entire manufacturing career.  In an August 14, 1925 trademark application, he said that the first time he used the name was on May 1, 1925.  That fact may be relatively meaningless because it is not clear whether Bach had actually made a Mercury instrument by that time.

 

When Mercury production did begin, it did not get off to a good start.  The authors knew that Bach made some Mercury trumpets between 1926 and 1928.  What they did not know until they began the research for this article was that Bach made only 51 of them before the ones described here.  More to the point, Bach's early efforts on his bottom-end line were not entirely successful. All of the 51 early Mercurys were trumpets.

 

            Documentation of Bach's earliest instruments is somewhat spotty.  Some of the early shop cards are missing.  It is possible that additional Mercurys will be found one day.  As of now, it has to suffice to say that it appears that only 51 pre-1939 Mercurys were produced.  Then Mercury production stopped.

 

            Even if only 51 Mercurys were made, it is clear that Bach intended to produce them on a routine basis.  They were not pictured in his earliest instrument catalog, but an accompanying price list dated October 1, 1925 shows that a Mercury trumpet in raw brass was to be offered for $45.  This can be compared to the cost of a Stradivarius trumpet also in raw brass for $125.  Mercury trumpets also were to be offered with silver plating and, incredibly, with gold plating.  Just why Bach thought someone might pay $90 for a gold plated Mercury trumpet is unclear.  There were even options available.  Like their higher priced Stradivarius cousins, the Mercurys could be ordered with a quick-change-to-A mechanism.

 

            Just how was Bach to make a trumpet for $45?  While he had a year or two of manufacturing experience, it probably appeared to Bach that he needed to import some parts and/or materials to reduce costs.  The data on these early Mercurys are sketchy.  Taken all together, however, there is enough information available to indicate that some of these instruments, perhaps most, used French-made valves, although at least one Mercury was made with a German valve set.  Additionally, if the authors interpreted the notations correctly, brass was imported from both Germany and France for some of the bells.

 

Besides these cost-reducing measures, Bach also used a few bells left over from Stradivarius production.  These bells were bells that either had been phased out or did not meet Stradivarius standards.  Without the Mercury and Apollo lines, they would have been scraped.  Throughout most of his manufacturing career, Bach continued this practice of using leftover Stradivarius components on his lesser lines when he could.

 

Considering all of the data on these 51 instruments, these early Mercurys can only be considered exploratory.  No more like them were ever made again.  The authors believe that setting such a low price for his Mercury trumpets ($45) made it difficult for Bach to make them at a profit.  The authors have to assume that this early effort to make and sell inexpensive Mercurys was not satisfactory, and, as a result, not many were made in the first rush to production.

 

            Trying to confirm some of the information on the shop cards, the authors eventually found one of these early Mercury trumpets, #482.  The details of the trumpet will be reserved for a special article.  Nonetheless, it is instructive to look at two pictures.  The first is a picture of the trumpet positioned to view some of its more interesting features.

 

Figure 1: Bach Mercury Trumpet #482
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            Trumpet #482 is easily distinguished from a Stradivarius trumpet.  The major differences include bell braces, slide nibs, mouthpiece receiver, no tuning slide brace, perpendicular second valve slide and an unusual valve section.  Most of them features were chosen to reduce production costs compared to Stradivarius instruments.  One feature that cannot be seen in the photograph is the immovable third valve slide although the slide was made in two pieces so moisture could be removed.

 

Trumpet #482 is not entirely in original condition.  Modifications were made to the first valve slide, and it is possible that the water key was replaced.  There is a sleeve on the mouthpipe.  It is impossible to tell when or where these alterations were made.

 

One of more interesting cost-cutting features found on trumpet #482 is the mouthpiece receiver.  It is the same receiver Bach used on his Apollo bugles, which are discussed in a separate article.  These receivers are very thin and are not tapered.  As a result, they are prone to splitting.  They are also inexpensive to make.

 

Possibly the most interesting aspect of trumpet #482 is the valve section.  As noted previously, the valve sets on these early Mercury trumpets were imported, probably from France.  The first valve from trumpet #482 is shown in the following photograph alongside the first valve from Stradivarius trumpet #315.  The two trumpets were made within a few months of each other.

 

Figure 2: Comparison of Mercury #482 Valve (left) to Stradivarius #315 Valve
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The most obvious difference between the Bach valve and the one on the left is the exposed spring.  While the barrels are the same height, the diameter of the French piston is considerably smaller.  The fact that the piston on Stradivarius trumpet #315 have been re-plated makes this difference even more pronounced.  Another notable feature on the valve from trumpet #482 is the cork bumper on the top of the valve cap.

 

            After these 51 Mercury trumpets were made, Bach stopped producing Mercurys. Approximately eleven years went by, and no additional Mercurys were made.  Except for the onset of the Great Depression in 1928, the authors have no ready explanation for this. It could be argued that the Depression would have been a great time to offer less expensive instruments.  The authors conclude, with some reservation, that Bach simply found that he could not make a trumpet at a third of the cost of a Stradivarius ($45/$125).  Equally plausible is that he encountered problems importing inexpensive valve sets.  The valves on trumpet #482 are quality valves.

 

Apparently it was always hard to find a marketing niche for the Mercurys.  By 1961, Bach was promoting them for "conservatory students" who could not afford higher priced instruments.  This was not a new idea.  As will be seen, it arose over 20 years earlier.

 

This article, then, tells something of the story of the first real Mercury instruments, i.e., the first Mercurys to be produced in some volume.  Other than the fact that business was better after the country recovered from the Great Depression, there is no real reason for introducing another line of instruments at just that time.  Perhaps a demand may have always been present, but Bach just did not see how to meet it.  Another possibility is that Bach simply bit off too much to chew in the mid-1920s, and 1939 was the first time favorable company finances and opportunity coincided.  No matter the reason, the instruments described here set the stage for things that happened later in the Mercury line, but that will be a story for another day.

 

CONSERVATORY MODELS

 

            When the authors began trying to assemble what they knew about Mercury instruments, they found that they already had some information in hand about some unusual instruments.  That information was contained in a note written by Bach that identified instruments called "Conservatory Models".  It is not at all clear whether the name Conservatory Model was envisioned as a model name like Stradivarius Model or had some other connotation.

 

            The top of the note is shown below.  (Only the top is shown because the bottom refers to Mercedes instruments.)

 

Figure 3: Bach Note (1) on Conservatory Models
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            This note by itself does not make complete sense in Bach terms.  The components (bells and mouthpipes) are recognizable as parts used on other Bach instruments.  The confusing part, however, is the 0.446 inches written beside the word valve.  This identifies the bore size, but not only is it very small, no other Bach instruments were known to use that bore size.  After finding this note, the authors filed it away along with a big question mark.  That is where it remained for some time.

 

NEW YORK JUNIOR MODELS

 

More recently, the authors found additional information that they thought might be related to the above note.  That information, however, just raised even more questions.  One piece is shown below.

 

Figure 4: N.Y. Junior Trumpet Drawing
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            Reduced in size, the above is one of Bach's simpler technical drawings.  It is a drawing of a trumpet.  While the name N.Y. Junior Trumpet is engaging, the most striking thing to the authors was the valve bore of 0.446 inches, the same as shown on the above note referring to Conservatory Models.  Unlike the note, however, the drawing identified a relevant year for the authors to work with.

 

            Just as the note refers to trumpets and cornets, so too are there two drawings.  The companion drawing is shown below.

 

Figure 5: N.Y. Junior Cornet Drawing
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The two drawings were of considerable more interest than the note.  Finding these drawings meant that Bach had progressed to putting his ideas into his customary technical format, i.e., he made technical drawings.  The drawings implied that he would be making instruments.  The names of these instruments, however, were even more peculiar than the name Conservatory Model.  Is it possible Bach might have been thinking of marketing instruments called New York Junior Models?

 

The cornet drawing in fact was more helpful than the trumpet drawing.  In addition to the bore size, there is an interesting component on this drawing.  It is a bell-mounted tuning slide shown right below the mouthpipe assembly.  No other Bach instruments made prior to 1939 had this feature, but where had this kind of thing been seen before?

 

MERCURY MODELS

 

            Even later, the authors found a second note among Bach's papers.  It did not refer to either Conservatory Models or New York Junior Models.  Rather, it used the name Mercury Model to categorize some specific instruments.  It related to the above through the odd bore size, however, and it listed various components and prices for the instruments.  This appears to be a later note than the first one because, if for no other reason, the prices are higher.

 

Figure 6: Bach Note (2) Defining Configurations of Mercury Instruments
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

Bach apparently had continued to think about a line of inexpensive instruments, and this was the answer.  There are no more references to Conservatory Models or New York Junior Models.  He settled on calling them Mercury Models, and he now launched that line with some seriousness.

 

            While the authors previously did not know about any such bore size, they did recognize the bell loop as being unique to Mercury cornets.  The following is a scan of a page taken from a "Bach Trumpets, Cornets, Trombones" catalog copyrighted in 1940.

 

Figure 7: Scan of Mercury Cornet In 1940 Bach Catalog

 

The copyright application associated with the catalog says that the catalog was first printed on August 1, 1940.  Now the purpose of the bell loop shown in the catalog became clearer.  The authors had not consciously thought about the loop in the bell tail as a tuning slide.  Perhaps that is an overstatement.  The truth is that the authors did not think much about Mercurys at all, much less that they had bell-mounted tuning slides.

 

            Although included here only to show what jogged the authors' memories regarding the tuning slide, the catalog entry does not refer to the instruments discussed in this article.  While its date of publication is within the range of sale dates of the instruments, the catalog refers to Mercury instruments made in one of Bach's standard bore sizes.  The catalog entry for Mercury trumpets (not shown) prices them at $82 also, the same as the cornets.  These good-deal prices didn't last long, however.  They were increased by over 20 percent less than a year later.

 

SHOP CARDS

 

            The authors of course realized that Bach included entries on his shop cards regarding bore sizes.  Knowing that the drawings were dated 1939; it was natural to glance through the shop cards from that year looking for instruments with a 0.446-inch bore size, but that exercise yielded no such instruments.  Then a friend of one of the authors wrote to say that he had bought what he thought was a Bach Mercury cornet but that it turned out to be a fake of some kind.  In particular, the valves were clearly not Bach valves.  The cornet's serial number was in the low 10,000 range.  He asked if the authors would check the shop card corresponding to the serial number.  Finding the appropriate card lead to the discovery that 375 Mercury trumpets and cornets used that particular bore size.  The serial numbers ranged from 10,000 to 10,376.

 

            Cursory examination of the shop cards showed that many of the instruments had bells that correspond to Bach's notes shown above.  Other features did not appear to be as normal, however.  These abnormalities are illustrated in the shop card below, which is representative of most of the cornets.

 

Figure 8: Shop Card for Mercury Cornet #10,139
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The first 100 cards are pink and have odd, non-standard formats that are hard to read.  The remaining 275 are formatted like the one shown above.  They are in standard format for the year they were filled in, but their color is unusual.

 

            Entries on these cards that give pause are as follows.  Almost all of the cards exhibit similar entries.

1.     The serial number appears to be incompatible with the date completed.  Bach instruments with serial numbers in the 10,000 range generally were made in the late 1940s.

2.     The bore size of the trumpet, 0.446 inches, is not a standard Bach bore size.

3.     The valve model is indicated to be model B, but this trumpet was made well after Bach discontinued his original valve model "B".

4.     The mouthpipe is indicated to be type B, but this is not a standard nomenclature for a Bach mouthpipe.

 

The authors by now are accustomed to seeing Bach serial numbers reserved for future production.  Correlating such serial numbers with completion dates is impossible.  To reserve 375 numbers in the 10,000 range during 1939, however, was extraordinary even for Bach.  The serial numbers for these Mercurys are far out of sequence regarding their completion dates.  The first Mercury in this set was #10,000.  It was completed February 17, 1939.  The previous serial number, #9,999, was a Stradivarius cornet completed on November 30, 1948.

 

            The bore size on these instruments is unique to Bach production.  Up until the time these instruments were made, Bach had used 0.448-, 0.453-, 0.459-, 0.462- and 0.468-inch bore sizes.  He had even started or was about to start making instruments with a 0.440-inch bore size.  The 0.446-inch bore size was different from all the rest, and it was used on only these 375 instruments.

 

            The valve model on these Mercurys is labeled model B.  Bach in fact had another valve model "B" early in his production.  That valve model "B" was his second valve design.  It was designed to change the topology of his early instruments.  With minor alterations, that model "B" gave way to valve model "E" in the early 1930s.  Very different from the earlier valve model "B", the valves on these Mercurys were simply labeled model B to differentiate them as special.  More will be said about these valves later in this article.

 

            The mouthpipe assemblies on these instruments too were special.  They were the first assemblies Bach made that combined the mouthpiece receiver and mouthpipe into one piece.  These too will be described in more detail later in this article.  If the notes shown in Figures 1 and 4 above did not exist, the mouthpipe tapers for these instruments could not be guessed.  Even with the notes, they remain an assumption since they cannot be measured easily.  Presumably the second note shown in Figure 4 is the more accurate.

 

            The bells on these instruments are indicated on the shop cards, as was Bach's custom.  The only unusual thing about them is that some of the 375 Mercurys were made with leftover bells from Stradivarius production.  Some Mercurys got #5, #10 and #25 bells, to name a few.  One of them even got a #1 bell left over from very, very early production.

 

            It serves two purposes to return to an accounting of the valve sets for these instruments.  The serial numbers range from 10,000 through 10,376.  From these numbers, one would expect that there would be 377 instruments.  Valve sets with serial numbers #10,193 and #10,234 were not delivered, however, thus making the total 375.  The first of the two instrument-less cards is shown below.

 

 

Figure 9: Shop Card Showing Total Valve Order
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            More than anything else, the above shop card indicates that there was an order for these valves, i.e., someone else besides Bach made them.  The authors have gone to some lengths to try and identify which company might have made these valve sets.  They have been unsuccessful.  They have compared the valves with others made for Bach, and they simply do not match any others identified so far.

 

            Since data on these instruments were available, it might be interesting to a few readers to know the general mix of instruments Bach made within the 375 total.  There were 243 trumpets and 132 cornets.  This results in a trumpet-to-cornet ratio of over 2:1.  This represents a much lower trumpet-to-cornet ratio than Bach had made up to this point.

 

The authors compiled the following Mercury configuration data using the shop cards to identify bells and the note shown in Figure 4 to identify probable mouthpipes.

 

There were 195 trumpets made with #106 bells and #14 mouthpipes.  There were 26 trumpets made with #32 bells and #9 mouthpipes.  As for the cornets, almost all of them, 114 out of 132 total, were made with #106 bells.  The cornets probably used #110 mouthpipes, which would qualify them as "Conservatory Models" as defined in the note shown in Figure 1.

 

            By subtracting from the totals, 18 cornets and 16 trumpets were made in other configurations.

 

MERCURY PRODUCTION

 

            The 375 Mercurys addressed in this article were made over an 18-month period.  Of these, 256 were made in 1939.

 

The authors cannot tell exactly when their components were made, but the first instruments were completed on February 17, 1939.  That was a big day at the Bach plant as forty Mercurys were completed.  The authors envision February 17th as a day when all hands turned to assembling Mercurys.  The next biggest production day was September 25, 1939 when 17 Mercurys were made.  The last Mercurys in this group were completed on August 26, 1940.

 

            The Mercurys sold well.  The authors speculate that because of this, Bach decided to integrate Mercurys into his production line on a routine and permanent basis.  It is not clear whether Bach could not buy any more valve sets or whether he judged those he bought to be inferior.  In any case, he decided to make his own.  The new Mercurys would use his common bore sizes.  His decision was introduced in his August 1, 1940 catalog (see Figure 5).

 

The first of the new Mercurys with Bach valves were made on September 24, 1940.  When production on these began, he still had approximately 60 of the older ones discussed in this article on hand.  Sales of both the old and new continued in parallel, but the authors cannot tell how Bach decided which Mercurys would go to specific customers.  The old ones did not stay in inventory long.  The prices of the old Mercurys and starting prices of the new ones were the same.

 

THE INSTRUMENTS

 

            The authors thought it might be interesting to some readers to understand how research is done for an article such as this one.  In addition to reviewing data owned by Conn-Selmer, Inc., the authors rely heavily on representative instruments to help either confirm or clarify that data.  For this article, the authors had a rare opportunity to investigate three of these unique Mercurys.  The instruments are shown in the photograph below.

 

Figure 10: Three Mercury Instruments Made With Non-Bach Valves
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The photograph's perspective makes it look as if the two cornets are longer than the trumpet, which is shown at the top.  They are not.

 

            The trumpet, serial number 10,176, normally resides in Tennessee.  Its owner agreed to loan it for this article.  The cornet in the middle has serial number 10,158.  Its original home was in Massachusetts, but one of the authors now owns it.  The cornet on the bottom has serial number 10,271.  Its owner shipped it all the way from France to have its picture taken along side its companions.  This owner is the person mentioned earlier in this article that asked for help in understanding his cornet.  He thought that perhaps he had inadvertently bought a fake Bach.  His instrument, not insignificantly, was the catalyst for pulling all of the data together for this article.  The authors consider it very fortunate to have had access to these instruments all at one time.  The authors are grateful to the current and past owners.  It should be obvious that without access to instruments, there could be no Bachology articles.

 

            Aspects of the instruments will be examined next.  A significant amount of the information is relevant to Mercurys made later.

 

Tuning in A

 

            The photograph above shows all three instruments with their slides in their normal or Bb tuning positions.  All can be tuned to the key of A, however.  The tuning "mechanism" of the trumpet employs Bach's routine stop-rod approach.  Its slides have scribe marks for the key of A.  The cornets' mechanisms, however, are unique in Bach terms.  The main slide that looks like a trumpet tuning slide is actually an A-tuning mechanism.  A photograph of one of the cornets with its slides pulled to the A position is shown below.

 

Figure 11: Mercury Cornet #10,158 A Tuning
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

To tune in A, the A-slide is pulled all the way out until the lower tube encounters a stop ring.  The slide is meant to be either pushed all the way in for Bb or pulled all the way out for A.

 

            Valves

 

            The main difference between the valves on these instruments and ones Bach made is that these valves use bottom springs.  One set of valves is shown in the photograph below.  All of the valve sets are the same.

 

Figure 12: Mercury Trumpet #10,176 Valves
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The pistons are not as large as Bach pistons.  They are approximately 0.652 inches in diameter compared to 0.663 inches for Bach-made pistons. The pistons appear to be nickel-plated.  Each complete valve weighs just over one and one-half ounces.  Bach valves from that period weigh almost two ounces.

 

            Mouthpipes

 

            The mouthpipes on these instruments are integrated with the mouthpiece receivers.  The integrated mouthpipe on the trumpet is shown below.  There is a reinforcement ring around the opening.

 

Figure 13: Mercury Trumpet #10,176 Mouthpipe
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

The inside diameter of the trumpet mouthpipe was measured up to the point where it begins to increase in diameter, i.e., where the mouthpipe taper starts.  While the measurements were somewhat crude, they were accurate enough to illustrate two points.  First, the taper in the first inch is identical to that of the Brown & Sharpe Standard Taper, which was used for Bach mouthpieces up until about 1954.  Moreover, the opening of the receiver is 0.432 inches, which just fits the shank of a Bach trumpet mouthpiece.  The receiver end of the piece is a perfect fit for Bach trumpet mouthpieces.

 

            A second observation is that the mouthpipe begins its expansion right about the two-inch depth.  The technical drawing shows the entire length of the mouthpipe to be nine and three-quarter inches, including a half-inch insertion depth into the upper tuning slide receiver.  This means that the expansion portion of the mouthpipe is approximately seven and one-quarter inch.  This is shorter than most Bach trumpet mouthpipes.

 

One of the cornet mouthpipes is shown below.  In general, it is built the same as the trumpet mouthpipe, but there are differences.

 

Figure 14: Mercury Cornet #10,158 Mouthpipe
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The taper of this receiver is also identical to that of the Brown & Sharpe Standard Taper.  The opening of this particular receiver is 0.387 inches, but this is slightly larger than the shank of Bach cornet mouthpieces at the nominal insertion point.  Still, a standard Bach mouthpiece from 1954 or earlier would fit this cornet and insert approximately to the right depth.

 

On the cornet, the mouthpipe expansion begins closer to the opening than it does on the trumpet.  It begins at just about the one-inch depth.  From the technical drawing, the entire length of the mouthpipe is seven and five-eighths inches, including a quarter inch insertion depth into the upper A-tuning slide receiver.  This means that the expansion portion of the mouthpipe to be approximately six and three-eighths inches.  This is shorter than most Bach cornet mouthpipes.

 

            Weight

 

            Beyond having non-Bach valves and unusual mouthpipes, the most noticeable thing about these instruments is their weight.  They are relatively heavy.  The trumpet weighs two pounds and eight ounces.  This compares to two pounds and four ounces for Bach Stradivarius trumpets from the early 1940s.  As mentioned previously, the valves are relatively lightweight.  The bells, discussed later, are normal Bach bells.  The extra weight is found in the body of the instruments.

 

            Measurements of the valve slides show the following.  The inside diameter of the valve slides is the bore size, i.e., 0.446 inches.  The outside diameter is 0.488 inches resulting in the thickness of the brass used in the slides to be 0.042 inches.  This is thicker than the brass routinely used for other Bach instruments.

 

The outer tubes have an inside diameter of 0.489 inches, and an outer diameter of 0.531 inches.  The difference, 0.042 inches, is the thickness of the outer tubes.  This is also thicker than the outer tubers used for other Bach instruments.

 

The cornets weigh approximately two pounds and seven ounces.  This compares to two pounds and four ounces for Bach Stradivarius cornets from the early 1940s.  The valve slides on the cornets contribute to the overall weight the same as the trumpet slides.

 

A set of cornet slides is shown in the photograph below.

 

Figure 15: Mercury Cornet #10,271 Slides
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            While the thickness of the metal in the slides is not obvious in the above, the photograph does show something about how tuning a cornet to the key of A is accomplished.  The diameter of the lower leg of the A tuning slide is larger on the tail end, so it stops the slide from being pulled out further when the larger section encounters the stop ring shown.  The length of the "pull" is predetermined.  The valve slides have appropriate scribe marks for the key of A.  (The working setup for the key of A is shown in Figure 9.)  The extra slide in the above photograph of course is the bell-mounted tuning slide found on the cornets.

 

            Bells

 

Not much will be said about the bells on these instruments.  They are standard Bach bells.  (The number of each type of bell used was estimated earlier in this article.)  Although there are a few thicker ones, most of the bells were made from brass approximately 0.019 inches thick before being pressed on a mandril.

 

Figure 16: Mercury Trumpet #10,176 Bell Logo
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            There is one important thing of note about these bells.  Despite the low cost of the instruments, the bells are one-piece bells.

 

The bell shown above was made on mandril #106.  Not much is known about this particular mandril, which is cornet bell mandril.  This type of bell was used from time to time on both trumpets and cornets, however, and not just in the Mercury line.

 

            Second Valve Slides

 

            Readers by this time may have noticed that the two cornets are not identical.  The easily noticeable difference is that the second valve slides point in different directions.  A photograph of the two slides is shown below.  A puzzling question is why the two slides were made differently.

 

Figure 17: Cornet Second Valve Slides
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

SUMMARY

 

In 1925, Bach thought that his Mercury trumpets would be priced at about a third of the price of a Stradivarius trumpet, i.e., $45/$125.  He found he could not meet that goal.  The cost in 1939/40 was a little over half that of a Stradivarius trumpet, i.e., $82/$155.  By the time Bach sold his company in 1961 the cost fraction, $210/$390, was still close to the 1939/40 one.

 

Bach seems to have not abandoned his idea of these instruments being for the "conservatory".  Extolling the features of the Mercury trumpet in 1961, Bach said that it was the "ideal instrument for the young artist or advanced conservatory student who wishes to economize but must have a trumpet of superb playing qualities…"  Despite these words, the authors think that these heavyweight instruments probably were made for young students.  Another indication of this may be the high number of cornets in the mix of instruments.

 

The instruments examined for this article were made well and play well.  On the other hand, they were not made with the precision of Stradivarius instruments made during the same period.  The authors think that the Mercurys Bach was talking about in 1961 were improvements over the ones discussed here.  If nothing else, the later ones had larger bore sizes.

 

It is natural to wonder why the particular bore size was chosen.  Was the 0.446-inch bore size needed to accommodate thicker brass in the slides so that they would still fit the location of the valve ports?  The authors do not know.

 

            Bach's Mercurys did not turn out as inexpensive as he originally thought they would.  Still, the relatively low cost of the ones in this group seems to have made them popular.  They sold very quickly, and this in turn gave the Mercury line new life starting almost immediately afterward the initial 375 were completed.  This time, Mercurys made it into Bach's catalog as well as his production line.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

This paper was written through significant support from Conn-Selmer, Inc. of Elkhart, Indiana.  Access to their data was essential to understanding the first of the production Mercury instruments.  Mr. Tedd Waggoner, Director of Marketing for Brass Winds, is extremely knowledgeable about Bach operations and contributed greatly to the material.

 

            As mentioned within this article, the authors are indebted to the Bachology readers who graciously loaned their instruments.  Instruments are needed to corroborate and to add to data made available by Conn-Selmer, Inc.  As a matter of policy, the authors hold confidential the identities of readers who loan their instruments unless otherwise directed.

 

All the information on this site is © copyright 2001-2014,
All Rights Reserved.
If you wish to use any material on this website
contact Roy Hempley for permission

 

 

 

Website Designed and Maintained by apcstech.net © Copyright 1996 - 2014