BACH’S X HORNS

(Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer)

 

Reference: "New York Bach Stradivarius Trumpet and Cornet Bell Markings", February 19, 2001, Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer.

 

This is the authors' second article in a series of articles about New York Bach trumpets and cornets.  The authors have learned of a special set of these instruments.  Within this set, many instruments have an "X" stamped immediately after or below the serial numbers located on the second valve casings.  The authors have coined a term for these instruments; they call them X Horns.

 

In the beginning of their research efforts, the authors decided to let instruments guide the direction of their research.  This approach has provided insights beyond the characteristics of the instruments, some of which extend into Bach’s design and business practices.  It also has provided some interesting grist for speculation.  When the authors write about Bach's business, as they do in this paper, Beware!  It doesn't appear that there are a lot of experts on the subject of Bach's business practices, and that includes the authors.

 

WHAT ARE THE X HORNS?

 

The X Horns are instruments with deceptive serial numbers stamped on them.  The serial numbers are replacements, and they are higher numbers than the original serial numbers stamped on the instruments.  Moreover, they duplicate the serial numbers of other instruments.  The X Horns are rare instruments, but not as rare as the authors first thought.  The authors have identified 78 instruments that may be X Horns.

 

The term X Horns, as the authors use it, is not a precise descriptor for identification purposes.  The authors have examined only three X Horns, and all of those have an "X" stamped either immediately after or below the serial number.  Some X Horns may be found that have other letters stamped in these same locations, most likely an "S".  There is evidence of this in Bach's records, but the authors have not seen any instruments with this stamping.  It's possible that some X Horns may have no special letters stamped on them at all, but the authors have not seen any of these either.  Finally, three instruments have been identified that may have an "X" or "S" associated with their serial numbers but whose serial numbers were not changed.  For these three X Horns, no other instruments with duplicate serial numbers are likely to be found.

 

Despite some uncertainty about how many of the X Horns actually have an "X" stamped near their serial numbers, the authors continue to use the term because that's where this research effort started, trying to identify what it means when a Bach instrument has an "X" stamped near its serial number.  The rest of this article is mainly concerned with describing more fully the instruments the authors call X Horns.

 

WHAT THE SHOP CARDS SAY

 

Bach maintained shop cards (3" x 5" index cards) on almost all of the instruments he manufactured.  After it purchased Bach's business in 1961, the Selmer Company continued to add to the shop card file, even after the company was moved to Elkhart, Indiana in 1965.  From the New York production period, including Selmer's ownership of the company, there are approximately 27,000 of these cards.

 

The X Horns' shop cards have two designating numbers on them, most of them located near the place where the instruments' serial numbers normally are found.

 

The smaller numbers on the shop cards are the original serial numbers of the instruments.  These numbers are usually stamped on the cards, and they normally bear a close resemblance to the larger numbers.  The shop cards are filed by the original serial numbers.

 

The larger numbers are most often handwritten and are the serial numbers that one would expect to find stamped on the instruments.  These numbers are the replacement serial numbers.  Most of them were made by either adding a digit to the original serial number, e.g., changing number 156 to number 1561, or making a new digit from an old one, such as turning a "1" into a "7" or a "3" into an "8".

 

As far as can be determined from the shop cards, about 25 percent of the replacement serial numbers have "X" suffixes.  A few shop cards show other suffixes.  There are several shown with an "S" suffix, and there are three shop cards that indicate either an "m" or an "ml" suffix.  The authors think that the latter three cards refer to the bore sizes of the instruments, one of which may have been changed at some point in time.  The authors do not know why any of the specific suffixes were chosen.

 

Almost half of the X Horns' shop cards do not show a suffix, but that does not mean that the replacement serial numbers stamped on these instruments don't have an "X" or some other letter stamped near them.  The authors have examined one instrument whose shop card provides no indication at all of a letter suffix, but the instrument itself has an "X" stamped under its serial number.

 

Finally, there are three shop cards that indicate the instruments' serial numbers have letter suffixes on them ("X" or "S"), but the numbers do not appear to have been changed.

 

Although the authors may have missed a few while conducting their research, most of the 78 possible X Horns identified so far are located within the first 2500 original serial numbers.  The authors did not do a thorough search of the shop cards above 2500, but a cursory look through them indicates that only a few X Horns likely are contained in that range.

 

Except for the three X Horns mentioned above whose serial numbers don't appear to have been changed, the authors have verified through examination of the shop cards the following.  For each X Horn, there is another instrument with the same serial number as the replacement serial number on the X Horn.  The shop cards for these other instruments bear only one number on them and those numbers correspond to the instruments' serial numbers.  For those interested in "counting" Bach's production quotas through serial number examination, the authors note that the X Horns neither add nor subtract from the total.

 

DETAILS OF THREE X HORNS

 

Since the description of the X Horns can be a little confusing to those who have not had a chance to review the data, looking at a few of these instruments and their respective records may be illuminating.

 

An X Horn Made Early In Bach's Career

 

The following is a picture of a Bach Stradivarius Bb trumpet whose replacement serial number is 714X.  It is an important historical instrument owned by Doug Lehrer.  This trumpet started life as trumpet number 14, a very early New York Bach.  It was restored and silver plated in 2000.

 

 

Figure 1: Trumpet #714X, Originally #14
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            This trumpet's shop card confirms that its original serial number was 14 and that it was made in 1925 (see shop card below).  Since this shop card itself is actually a replacement for the original one, it shows more information than normally would be found for such an early instrument.  It indicates that this trumpet was made with bell number one (1) and mouth pipe (lead pipe) number two (2).

 

 

Figure 2: Shop Card, Trumpet #714X, Originally #14
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

The shop card is filled out entirely in Vincent Bach's handwriting.  The words "My Own", which probably means that Bach played on this instrument for some time, are scratched out, and the names of its two subsequent owners are discernible to those who can decipher Bach's handwriting.  The card also indicates that this instrument is a large bore trumpet (0.462 inches) and has model "A" valves.  (More will be said about Bach valves in a later paper.)

 

The valve cluster for trumpet number 714X is not shown because the "X" following the replacement serial number has been almost buffed out.  Instead, its replacement serial number is shown on the valve-spring casings (below).

 

 

 

Figure 3: Valve Spring Casings, Trumpet #714X, Originally #14
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

Not having an understanding of what the "X" meant when they first saw this trumpet, the authors first investigated the shop card for trumpet number 714.  That instrument turned out to be an Eb/D trumpet completed on January 25, 1927.  It is a unique instrument in its own right, but it is certainly not the Bb trumpet pictured above with the same serial number.  (The shop card for the "other" #714 trumpet is not shown.)


            Trumpet number 714X has a "T" bell, as shown in the picture below.  The small "T" is just discernible below the Vincent Bach signature line where Bach indicated the bell type during his earlier manufacturing years.  Because the shop card is not the original one for this instrument, it notes that the bell is a number one (1) bell.  This may seem contradictory, but the number one (1) bell and the "T" bell are just different indicators for the same bell design (see Reference). This bell also has a very unusual marking arrangement for a Bach Stradivarius trumpet with the Stradivarius logo and "Faciebat Anno" date below the New York U.S.A. stamp rather than above the Vincent Bach signature as is seen on all other known instruments.

 

 

Figure 4: T Bell, Trumpet #714X, Originally #14
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

A Traveled X Horn

 

The following is a picture of another X horn, number 1561X.  This Bb Stradivarius trumpet horn is pretty well "traveled", i.e., it's seen better days.  It is not cosmetically pleasing, but after some restoration to its more vital parts in 2001, including the addition of a new third valve cap, it actually plays fairly well.

 

 

Figure 5: Trumpet #1561X, Originally #156
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The shop card for this trumpet is shown below.  (It does not have the same detail level as the shop card for trumpet number 714X shown above because this shop card is an original.)  This trumpet was first known as trumpet number 156 and was originally made in 1925.  It started life with a number one (1) bell and "pipe" two (2).  It was first owned by Charles Jacobs who traded it in on a new trumpet with serial number 1115.  (That fact has been verified from the shop card for Stradivarius trumpet number 1115.  Jacobs bought that trumpet in August 1928.)  Trumpet number 156 was modified and again sold, this time as trumpet 1561X, to Wm H. Pohle on September 12, 1928.  The notation regarding this second sale is in Bach's distinctive handwriting as are the original entries on the shop card.

 

 

Figure 6: Shop Card, Trumpet #1561X, Originally #156
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            A close view of the valve section (shown below) shows the replacement serial number marking on this trumpet.  The "X" is just discernible below the number 1561.

 

 

Figure 7: Valve Casings, Trumpet #1561X, Originally #156
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

The bell on this trumpet (shown below) is stamped with a number six (6) bell indicator (see Reference) as well as Faciebat Anno 1928, an obvious contradiction to its shop card.  The number six (6) bell's availability, however, is consistent with the sale date of 1561X to Pohle.  This represents the only indication that the authors have regarding what modifications might have been made to this trumpet to warrant a new serial number and an "X" suffix, i.e., a new bell was put on it in 1928, but there may have been other modifications as well.

 

 

Figure 8: Bell, Trumpet #1561X, Originally #156
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


            To complete the picture of this instrument, a check of the shop card of the "other" trumpet with the same serial number (1156) shows that instrument to be a Bb Stradivarius trumpet originally completed on April 30, 1930.  That instrument had a number seven (7) bell on it and was an extra large bore trumpet (0.468 inches).   (The shop card for the "other" trumpet is not shown.)

 

Another X Horn That's Caused Some Confusion

 

One of the topics in Bach lore that almost always raises lively discussions is just what serial number Bach began his production with.  The Selmer Company's serial number list originally indicated that he started with serial number 14.  The authors said in their first article (see Reference) that the serial numbers started with number one (1) and continued upward from there.  Both could be correct to some degree, because Bb trumpet number one (1) was probably the first X Horn and renumbered as number 14, although its shop card does not show an "X" suffix added to the serial number.

 

The shop card for Bach's first Bb Stradivarius trumpet, serial number one (1), is shown below.  Its reference to a replacement serial number is treated the same way as about half of the X Horn shop cards in that both the old and new serial numbers were identified but with no indication that a suffix was added to the new one.  The authors leave it to others to provide any other interpretation of the serial number notations on this particular shop card but note that there are quite a few similar ones that belong to X Horns.

 

 

Figure 9: Shop Card, Trumpet #14, Originally #1 (Bach’s First Trumpet With A Serial Number)
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

With this notation on the shop card, it's easy to see why the Selmer Company first assumed that number 14 was the serial number of the first trumpet Bach produced.  (This error was later corrected.)  Selmer was unaware of the X Horns when its serial number list was compiled.  On the other hand, the authors' views are that trumpet number 14 began life as trumpet number one (1) and that it's an X Horn.  Shop cards exist for instruments with serial numbers two (2) through 13 as well, although trumpet number four (4) also may be an X Horn.

 

JUST WHY DO X HORNS EXIST?

 

There are two important questions that a researcher might want to answer about the X Horns.  First, just why did Bach put replacement serial numbers on these instruments?  Second, why were letter suffixes added to the new serial numbers?  To be sure, there are related questions that beg to be answered, e.g., was there any rationale for the choice of new serial numbers or letter suffixes?  Nonetheless, the authors focused on the first two questions.

 

Since the beginning of this research exercise, the authors had two X Horns in hand as well as most of the data related to them, and it appeared to them that the two fundamental questions could be answered.  Unfortunately, the authors began their research by travelling down the wrong path.  They had heard stories of duplicate serial numbers on Bach instruments but knew very little about them.  It first occurred to the authors that the X Horns might be instruments with inflated serial numbers perhaps chosen to give a customer the impression that Bach's manufacturing experience was greater than was the actual case.  This reason for changing serial numbers turned out to be false.

 

The authors at this point had to start anew, so with the Selmer Company's support, additional time was spent in Elkhart digging deeper into the available data.  The authors learned enough to offer some examples, but not enough to draw any definitive conclusions.  The primary reason for this is that the shop records are simply not detailed enough to answer completely the general questions.  Unfortunately, the location of other key information, e.g., Bach's associated business records, is unknown.

 

In the first two X Horn cases cited above, the authors had instruments to help determine some of the history.  For example, it was obvious that the trumpet bearing serial number 1561X had been significantly modified, i.e., a new bell was put on it.  Keeping this idea in mind while examining the remaining data, it became apparent that many of the X Horns were modified instruments.  The last point doesn't mean that the remaining X Horns weren't modified as well.  It just means that the shop cards don't indicate that any modifications were made.

 

The shop cards show that some of the X Horns were refurbished, i.e., they may have been sold in their original configurations after polishing, re-lacquering, etc., but without changes to components.  As with the question of modifications, the shop cards were not conclusive about refurbishment.

 

After examining the 78 possible X Horns' shop cards so far discovered, the authors now know that most of the X Horns are instruments that returned to Bach's ownership and resold.  On the other hand, there appears to be a few X Horns that were sold essentially as new instruments.  In this group can be found a few instruments that may have languished unsold at the company for a protracted period, some that may have been made by combining older and newer parts before being sold for the first time and some that may have been sold on approval and returned before finally being sold for the "first time".  In this latter group, some instruments appear to have gone through the "approval" process several times and needed shop work before being put up for sale the last time.  The data on the shop cards alone simply are not sufficient to make definitive conclusions here either.  Any or all of these instruments may have been refurbished or modified before being sold.  For that matter, they all may have been sold more than once.

 

A CASE OF A MODIFIED X HORN

 

The extent of alteration of an X Horn could be significant.  One of the X Horns, a Bb Stradivarius trumpet with replacement serial number 4898, started out life as trumpet number 1898.  In October 1940, it had new, larger valves and new valve caps installed, and a second-hand bell was put on it.  Originally completed on May 30, 1932, on December 4, 1941, Bach resold it for $100 in its new configuration.

 

 

Figure 10: Shop Card, Trumpet #4898, Originally #1898
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            The authors have not seen this instrument.  Everything they know about it is from records.  For this trumpet, the authors were lucky enough to find an internal company "work estimate" from October 17, 1940 that describes the work done on it.  The rest of the information was gleaned from its shop card (above).  The interested reader should feel free to alter the authors' judgements to fit the facts as shown on these documents.  (See work estimate below.)


 

Figure 11: Shop Card, Trumpet #4898, Originally #1898, Work Estimate
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

A CASE OF A PROBABLE NEW-SALE X HORN

 

The authors also believe that a few instruments perhaps were assembled from both older and newer unused components, and they had an identifying "X" added to their serial numbers.  One X Horn, a cornet that the authors have examined, has serial number 8001 stamped on it, but the valve set was originally stamped 3001.  Most likely these valves were stamped in the year they were made, probably in 1935.  This older set of valves have an altered airflow path of some sort and were probably meant to be coupled with a number 25 bell which was in production at the time.  Instead, when this cornet finally was assembled in late 1941, the valves were coupled with a newer number 37 bell.  It does not appear from the shop card that this cornet was sold more than once, so, although it's an X Horn (an "X" appears under the serial number), it is probably not a modified instrument.  There were three such cornets made, and they were assigned sequential serial numbers.  Number 8001 is the middle one.

 

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

 

The X Horns are not the only instruments Bach modified of course.  One of the authors owns a cornet originally made in 1928.  It retains its original serial number but had a different bell installed on it sometime after 1943.  More than likely, this instrument was simply modified by changing the bell, possibly because of damage.

 

The X Horns, however, appear to be the only instruments whose serial numbers were changed.  Knowing that the serial number of an instrument has been changed might help someone trying to trace the lineage of a New York Bach.  If its original serial number can be determined, some insight into the original configuration of the instrument can be gained from the shop card.  On the other hand, without knowing the original serial number, the appropriate shop card cannot be found at all.

 

The authors expect that most of the X Horns will be found with an "X" on them and that a few may have an "S", but that remains to be determined through examination if and when additional instruments are located.

 

Most of the X Horns' replacement serial numbers were made by adding or altering digits belong to the original serial numbers.  Bach's workers were not always careful in doing this.  Irregularities in the serial numbers are obvious on the three X Horns the authors examined.  Some of the irregularities are such that it appears that there was no effort made to hide the alteration.  Corresponding serial number alterations were also made to the valve-spring casings and to the undersides of the top valve caps.  Of course, if new valves or top valve caps were put on the instrument, those numbers would not show the same type of irregularities, and on new components, the letter identifiers (X or S) may have been omitted.

 

The authors believe that Bach could look at an instrument and identify that it had been modified, even without a special identifier such as an "X" under the serial number.  Therefore, the authors think that the letter identifiers had some other purpose.  Since these were instruments owned by Bach at the time of serial number alteration, perhaps identifiers were needed because of some warranty consideration given to a resold instrument.  There is some indication that the "S" suffix may refer to a special finish of some kind.

 

The authors have examined the completion (assembly) dates of the "other" instruments bearing the same serial numbers as those expected to be found on the X Horns to help understand why the replacement serial numbers were chosen.  They gained no real insights from this exercise.

 

HOW DID THE X HORNS FIT INTO BACH'S BUSINESS PICTURE?

 

The authors have done enough reading to realize that Bach had a difficult time establishing his instrument manufacturing business.  There were several large competitors in business when he started in the mid-1920s.  Many of their first-line trumpets could be bought for $55 to $85 in raw brass, including those of all of the manufacturers of note: Buescher, Conn, Holton, Martin, and White.  To be sure, a trumpet player could pay more, but that only meant getting a better finish.  Moreover, many orchestra players seemed to prefer French Besson trumpets.

 

Bach's Stradivarius instruments were costly.  His flagship trumpets in raw brass sold for $125 in 1925.  The prices of his lower lines of instruments were competitive--$75 for an Apollo trumpet and $45 for a Mercury trumpet, also in raw brass, but here he was selling what might have been perceived as a second- or third-line product to compete with the offerings of his competitors.

 

The authors have been told that Bach tried to introduce his lines of instruments into music stores.  The other instrument manufacturers didn't welcome this idea with open arms, and, by threatening the dealers, they effectively barred Bach from selling his instruments through these desirable outlets.  Illegally frozen out of this avenue of sale, a lawsuit ensued.  Bach eventually won, but it took years to resolve the problem and no doubt his business was damaged.  While this story seems plausible, the authors have not tried to confirm it.  On the other hand, the authors are aware of only a very limited number of music stores or supply houses that took delivery of early Bach instruments.  (Many recipients are noted on the shop cards.)  One that did was his brother Hans' store in New York.  Hans apparently received quite a few new instruments to sell.  As far as the authors can tell, the other few outlets did not.

 

To make matters worse, Bach's efforts did not go unnoticed by new competitors.  The competitive situation got worse in 1929 when the F.E. Olds Company began producing a line of trumpets.  Olds' price for its new trumpet was also $125, the same as the price of a Bach Stradivarius.  Bach probably earned less on his trumpets, however.  It's a good bet that the Olds trumpet was sold at a greater profit margin because of the Olds Company's more expansive business base and, perhaps, higher manufacturing efficiency.

 

Bach's early production didn't begin at exactly a prosperous time.  It began just a few years before the stock market crash of 1929.  This grave episode sent the country into a depression that lasted until the mid- to late 1930s.  As the country was beginning to recover from the depression, World War II started in December 1941.  While many of Bach's competitors were required to take up production of war materials, Bach was not.  Eventually, many of his employees entered the war effort, and the availability of materials was restricted.

 

Within this continuing difficult environment, it was a struggle for Bach to keep his new business viable.  During the early years, his sales of X Horns may have increased Bach's trumpet and cornet sales income by three or four percent, based on the resale prices listed on some of the shop cards and an estimate that about 5 1/2 percent of Bach's first 1000 instruments eventually became X Horns.  Of more than 55 X Horns whose resale dates are known, over 85 percent were sold during the critical period from 1929 through the early years of World War II.

 

WANT TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE AN X HORN?

 

The authors offer the following as a sort of public service.  The appendix to this article contains a list of X Horns broken into two tables for easy printing.  The list contains all of the X Horns that the authors know about, including those few instruments that may have a letter stamped on them but whose serial numbers weren't changed.

 

The authors considered that some New York Bach trumpet and cornet owners may not want to know that their instrument have been modified, sometimes seriously.  Even though the X Horns are somewhat rare in their own right, the authors can envision that this knowledge might reduce the esteem or the actual value of a New York Bach, particularly if "originality" is a concern.

 

For the authors, the deciding factor in publishing a list of known X Horns is contained in the following idea.  Only by knowing the configuration of an older instrument can a player or collector really judge whether its playing characteristics result from an original design idea or simply by some "luck of the draw" because some replacement parts might have been available when the instrument was being made ready for resale.  If readers really want to know more about their X Horns, the appendix to this article may be helpful.


APPENDIX

BACH'S X HORNS

 

Probable X Horns are shown in the two tables below.  They are listed in order of the serial numbers stamped on them (replacement serial numbers).  Even though Bach used certain procedures to change the original serial numbers on most of the X Horns, without the tables to assist in locating appropriate shop cards, it is difficult to determine the instruments' original configurations, much less what happened to them before they were resold.

 

Most of the X Horns' replacement serial numbers likely will have a letter located either after or below the numbers.  (Look for the following letters: x, s and, perhaps, an occasional m or ml.)  Many shop cards do not indicate whether or not letters were stamped on the respective instruments, but it is expected that one will be found on most of them.

 

The next column shows the sequence numbers of the shop cards.  Those numbers are the instruments' original serial numbers and are the numbers used to look up information on the instruments' original configurations.  Those cards may also show something about the current configurations of the instruments as well.

 

Finally, some relevant information that might help to identify an X Horn is shown in the last column.

 

Replacement Serial Numbers 14 through 1969

 

Serial Number

Possible Letter

Original Serial Number*

Notes: Bb Stradivarius trumpet unless otherwise indicated

14

 

1

 

193

X

193

 

509

S

509

 

714

X

14

 

723

X

123

 

729

X

29

 

735

X

135

 

736

X

136

 

741

X

74

 

781

X

181

 

788

X

88

 

789

X

189

 

791

X

19

 

855

 

85

 

961

X

96

Bb cornet

1108

S

108

C trumpet

1124

 

124

C trumpet

1139

 

139

 

1158

 

4

 

1306

X

306

 

1326

 

326

 

1355

S

355

 

1448

 

448

Eb/D trumpet

1510

S

510

 

1514

X

514

 

1560

X

560

 

1561

X

156

 

1561

 

561

 

1595

X

595

 

1601

 

601

 

1611

ML

611

 

1612

X

612

 

1618

X

618

Bb cornet

1619

S

619

Bb cornet

1624

 

624

 

1642

X

1642

 

1699

M

699

 

1779

 

779

Left hand trumpet

1871

 

871

 

1900

 

900

Bb cornet

1903

 

903

Bb cornet

1921

 

192

 

1945

 

1145

 

1969

X

969

 

 

* Original serial numbers above 2500 have not been thoroughly researched.


 

Replacement Serial Numbers1972Through 8802

 

Serial Number

Possible Letter

Original Serial Number*

Notes: Bb Stradivarius trumpet unless otherwise indicated

1972

 

972

 

1991

 

991

 

1994

X

994

 

2234

 

23

 

2476

 

47

Interim 1476X

2559

 

559

C trumpet

2645

 

645

 

2654

 

654

 

2694

 

694

 

2754

M

754

C trumpet

2757

 

1757

Bb cornet

2758

 

1258

 

2764

 

764

C trumpet

2827

 

827

 

3146

 

146

C trumpet

3415

 

2415

 

3492

 

1492

Bb cornet

3727

 

1725

Mercedes trumpet

3750

 

750

 

3824

 

824

 

3842

 

842

 

3904

 

2904

Bb cornet

4404

 

1404

C trumpet

4674

 

1674

 

4703

 

1703

 

4898

 

1898

 

5721

 

721

High F trumpet

6719

 

719

Eb/D Trumpet

6901

 

90

 

7144

S

144

C trumpet

8000

 

3000

Bb cornet

8001

 

3001

Bb cornet

8002

 

3002

Bb cornet

8802

 

3802

Bb cornet

 

* Original serial numbers above 2500 have not been thoroughly researched.

 

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