NEW YORK BACH STRADIVARIUS

TRUMPET AND CORNET

BELL MARKINGS

Revision 1

(Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer)

 

References:

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

2.     "Bach's X Horns", July 10, 2001, Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer.

3.     "Interesting Bach Instruments: A One-Digit New York Trumpet", February 6, 2004, Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer.

 

DISCLAIMER

 

This article is a complete revision to Reference 1.  Since the original version was written, the authors discovered an additional bell marking arrangement.  They also found new material that explains certain codes found on some bells.  The authors continue to review new data and try to correlate it with instruments.  They make every effort to ensure that the articles are accurate, but because of the unfolding nature of their research, even further revisions are possible.

 

INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

 

            This article discusses bell markings on New York Bach Stradivarius trumpets and cornets, i.e., trumpets and cornets made by Vincent Bach before he opened his Mt Vernon, New York plant in 1953.  These bell markings hold special meaning for those who play and collect older Bach instruments.  They help identify the characteristics of an instrument, relate those characteristics to the evolution of Bach's designs and judge whether the instrument has significant historical interest.

 

            Bach made other models of trumpets and cornets in New York: Apollo, Mercedes and Mercury.  Nevertheless, the subject of this article is restricted to Stradivarius instruments simply because there are more of those available for examination.  The other models use many of the same markings.

 

This article was written primarily by comparing bell stamps with data recorded on Bach's shop cards.  These cards contain all of the information known about the instruments as they left the factory.  Conn-Selmer, Inc. provided the authors with access to them as well as other original Bach material.  Because of the importance of the shop cards in researching Bach's trumpets, a special section about them has been included at the end of this article.

 

            Except for his earliest instruments, Bach's bell marking arrangements all included the model name of the instrument, the company name and the name of the city in which the instrument was manufactured.  As time passed, other information was added to the format.  Eventually, most of the important information on the shop cards could be found on the instruments, but the bells became cluttered and sometimes confusing.  To simply things again, stamps were eliminated, and the bells were returned to a more streamlined look.  The authors think that most trumpet players probably preferred the simpler look.

 

            Four marking arrangements are discussed below.  They are identified as "Earliest", "Faciebat Anno", "Bell Number-Bore Size" and "Plain" bells.

 

FOUR BELL MARKING ARRANGEMENTS

 

I.  EARLIEST BELLS

 

            The earliest New York Bach bells were relatively unadorned.  They did not include model names.  Bach instruments had model names (Stradivarius, Apollo and Mercury) at the time, but they just were not stamped on the bells. The following shows one of these bells as well as the marking arrangement.

 

Figure 1: Earliest Bell Marking Arrangement
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

The authors think that approximately 85 instruments were made without model names on them.  A few instruments with serial numbers up to and including 79 were examined, and none have model names on them.  On the other hand, trumpets numbered 89 and beyond do.  The authors assume that model names were added to instruments starting at a serial number in between.

 

The Company Name

 

From the beginning of production, the company name, Vincent Bach Corporation, was stamped on each bell.  Vincent Bach appears in distinctive signature form and underlined.  The word Corporation follows underneath.  This feature was never changed.

 

Bell Identifiers

 

            Letter stamps are used to identify the bells on these instruments.  The letters found so far are T, B (shown in the figure above), D, F, TD and VB.  Most of the bells are stamped between the Corporation and New York lines.

 

The VB stamped on one instrument is interesting because it might represent Vincent Bach's initials.  That particular bell is unique in size, being much smaller in diameter compared to all of the other early bells examined thus far.  The authors recognize that there is significance to the VB stamp, but they simply cannot confirm what it is.

 

The most important bells are the first two in the above list because they are found in larger quantities than the others are.  Bach designated his first two Bb bells as T and B, but the authors have been unable to determine what the letters mean.  Based on a lot of circumstantial evidence too lengthy to present, the authors are almost certain that the letter B does not mean Besson, as has been suggested to them several times.  The bell flares of approximately 10 Bach trumpet bells were patterned to some degree after Besson bells, and they include both the T and B bells.  As of now, there does not appear to be any particular reason to associate the name Besson with the B bell.

 

            Not all of the bell identifiers are located in the position shown above.  The owner of a one-digit trumpet (Reference 3) graciously allowed it to be examined.  That instrument also has a B bell, but the B is located between Vincent Bach's signature and the word Corporation (see below).  The company name on this bell was nearly buffed off during refurbishment, but the B remains fairly clear.

 

Figure 2: Alternative Bell Letter Placement
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            Manufacturing Location

 

            The last entry on these bells is the company's location.  It simply identifies New York, U.S.A.  All instruments without a model name were made at Bach's second factory, which was located at 241 E. 41st Street, NY.

 

Just What Model Is It?

 

            Without a model name stamped on its bell, it is difficult to determine the model of an instrument.  In a very few instances, replacement shop cards were filled out, and the cards identify the models.  Beyond this help, measurements and/or comparisons to catalogs are needed to determine the pedigree of an instrument.

 

The authors think that most of the instruments made without model names on them were Stradivarius Models.  All of the instruments brought to the authors' attention so far are clearly Stradivarius Models.  On the other hand, some Apollo instruments were made within the first 85 or so instruments, but none of those have been found.  The authors assume that they follow the same convention and do not have model names stamped on them.  If so, they would require analysis to identify.  There were no Mercedes or Mercury instruments made within the relevant serial number range.

 

II.  FACIEBAT ANNO BELLS

 

The earliest marking arrangement soon gave way to the more familiar format of the Faciebat Anno bells.  Additional information is included in this format as shown below.

 

Figure 3: Faciebat Anno Bell Marking Arrangement
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

Model Names

 

After approximately 85 instruments were made (see above section), Bach began stamping model names on his instruments.  It appears that the Faciebat Anno marking arrangement also started at the same time.

 

            A question naturally arises as to why Bach introduced model names at this production point.  The authors think that the key event was his application for trademarks.  This occurred in August 1925.  (They were officially registered in March 1926.)  Because of the omission of "completion" dates on the earliest shop cards, the relationship between the trademark application date and the earliest stamping of a model name on a bell can only be judged to coincide.

 

            Faciebat Anno

 

            Faciebat anno is a Latin phrase for "manufactured in the year of" or some reasonably close translation to that.  It is stamped immediately below the model name, normally with a year designator following it.  The year usually reflects when the instrument was sold, and this can be a different from the year the instrument was actually completed.

 

Many of the shop cards for the Faciebat Anno instruments do not contain completion dates.  Thus, the sale year, which could be a later year, is the only relevant year known for these instruments.  It is common to see incomplete years stamped on some Faciebat Anno instruments.  The sale years for those instruments can only be estimated by comparing them to instruments with similar serial numbers.

 

The Company Name

 

As with the previous stamping arrangement, the company name, Vincent Bach Corporation, is stamped on every instrument that has been examined.  Bell identifiers normally are found embedded in it.

 

            Bell Identifiers

 

            The Faciebat Anno instruments changed the location of the bell identifiers.  In this case, the identifiers were usually stamped just under Vincent Bach's name, most often near the B in Bach.  A small "x" on the written description next to the trumpet bell in the above figure indicates where to look.  The photograph shows a small 6 located in that position.

 

When Bach began the Faciebat Anno stamping arrangement, he was still using letters to identify bells.  (The letters were described in the previous section.)  He soon switched to numerical identifiers.  At this point, he re-designated his T and B bells as bells number 1 and 2, respectively.

 

Bach began switching to number identifiers around serial number 102 (probably in 1926), although a few instruments with higher serial numbers were made using letters.  Stradivarius instruments using letters essentially stopped at serial number 143.  Some Apollo trumpets with even higher serial numbers are known to have letters, but these few instruments probably used bells left over from earlier manufacturing.

 

            The numbers can be associated with the mandrils used to form the bells, but there are other stampings occasionally seen with them.  These take the form of letters and/or numbers following the bell numbers.  The cases identified so far are 6G, 6F23 and 6GF.  All of these trumpets use a number 6 bell, but there is obviously something special about them.

 

The authors have determined that the F represents French brass by inspecting the shop cards.  The 23 is thought to be some kind of code indicating a relatively thin brass.

 

The meaning of the letter G has been illusive.  It would naturally follow that G represents German brass.  Probably it does not.  The 6GF bell makes this interpretation meaningless.  An interested reader sent a photograph of a 6GF bell to the authors (see below).  (In addition to having this unique bell code, the trumpet is highly engraved with Bach's distinctive engraving pattern.)

 

Figure 4: Bell Code 6GF
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)


 

Another logical guess is the G means the same thing as it does on modern Bach instruments, i.e., the bell is made of "gold brass", which has higher-than-normal copper content.  In a letter reviewed by the authors, however, Bach wrote about European brass.  Speaking about the period after World War I, which ended in 1919, he said that French brass had lower-than-normal copper content because copper was hard to get.  He also said that it was widely used in Europe and was hard to work.  The authors have seen evidence, however, that Bach had both French and German brass assayed, and the German brass had higher-than-normal copper content.  With this in mind, what could the copper content of a 6GF bell possibly be, high or low?

 

The existence of a bell with 6GF stamped on it is important.  The trumpet's shop card identifies the brass in its bell as French brass, yet the bell is stamped with a G as well as an F.  Since the brass cannot be both French and German or high and low in copper content, the authors are unable to make a useful judgement about the G at this time.

 

            Before leaving the topic of bell brass, readers should realize that Bach imported relatively little brass.  The authors know that Bach had brass made to his own specifications.  Some of it may well have been similar to European brass of one kind or another whether or not it was indicated by a special bell stamp.  While the authors are aware of some of the brass alloys Bach used, they cannot now associate them with specific manufacturing periods.

 

            Manufacturing Location

 

Most of the instruments whose bells are stamped in the Faciebat Anno configuration were also made at Bach's second factory located at 241 E. 41st Street, NY.  While he opened that factory in 1922 to expand his mouthpiece manufacturing business, in 1924 he began to produce trumpets and cornets there as well.  Production at this factory continued until October 1928.

 

III.  BELL NUMBER-BORE SIZE BELLS

 

The next marking arrangement seen frequently on New York Bach instruments began around 1930.  It omits the Faciebat Anno line but adds numbers after the word Model as well as introduces special codes.  The added numbers indicate the bell number and bore size of the instrument, hence the name given to this marking arrangement.  The codes indicate the thickness of the bell brass.

 

This is the most complicated bell marking arrangement that Bach used.  It is also the most complete.  Coupled with small numbers stamped on the mouthpiece receivers to indicate the mouthpipes (lead pipes) used, these instruments have stamped on them somewhere a lot of the important information affecting playing quality that one would like to know.  With many of these instruments, there is little need to resort to information from their respective shop cards, at least concerning identification of the major components of the instruments.  An example is shown below.

 

Figure 5: Bell Number-Bore Size Marking Arrangement
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            Model Names

 

This marking arrangement continues the model name in the same location as before.

 

            Bell Number Identifiers Moved

 

On these instruments, the bell number is located immediately after the word Model rather than below Bach's signature as in the Faciebat Anno arrangement.

 

Bach's decision to stamp the bell numbers in this position created something of a problem that persists even today.  Stamping bell numbers after the word Model created the erroneous impression that these numbers are model numbers.  Bach did not assign model numbers to his instruments.  (After buying the company in 1961, the Selmer Company introduced model numbers, but they were not stamped on the bells either.  For example, the commonly named Model 37, which is stamped on the bell, is actually a Model 180ML.)

 

In many cases, the last two digits of the bore size are appended to the bell number with a hyphen.  A trumpet stamped 7-59, for example, would have a number 7 bell and would be a medium-large bore instrument with a bore size of 0.459 inches.  One stamped 10-62 would be an instrument with a number 10 bell and a bore size of 0.462 inches.

 

            Bach made some hybrid bells; that is, bells made with sections corresponding to two earlier bell designs.  One of the more interesting of these is the 7-10 bell whose mandril matches different segments of the number 7 and 10 mandrils.  These hybrid bells require three numbers after the word Model, e.g., 7-10-62, which means a number 7-10 bell and a large bore trumpet or cornet.  Later, hybrid bells that remained in production were assigned new, two-digit numbers, and the hybrid numbering convention disappeared.

 

The last two digits indicating bore sizes eventually were dropped from the bells.  The authors believe that they were dropped in favor of putting letters on the second valve casings, e.g., L for large bore.  The authors cannot pinpoint exactly when this change occurred, but it may have been in the mid-1930s when significant changes were made to production options.

 

The authors have seen a variety of trumpet bell numbers in this stamping arrangement, both with and without the bore-size digits.  Some of the bell numbers include 7, 10, 7-10, 25 and 26, but the authors have not been able to determine the full array.  The following may help to understand why.

 

Through 37 years of making trumpets and cornets, Bach considered a very large number of bells.  He assigned numbers to seventy-two Bb bells alone, and each one had its own design.  The bell numbers skip number 15.  Thus, the numbers range from one to 73.  Hybrid bells are not counted in the total since these have duplicate numbers within the sequence described above.

 

While it is generally true that bells made earlier in time have lower bell numbers, that rule is not universally true.  For example, bell number 12 was designed over 15 years after bells 14 and 15.  This raises a question about the correspondence between numerical and production sequences.  As a result, the authors cannot determine the full range of bells made while the Faciebat Anno marking arrangement was in effect.

 

            As for instruments in other keys, the bell number stampings follow the same general ideas as those of the Bb instruments, although the bell numbers are very different.

 

            The Company Name

 

            The company name, Vincent Bach Corporation, remained in the same position as on bells with other marking arrangements.

 

            Bell Brass Codes

 

This marking arrangement includes two-digit numerical codes located within the company name (see figure above).  These codes are bell brass codes.   Readers will observe that they are stamped in the same position as the bell number identifiers on the Faciebat Anno bells.

 

The bell brass codes will be discussed in some detail.  The reason for concentrating on this topic is that the codes identify characteristics that differentiate how the instruments play.

 

            The codes represent the thickness of the brass used to make the bells.  This information is contained in recently found documents and on occasional shop cards as well.  The documents show that the codes make up Bach's own system of artificial gauge numbers.  When the first version of this article was written, the authors believed that they had evidence indicating that these codes identify brass alloys.  That was wrong.

 

The most frequently occurring codes appear to be 45, 48 and 50, but others occur as well.  The authors have found references in the shop cards and other written material to codes ranging between 36 and 56.  New York Bach owners who read the earlier version of this article provided the authors with several welcome additions to their list.

 

A description of his calculation scheme and the authors' attempts to unravel it follow.  The codes probably bedeviled Bach's competitors, as they did the authors.

 

Some readers may want to skip ahead to the summary of this section as the material between here and there may require some patience to understand.

 

            When Bach ordered brass for his bells, he did not order it using any of the various sets of gauge numbers in use at the time.  First, gauge number systems were unsettled during the period of American manufacturing history in question, and, in any case, the available systems did not provide sufficient resolution for ordering brass in the thicknesses that Bach needed.  After he decided what thicknesses he would use, Bach simply coded the bells and/or the shop cards so that he could recall which ones were used.

 

To assign a code, Bach first converted the thickness of the brass from inches to millimeters though the standard conversion of 1 inch = 25.4 millimeters.  For example, 0.019 inches is equivalent to 0.4826 millimeters.  Bach then assigned the first two digits of the conversion as his code number.  To illustrate, number 48 represents a sheet of brass 0.019-inches thick.

 

            Taking another case to illustrate one of the many problems encountered by the authors trying to figure out these codes, 0.018 inches is equivalent to 0.4572 millimeters.  By the same rule, this thickness would be represented by the number 45.  By the time Bach moved to Mt Vernon, he had decided to round off the millimeters to two digits instead, and the same brass thickness, 0.018 inches, came to be represented by number 46.  This apparent inconsistency confounded the authors until a document was found that provided indications that this is what happened.

 

There is another interesting point.  At first there appeared to be too many codes.  It turned out that sets of codes were associated with instruments of different types and keys.  Trombones, for example, had a set.  The need to accommodate an expanding business accounted for what seemed to be too many brass choices.

 

Because of the wide variety of bell brass from which to choose, there was nothing to prevent Bach from using brass ordered for one type of instrument to make a bell for another.  In fact, late New York Bach alto trombones and Bb trumpets shared brass code 48 as a "standard".  Some choices for trumpets and cornets probably were special order items, but Bach routinely chose brass outside the normal range when non-standard alloys were used.  For example, bronze bells were made from thicker metal.

 

            To summarize this section, the numerical codes found on the bells of New York Bach trumpets and cornets are artificial gauge numbers invented by Bach.  They are the first two digits of the brass thickness when converted to millimeters.  Based on a limited survey of instruments, there are three gauge numbers most often found on older Bach Bb trumpets and cornets.  They are 45, 48 and 50, which would correspond to brass thicknesses of 0.018, 0.019 and 0.020 inches, respectively.

 

            Manufacturing Location

 

Since the Bell Number-Bore Size stamping arrangement began in the early 1930s, all of the instruments that used it were produced at Bach's third factory located in the Bronx at 621 East 216th Street, NY.  That factory endured from October 1928 until 1953 when Bach opened his last factory in Mt Vernon, NY, although this marking arrangement did not.

 

IV.  PLAIN BELLS

 

For an instrument without a bell number stamped on it, it is obviously difficult to determine with certainty which bell is on it.  If a serial number of an instrument and its bore size are known, anyone familiar with Bach's "standard" instrument configurations might make a reasonable assumption.  Examining the shop card, however, is the only way to make certain which bell was on an instrument when it left the factory.

 

Figure 6: Plain Bell Marking Arrangement
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

            Stampings

 

            Most of the stampings on these bells are self-explanatory.  They represent a return to the simplicity of the original stamping arrangement of the earliest Bachs, with the exception that the model name is on them.  While the elegance of this arrangement is appealing, the information it provides is scant.

 

Bach could not seem to keep from identifying characteristics somewhere on his instruments, however.  The bore size is located on the second valve casing, for example.  More and more information came to be located there, sometimes by exception.  That is, deviations from standards were sometimes stamped on the second valve casing.  There are some truly intriguing markings found on the second valve casings of New York Bach trumpets and cornets, e.g., LLB.  The authors have only begun to scratch the surface in determining what some of them mean.

 

            Star Stamp

 

A stamp in the shape of a five-pointed star appears on some late New York Bach bells.  It is not illustrated in this article.  It indicates that the instrument was a special lightweight trumpet.  It was first used in New York, i.e., before 1953.

 

            Postal Zone Marking

 

            There was one other addition to the bells that should be mentioned in this section.  Many of the Bronx trumpets and cornets have the number 67 stamped after the words NEW YORK.  This number was an old New York postal zone in which the Bronx factory was located.  Postal zones were established in May 1943 to aid in the distribution of mail during World War II.  (When zip codes were designated in 1963, most of the old postal zones were adopted as the last two digits of the zip code.  The current zip code of the Bronx factory address is 10467.)

 

            One of these bells is shown in the following figure.  A comparison between it and the preceding bells indicates that the entire New York stamp line was new.  In other words, the 67 was not a separate stamp.  This is revealed by noticing that U.S.A. had to be moved relative to NEW YORK 67 in order to keep the two lines centered on each other.

 

Figure 7: Plain Bell with 67 Postal Zone
(Click the Image to View Full Size in a New Window)

 

THE SHOP CARDS

 

            Bach kept meticulous records throughout his manufacturing career, sometimes even going to the trouble of keeping identical records at home.  One important set of records is the collection of shop cards that describe various aspects of the instruments he produced.  The information contained on these shop cards is very helpful in interpreting bell markings.

 

            Information about a particular instrument usually can be found on the shop card that corresponds to the serial number of the instrument.  There are some exceptions to this (Reference 2).

 

The shop cards begin with the number 0001 and continue largely uninterrupted to almost 30,000.  The numbers were restarted at 30,000 after the Selmer Company moved production to Elkhart, Indiana.  Generally speaking, the number 30,000 is a break point between instruments made in Mt Vernon and those made in Elkhart.  This is not a hard rule.  For example, Bach used some serial numbers beyond 30,000 for some instruments made at Mt Vernon, and the Selmer Company used a few Mt Vernon valve sections with serial numbers below 30,000 in their Elkhart production.  The latter have Elkhart bells on them.

 

Most of the earliest shop cards contain only the serial number of the instrument and codes referencing its bell and mouthpipe.  Occasionally, the bore sizes, the type of brass used for the bell and/or the source of the valve set is noted.  During 1926, Bach developed a more standardized card that contains categories of information that he thought should be recorded for each trumpet and cornet.  The categories include serial number, model, bore size, valve model, bell and mouthpipe.  The bell brass, the dates the horn was completed and sold and the customer’s name are also listed on the standardized card.  Not all of these categories were filled in for every instrument.  Special codes were entered in some categories, most notably, the one for brass used in the bell.

 

NEXT ON THE HORIZON

 

Bach lore abounds.  Because of his unparalleled success in manufacturing brass instruments, trumpet players, not generally known as timid souls, are not without opinions about him and his approaches to design and manufacturing.  One thing the authors do not do is argue points about the merits of old and new manufacturing techniques.  They just observe that, in many respects, older New York Bachs are not the same as modern Bachs, or even late New York or Mt Vernon Bachs for that matter.  Even without considering manufacturing differences, the old ones play and feel different because they are different.  The authors were surprised, for example, to find that the older New York Bachs are lighter instruments than modern ones.  More to the point, even Bach took some time to get bore sizes, mouthpipes and bell flares matched like he wanted them.  Many musicians accustomed to newer instruments are surprised by the playing qualities of older New York Bachs.  Some of them play well enough that it makes one wonder why Bach abandoned them and moved on to different designs.

 

Because of their interest in the older Bach instruments, the authors are continuing to research them.  They have focused and will continue to focus on some of the characteristics of the more unusual New York Bach trumpets and cornets that are occasionally seen.  The authors own a few of these “rarities” and are aware of others.  If any reader of this article, however, has an old Bach trumpet or cornet that should be considered for display and discussion in an article, the authors would like to hear about it.  Additionally, since this paper leaves some loose ends, the authors would appreciate being contacted regarding any data that might expand on the subjects addressed.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

This paper was written through significant support from Conn-Selmer, Inc. of Elkhart, Indiana.  Access to their data was essential to understanding the markings on New York bells.  Mr. Tedd Waggoner, Conn-Selmer's Marketing Manager of Brass Winds, is extremely knowledgeable about Vincent Bach’s New York operations and contributed greatly to the material.

 

 

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