INTERESTING BACH INSTRUMENTS

 BACH STRADIVARIUS ROTARY VALVE TRUMPET #713

(Roy Hempley)

 

References:

(1)   "Bach’s Rotary Valve Trumpets, January 1, 2002, Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer.

(2)   “New York Bach Stradivarius Trumpet and Cornet Bell Markings”, February 19, 2001, Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer.

 

Bach is known for the playing qualities of his instruments, but every so often, he made them elaborate as well.  Trumpet #713 illustrates this.  It is an extraordinarily nice looking trumpet.

 

ROTARY VALVE TRUMPETS—GENERAL

 

            To read about trumpet #713, it will be helpful to have some background from Reference 1.  As discussed in that article, Bach’s earliest known rotary valve trumpets were prototypes.  They do not have serial numbers.  Moreover, they were made before Bach was awarded any trademarks, so it is not known with certainty whether he thought of them as Stradivarius Models or not.  Finally, his early rotary valve trumpets have unique design features.  Most apparent are their long mouthpipes and short bells, which are similar to components used on piston valve trumpets.

 

            Bach also made some rotary valve trumpets late in his manufacturing career at Mt Vernon.  The Mt Vernon rotaries were more commonly designed with short mouthpipes and long bells, similar to more conventional rotary valve trumpets.  Moreover, they were identified clearly as Stradivarius Models.

 

            Bach also made some rotary valve trumpets between the prototype and Mt Vernon sets.  Until trumpet #713 was examined, it was not known whether Bach continued with the earlier design or not.  Another set of rotary valve trumpets was made in the late 1930s, but no instrument from that set has been examined as of yet.

 

1926/27 ROTARY VALVE TRUMPETS

 

            In 1926 Bach set aside 10 serial numbers for rotary valve trumpets.  The serial numbers ranged from #704 though #713.  Five of the trumpets were made in November 1926.  The rest of them were completed in January 1927.  Eight of the ten were Bb trumpets.  The other two were made in the key of C.  The subject of this article, trumpet #713, is one of the Bb trumpets made in January.  Its shop card is shown below.

 

Figure 1: Shop Card #713

            The shop card identifies some unusual features even if this were not a rotary valve trumpet.  First of all, it has a bell identified as a 3, 4 bell.  This bell was Bach’s first known composite bell.  It was made from dimensions taken from both the #3 and #4 bells, similar to the 7-10 bell discussed in Reference 2.  Bell #3 was originally designed for Bach’s Aida trumpets.  Bell #4 was designed for smaller bore piston valve Bb trumpets.  Mouthpipe #2 was intended for Bach’s large bore piston valve symphonic trumpets.

 

            Most of the 10 rotary valve trumpets remained with Bach until the mid-1930s.  Trumpet #713 was finally bought by Archie Wheeler in March 1934.  Demand for rotary valve trumpets was not very great in the United States, so perhaps it should not be considered strange that the trumpet was not sold until 1934.

 

            What is strange is that Archie did not keep the trumpet.  What makes it so is illustrated by the following photograph.  Trumpet #713 is one beautiful instrument.

 

Figure 2: Trumpet #713

 

            Trumpet #713 was not finished until it was sold.  Then it was finished in a special finish Bach called “Finish 4”.  A special order feature, Finish 4 is described in an old Bach catalog as follows.

 

Finish 4--Extra heavily silverplated, bell, mouthpipe, knuckles and trimmings burnished to mirror finish, valves and slides satin finish, outside of bell up to the first piston elegantly engraved and gold inlaid, inside of bell goldplated.

 

            Bach did not make very many trumpets with this finish.  It was not the most expensive finish he offered, but it was the most elaborate in that it involved engraving the bell and then adding decorative gold plating over silver plating in spots.

 

            Given its elaborate finish, one would think that Archie played trumpet #713 before he bought it.  Nobody can tell that for sure, but even if Archie was unhappy with it for some reason, it is even harder to understand why Bach agreed to take it back.  The following photograph serves to address this point.

 

Figure 3: Trumpet #713, Archie Wheeler Engraving

 

            Both of Archie’s names were engraved on the bell.  This would have made it difficult for Bach to sell to someone else, and he did not engrave names often.  Only three instances in which Bach engraved somebody’s name on the bell of one of his instruments have been found to date.  One was Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet.  Bix got only his first name engraved, so it could be engraved on a narrower portion of the bell.  To get both of Archie’s names on the bell, it had to be engraved near the bell rim.

 

            To complete the picture of the bell markings on trumpet #713, a more complete photograph of the entire bell logo is shown below.

 

Figure 4: Trumpet #713 Bell Logo

            This photograph shows details of the bell artwork as well as how the 3, 4 bell was designated.  At first glance, the bell might appear to be a #34 bell, but Bach chose to indicate otherwise by separating the digits.  This photograph also shows where the serial numbers of these older rotary valve trumpets were stamped.

 

 To complete the description of the artwork on the bell of trumpet #713, another photograph is shown below.

 

Figure 5: Trumpet #713 Bell, Inside

 

            Given the unusual nature of trumpet #713, some considerable effort was made to identify who Archie Wheeler was.  The search was not successful.

 

            Archie bought more than one of the 10 rotary valve trumpets.  He also bought rotary valve trumpets #707 and #712 a month before he bought trumpet #713.  Trumpet #707 has a note on its shop card that it was slated for the public schools in Gurley Nebraska.  Gurley is located in Cheyenne County on the western side of the state.  Having a note about the Gurley Public Schools on the shop card is not sufficient to say that Archie ever lived in Nebraska much less bought a rotary valve trumpet for that school system.  Nonetheless, some effort was spent in trying to associate Archie with Gurley somehow, but no connection was found. 

 

            There is also a Wheeler County located in north-central Nebraska.  Efforts to associate Archie with that county were unsuccessful too.

 

            As for trumpet #712, Archie returned it too.  It was configured like trumpet #713 except that it was made with a standard #4 bell.

 

            The mystery of Archie Wheeler remains.  Just taking the data at face value, it appears that Archie kept trumpet #707.  It had a different mouthpipe, #4, to go with its 3, 4 bell, so maybe Archie just thought it played better than the other two, but that still does not explain why Bach agreed to take trumpet #713 back.

 

            Two other aspects of this elaborate trumpet are worth mentioning.  Recalling from Reference 1 that it was hard to empty the water out of the third valve slide of the prototype trumpet featured in that article, trumpet #713 was not any better made in that regard.  The problem can be seen by looking at a picture of the tuning slide shown below.

 

Figure 6: Trumpet #713 Tuning Slide

 

            There is no water key on the third valve slide.  To get water out of it, the tuning slide has to be removed.  That, in turn, is no small problem either as the tuning slide has to be pulled out part way and rotated to avoid hitting the bell.  Any water collected in the third valve slide is probably going to have to remain until the player gets a long rest period.

 

            Bach offered a free quick-change-to-A mechanism on his rotary valve trumpets if the buyer requested one.  Although the shop card did not indicate it, trumpet #713 came with one.  That little freebie is shown in the following picture.

 

Figure 7: Trumpet #713 Quick Change To A

 

            Trumpet #713 also used the same type of valves as those found on the prototype rotary valve trumpet featured in Reference 1.   The valves probably were made in Markneukirchen Germany.  A picture of them is shown in the following photograph.

 

Figure 8: Trumpet #713 Valves

 

            The valve spring bar is stamped with a 10, similar to the bar of the prototype trumpet in Reference 1.  The number can be seen just to the left of the first valve.  Valve sequence numbers 28, 29 and 30 are stamped on the valve casings.  Those numbers are not visible.

 

            Rotary valve trumpets are shaped oddly, and that means Bach had to go to extra expense to buy special cases for them.  The case for this trumpet is shown below.

 

Figure 9: Trumpet #713 in Case

 

            Trumpet #713 still has its can of cork grease with it.  The can is small, but it may have contained enough cork grease to last the lifetime of the trumpet.  The case also has a space in the top for something unidentified as well as a space for a cleaning rod in the lower part.  It also has what might be two mouthpiece spaces, although the one on the right might well be for oil.  None of the original items remain with trumpet #713 except for the cork grease.

 

THREE ROTARY VALVE TRUMPETS

 

            The following is a photograph of three of Bach’s early rotary valve trumpets together.

 

Figure 10: Three Bach Rotary Valve Trumpets

 

            The trumpet at the top is the prototype rotary valve trumpet featured in Reference 1.  The middle trumpet is #713.  Rotary valve trumpet #709 is shown at the bottom.  It is a companion to trumpet #713 except that it has a different mouthpipe on it.

 

            Some differences in the instruments are easily recognizable.  The first thing is that the prototype’s bell was made of an unusual alloy.  It was probably made of bronze whereas the other two bells were made of brass.  The prototype is not as widely spaced between the mouthpipe and bell because a different bell bending block was used.  Different bell braces were used on it too.  The two production rotaries use standard Bach water keys rather than the unusual one found on the prototype, but they are mounted differently on the two production trumpets.  One faces forward and the other backward.  All three rotaries require removing the tuning slide to get water out of the third valve slide.

 

            It would have been interesting to get an impression of the playing characteristics of trumpet #713 as well as making a comparison to the other two instruments.  Unfortunately, the instruments were photographed in a location where playing was impractical.  As a result, no comparison of playing qualities of the three trumpets is available.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

 

            The author thanks the owner of trumpet #713 for making it available to photograph for this article.  Significant effort was involved in bringing the instrument to a central meeting place.  It was then entrusted to the author for photographing.  Without support from interested people, there could be no Bachology articles, and the author appreciates the owner’s interest and help.

 

Major support was provided by Tedd Waggoner, Director of Bach Operations at Conn-Selmer, Inc.  He provided access to Bach data owned by Conn-Selmer, Inc.

 

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