J.W. York & Sons
Single F/Eb

Label :
Made by
J.W. York and Sons
Grand Rapids
Serial Number:
Date of Manufacture:
F or Eb depending on main slide
3 Berliner Pistons and 1 tap to select high or low pitch1
16.50 mm
Bell Flare:
Bell spun separately and "zipper" seamed to bell tail.
7.5 cm.
Bell Diameter:
29.9 cm.
Base Metal:
(click on photos for larger view)

At first glance the instrument shown above might appear to be just another single rotary-valve horn with a stopping valve and a missing valve cap from J.W. York & Sons, Grand Rapids, Michigan. On closer inspection, however, it is clearly a very unusual design.  It is tuned to American high pitch (see note 1) and the tap at the top of the valve set is intended to lower it to modern standard pitch.  This was common in the early twentieth century when military bands were still performing in the higher pitch.  The valve set is actually a version of the Berliner "Pumpen" valves but with rotary-valve-like keys. As can be seen in the photos below the valve levers are connected through slots in the casings to the tops of the pistons which are lifted when the finger keys are depressed. Wire spiral springs (and gravity) return them to the rest position in the usual manner.2

Although the valves are marked "Patent Pending" the concept was not new in 1912 when this horn was made. At right and below, included as part of German patent no. 11511 issued  to C.W. Moritz, Berlin and  titled "Neuerung an Drehventilen für Blasinstrumente" ("Innovation in Rotary Valves for Wind Instruments"), is shown a similar innovation for Berliner Pumpen valves that adds keys similar to those used on rotary valves:3
"In Fig. 6 and 7, a drive mechanism for so-called pumping valve is shown.Whereas with the mechanisms of this type that have hitherto been used the valve always sought to assume the highest position and had to be pressed directly onto the valve in order to change the through-going channels, a mechanism is shown in Figs. 6 and 7 in which the valve usually occupies the lowest position When changing channels, the valve is raised by pressing button a of lever b. Of course, the bores of the valve must be arranged the other way around from those used in the past."

"Neuerung an Drehventilen für Blasinstrumente
May 6, 1880, C.W. Moritz, Berlin, Patent No. 11511


Above, the third valve lever inserts through the slot in the valve casing and slides into the top of the valve core (left). The top holes in the core are straight through while the lower holes lead into to the valve slide.
At right a union label is stamped on the casing of the second valve. As best it can be read the letters are "M._.B.P. & S.W.U." although the first two letters are not entirely clear.4 No union with those letters has as yet been identified. The "2" identifies the valve and the York serial number is stamped below identifying the year of manufacture as ca. m1912. No horn of this design has been found in any extant York catalog.5

Below, amid the flowers, leaves, and flourishes, the lightly engraved label on the bell reads "Made by/J.W. York and Sons/Grand Rapids/Mich."

Very special thanks to  Dr. Arnold Myers, Curator and Director of Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, for the reference to the article by John Webb in the Galpin Society Journal, 1985 (see note 2) and photo of the horn by Wahl, Stockholm. Thanks also to James Hampson for referring this horn to this collection and the reference to the Mark Metzler web site. Thanks to Jim Ungerman for contrbuting the photo of the piston and valve linkage.

1. In Germany, the bands and orchestras in the mid- to late 1800’s played in a pitch where A=440 Hz.Eb vs Bb This is the standard “low pitch” of today (which later became known as “American Standard Pitch” when it finally came to use in the US). However, at the same time, bands and orchestras in France, England and the US were playing in “high pitch” (A=452.5 Hz). In fact, in the US, “military high pitch” was even higher at A=457 Hz. Around the turn of the century, the use of low pitch became more common in the US, France and England. However, as it hadn’t completely replaced high pitch, brass horns were often offered with slides to allow the player to play in either pitch, depending on what was required and what pitch the other instruments were in. In 1917, the American Federation of Musicians formally adopted A=440 as the “official” pitch for the US, and it became known as “American Standard Pitch”.
Capion Larson, "New Orleans Jazz"

2. Another example of this design with earlier serial number 30570 and also dated ca. 1912 is now in the John Webb Collection of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow.  It is described by John Webb in an article in the Galpin Society Journal (1985, pp. 142–43) and differs slightly from the subject instrument. In the Webb horn the valve springs are "pyramidal" or tapered coil springs at the top of the pistons which are compressed when the valve keys are pressed.   

3. As early as 1842/43, C.W. Moritz had built a Soprano Cornet ( Museum of Musical Instruments of the National Institute for Music Research, Berlin, No. 3096) with a similar mechanism.  See also Heyde, (1987), p. 156.   Another horn with a similar valve set but apparently articulated linkage by I.V. Wahl (Jakob Wallentin), fl. 1818-1911 in Landskrona, Sweden, is held in the Stockholm Museum.

4. Probably the Metal Polishers, Buffers, Platers, Brass Moulders, Brass and Silver Workers' Union No.7, Grand Rapids, Michigan

5. Not to be outdone,  J.H. Gardner of Elkhart, Indiana filed an application for Patent 1,112,444 on November 6, 1913 which was granted on October 6 the following year and assigned to C.G. Conn, one of J.W. York's major competitors. In this case, however, the piston is moved perpendicular to the motion of the finger key, suggesting that the valve would be mounted horizontally on the instrument although no such illustration was included. No instruments of this design are known to have been marketed, however a model of the valve set is part of the Mark Metzler collection of Conn ephemera.


Dullat,  Günter,  Metalblasinstrumentenbau, Verlag Erwin Bochinsky. Frankfurt am Main, 1989

Heyde, Herbert,  Das Ventilblasinstrument, Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden, 1987

Metzler, Mark, Conn Ephemera

Record of Surviving York Instruments and Items

R.L. Polk & Co.,  1909 Grand Rapids City Directory, The Grand Rapids Directory Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1909

Waterhouse, William, The New Langwill Index of Wind Instrument Makers and Inventors, pub.Tony Bingham, London 1993

Webb, John. “A Horn by York.” The Galpin Society Journal, vol. 38, Galpin Society, 1985, pp. 142–43


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