Where do all the old brass band instruments go?

FB_IMG_1512776960020With all the brass bands there have been in the British Isles over the last two hundred years (nearly 20,000 of them), even allowing for multiple hand-me-downs on the one hand and occasional sets of new instruments on the other, we’re probably talking about significantly more than 200,000 individual instruments here, let alone across the world.

Assuming each current band (c. 1,200) has a full set of instruments, plus those in concert/military bands and individual brass musicians we may be around 40 to 50,000 current brass instruments in use today in the UK and Ireland. Today’s instrument manufacturers have records of instruments sold over the years, and various pieces of research have identified the serial numbers and ranges of instruments of extinct manufacturers (e.g. Besson produced just over 3,000 brass instruments in 1890). So, in theory at least, we ought to be able to estimate the total production of brass instruments – I will, however, leave that up to you…


Workers at Boosey & Hawkes factory

Many bands, when they disbanded, will have sold off their instruments either as a set or as individual items to other bands and players. As bands have acquired new instruments (singly or as sets) they will also have passed their old instruments from time to time to others – perhaps their own youth/training band, local school or other deserving institution – or sold elsewhere.

Once instruments fall totally out of the band/player’s use they can be

  • Sold or disposed of for scrap
  • Stolen (and resold or scrapped), or abandoned
  • Forgotten and dusty in attics, sheds and garages
  • Kept as mementos or ornaments
  • Converted into other household items (e.g. lamps)
  • Sold or placed into archives, museums, or individuals’ collections

This latter category does at least preserve the instruments for future research and education. There are a number of large, significant collections in the UK, mainly housed in museums and universities, but smaller collections also exist in local town museums and even with the occasional historical society. An example of these are the instruments of the Sutton Scotney Brass Band, at Winchester Museum.

The Musical Instrument Museums Online website (https://mimo-international.com) records details of over 64,000 instruments which include 5,243 brass instruments (exluding 400 ophicleides and serpents). This, however, is almost exclusively European in its coverage and there will be some thousands more across the world – particularly in the USA. The National Music Museum does have various list and details of collections across the USA – see: http://collections.nmmusd.org/collect.html

Horn-u-copia (https://horn-u-copia.net) is one of several internet resources for information about vintage brass instruments. Dealing with obscure, antique and out-of-production brass instruments, it is a huge database of manufacturers with details of their instruments and serial number ranges.


Here is a select bibliography of works on brass instruments and their makers:

Adams, Peter H. – Antique Brass Wind Instruments: Identification and Value Guide – Schiffer Pub, 1997 – ISBN: 076430027X

Albertson, H. – Ahlberg & Ohlsson – en fabrik för Bleckblåsinstrument I Stockholm 1850-1959 – Musikmuseet, Stockholm, 1990

Banks, Margaret Downie – Nineteenth-Century Brass Instruments at the Shrine to Music Museum – Brass Bulletin, 61 (1988), pp. 50-59

Bevan, Clifford – Musical Instrument Collections in the British Isles – Piccolo Press, Winchester – 1990. ISBN: 1872203108

Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Elizabeth – Museum Piece: Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown and Instruments of the Sax Family at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Elizabeth – Sound Designs: the story of Boosey & Hawkes. Exhibition Catalogue – Horniman Museum, 2006

Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Elizabeth and Myers, Arnold – A Manufacturer’s Museum: The Collection of Boosey & Hawkes’. In Florence Gétreau, ed., Les Collections d’instruments de musique – 2e partie: Musique – Images – Instruments: Revue Française d’Organologie et d’Iconographie Musicale 9, 2007, pp. 146-164. (ISBN 978-2-271-06527-8)

Carrell, Cynthia Thompson – A catalogue of the brass musical instruments of the Carl Busch Collection at the University of Illinois  – DMA thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1996

Cherry, Gordon – Brass Instrument Dating by Serial Numbers – Historic Brass Society Newsletter – 6, Summer 1994, pp. 28-29

Coover, James – Musical instrument collections catalogues and cognate literature – Information Coordinators, Detroit, 1981, ISBN: 0899900135

Eliason, Robert E. – Early American brass makers – (Brass research series ; no. 10), Brass Press, Nashvill, 1979 – ISBN: 0914282255

Eliason, Robert E. – Graves and Company Musical Instrument Makers – The Edison Institute, Dearborn, Michigan, 1975

Eliason, Robert E. – George Catlin, Hartford Musical Instrument Maker (part 1) – Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society – Vol. 8, 1982, pp. 16-37

Eliason, Robert E. – George Catlin, Hartford Musical Instrument Maker (part 2) – Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society – Vol. 9, 1983, pp. 21-52

Eliason, Robert E. – The Meachams, Musical Instrument Makers of Hartford and Albany – Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society – Vol. 5-6, 1979-80, pp. 54-73

Eliason, Robert E.; Stewart, Robb & Martz, Richard – The Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory/Company,1869-1919 Part I: Company History, E-flat and B-flat Cornet Development – Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society – Vol. 41, 2015, pp. 5-45

Eliason, Robert E.; Stewart, Robb & Martz, Richard – The Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory/Company,1869-1919 Part II: Mid-Range Brasses, Band Instrument Sets, Trumpets, Horns, Woodwinds, and Percussion – Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society – Vol. 42, 2016, pp. 5-42

Evans, Andrew – Playing On: John York and the Sydney Brass Musical Instrument Factory – Sydney Journal, Vol 4, No 1 (2013), pp. 66-85

F.E. Olds & Son – America’s Most Celebrated Custom Built Brass Instruments – F.E. Olds, Los Angeles, 1941

Fladmoe, Gary – The Contributions to Brass Instrument Manufacturing of Vincent Bach, Carl Geyer, and Renold Schilke – Ed.D. thesis, University of Illinois, 1975

Fonder, Mark – The Instrument Manufacturing Industry and the School Band Movement: A Look the “Holton School Band Plan” – Journal of Band Research – Vol. 24 (1), Fall 1988, pp. 44-

Gibbons, Roy W. – CCFCS Collection of Musical Instruments, Volume 1: Aerophones – National Museum of Man, Mercury Series, Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies Paper no. 43, National Museums of Canada, 1982

Haine, M. & De Keyser, I – Catalogue des Instruments Sax au Musée Instrumental de Bruxelles, suivi de la liste de 400 instruments Sax conservés dans des collections publiques et privées – Brussels, 1980

Hawkes and Son – Military Band Instruments Manufactured by Hawkes & Son, etc. [A catalogue] – London, 1927

Herbert, Trevor – Selling brass instruments: the commercial imaging of brass instruments (1830-1930) and its cultural messages – Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography, XXIX (1-2), 2004, pp. 213-226.

Herbert, Trevor & Wallace, John (eds.) – The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments – Cambridge University Press, 1997.  ISBN: 0521563437

Herbert, Trevor; Myers, Arnold; & Wallace, John (eds.) – The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments – Cambridge University Press, 2018.  ISBN: 978-1107180000

Heyde, Herbert – Brass Instrument Making in Berlin from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century: A Survey – Historic Brass Society Journal – 3, 1991, pp. 43-47

Heyde, Herbert – The Brass Instrument Makers Schmied of Pfaffendorf; in Stewart Carter (ed.) – Perspectives in Brass Scholarship: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Historic Brass Instruments, Amherst, 1995; New York: Pendragon, 1997, ISBN 0 945193 97 1, pp. 91-114

Higham, Joseph – A day in the famous Higham Band Instrument Factory with some Notes on the Manufacture of Patent Clear Bore Instruments – London Military Mail, 19 Aug 1904, page 7

Howell, Jocelyn – Boosey & Hawkes: The Rise and Fall of a Wind Instrument Manufacturing Empire – PhD thesis, City University London, 2016

Howell, Jocelyn – Hawkes & Son, Instrument Makers – The Galpin Society Journal, March 2015, Volume 68, pp. 121-257

Hoza, Vaclav – Václav F.Cerveny [1819-1896] – Famous instrument make – Brass Bulletin – No. 23, 3 – 1978, pp. 25-29

Humphries, John – W. Brown & Sons: A Nearly Forgotten Name in British Brass Making – Historic Brass Society Journal – Vol. 18, 2006, pp. 1–15

Jenkins, Jean – International directory of musical instrument collections – Frits Knuf for the International Council of Museums – 1977

Klaus, Sabine Katharina – A History of the H. N. White Company and its Products (1893-1965) Including a Comparison of White’s Cornet and Trumpet Models with Those in the Collections of the National Music Museum – MMus thesis University of South Dakota, 2013

Klaus, Sabine Katharina – Kaiser & Kohler, German-Born Brass Musical Instrument Makers in Cincinnati, Ohio, in: Camus, Raoul F. & Habla, Bernhard (eds.) – Kongressbericht Northfield/Minnesota, USA 2006 – Internationale Gesellschaft zur Erforschung und Förderung der Blasmusik, Hans Schneider, 2008. ISBN: 379521257X

Klaus, Sabine Katharina – Outstanding trumpets, trombones and horns in the musical instrument collection of the Historical Museum, Basel – Historic Brass Society Journal , 2000, 12, pp. 1-22 (ISSN 1045-4616)

Kriven, Martin. – A Century of Wind Instrument Manufacturers in the United States, 1860-1960 – State University of Iowa, PhD, 1961

Langhammer, Johann – 200 Years of Wenzel Meinl Musical Instrument Manufacturing – ITEA Journal – Vol. 37 (4), Summer 2010

Langwill, Lyndesay G. – An Index of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers – 3rd ed. Lindsay and Co., Edinburgh – 1972

Larson, André Pierre – Catalogue of the Nineteenth-Century British Brass Instruments in the Arne B. Larson Collection of Musical Instruments – Ph.D., Musicology, West Virginia University – 1974

Lichtenwanger, W. – A survey of musical instrument collections in the United States and Canada – Music Library Association, Ann Arbor – 1974

Manfredo, Joseph – The Selmer Company, 1885 – 1927: Historical and Socio-Economic Factors That Influenced Its Development and Relocation from Paris to New York City to Elkhart, Indiana – Journal of Band Research – Vol. 46 (1), Fall 2010

Mead, Steven – The Besson Story – British Bandsman – (5958) October 2017, pp. 8-9

Meucci, Renato – The Pelitti Firm: Makers of Brass Instruments in Nineteenth-Century Milan – Historic Brass Society Journal – 6 (1994), pp. 304-33

Mitroulia, Eugenia – Adolphe Sax’s Brasswind Production with a Focus on Saxhorns and Related Instruments – Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2011

Mitroulia, Eugenia – A Newly Proposed Scheme for Dating All Numbered Wind Instruments by Adolphe Sax – Historic Brass Society Journal – pp. 1-11

Mitroulia, Eugenia – The Distin Family as Instrument Makers and Dealers 1845-1874 – Scottish Music Review – Volume 2, No. 1 2011

Mitroulia, Eugenia & Kampmann, Bruno – Instruments fabriqués par Adolphe Sax et son fils, évolution au cours de la période transitoire – Larigot – Issue 58, October 2016, pp. 10-19

Monks, Greg – Histories of Brass Band Instruments

Myers, A. & Cartledge, A. – Catalogue of the Brass Musical Instruments in the Collections of Bradford Art Galleries and Museums – Cliffe Castle Museum – 1991

Myers, A. & Herbert, T. – Catalogue of the European Wind and Percussion Instruments in the Cyfarthfa Castle Museum Collection – Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery – 1990

Myers, A. (ed.) – Historical Musical Instruments in the Edinburgh University Collection. (various catalogues) – Edinburgh University – 1990/2/3/4

Myers, Arnold – Brasswind Innovation and Output of Boosey & Co in the Blaikley Era – Historic Brass Society Journal , 2002, 14 pp. 391-423. (ISSN 1045-4616)

Myers, Arnold – Brasswind Manufacturing of Boosey & Hawkes 1930-1954 – Historic Brass Society Journal, 2003, 15 pp. 55-72. (ISSN 1045-4616)

Myers, Arnold – Made in Manchester: Instruments of the Higham Firm – Galpin Society Journal – Vol. 71, March 2018, pp. 161-178, 273

Myers, Arnold & Eldredge, Niles – The Brasswind Production of Marthe Besson’s London Factory – Galpin Society Journal – Volume 59, May 2006 – pp. 43-76. (ISSN 0072-0127)

Nex, Jennifer Susan – The Business of Musical-Instrument Making in Early Industrial London – PhD thesis, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2013

Parker, Philip M. – The 2009-2014 World Outlook for Non-Electronic Cornets, French Horns, Trombones, Trumpets, Tubas, and Other Brass Wind Musical Instruments – ICON Group International, Inc., 2008

Parker, Philip M. – The 2016-2021 World Outlook for Non-Electronic Cornets, French Horns, Trombones, Trumpets, Tubas, and Other Brass Wind Musical Instruments – ICON Group International, Inc., 2015

Parker, Philip M. – The 2019-2024 World Outlook for Non-Electronic Cornets, French Horns, Trombones, Trumpets, Tubas, and Other Brass Wind Musical Instruments – ICON Group International, Inc., 2018

Reed, Charles Vandeveer – A History of Band Instrument Manufacturing in Elkhart, Indiana – MSc thesis, Butler University, 1953

Rice, Albert R. – Curtis Janssen and a Selection of Outstanding Brasses at the Fiske Museum, The Claremont Colleges, California – Historic Brass Society Journal – 17 (2005), pp. 85-113

Russell, Raymond – Catalogue of Musical Instruments: Victoria & Albert Museum – HMSO, 1968

Sadie, Stanley (ed.) – The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (3 volumes)  – Macmillan, London, 1984 – ISBN: 0333378784

Salmon, Edward – How Brass Bands are Made – Strand Magazine, November 1894, pp. 542-547

Slavický, Tomáš – The Innovations of Václav František ?ervený (1819-1896) and the Austrian-Czech Tradition of Making Chromatic Brass Instruments – Musicalia – 1-2, 2019, pp. 46-70

Smith, David J., and Richard Blundel – Imagined Outcomes: Contrasting Patterns of Opportunity, Capability and Innovation in British Musical Instrument Manufacturing, 1930-1985 – Enterprise & Society – Vol. 19, 2018

Smith, David J., and Richard Blundel – Improvisation and entrepreneurial bricolage versus rationalisation: A case-based analysis of contrasting responses to economic instability in the UK brass musical instruments industry – Journal of General Management Vol. 40, no. 1, 2014, pp. 53-78

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 1 – Brass Bulletin – No. 50, 2 – 1985, pp. 18-21

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 2 – Schilke Music Products – Brass Bulletin – No. 51, 3 – 1985, pp. 48-54

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 3 – C.G. Conn Ltd. – Brass Bulletin – No. 51, 3 – 1985, pp. 54-58

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 4 – S.W.Lewis Orchestral Horns – Brass Bulletin – No. 52, 4 – 1985, pp. 90-94

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 5-7 – Holton/Leblanc/Martin – Brass Bulletin – No. 53, 1 – 1986, pp. 109-115

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 8 – Getzen – Brass Bulletin – No. 54, 2 – 1986, pp. 75-78

Suter, Stephan – Instrument Makers in USA 9 – Yamaha Music Products – Brass Bulletin – No. 55, 3 – 1986, pp. 81-84

Timms, Charles E. – It Started in 1837 – the Story of a Famous Brass Wind Instrument Maker [Besson & Co.], in: Frank Wright (ed.) – Brass Today – Besson & Co., London, 1957, pp. 121-124

Vandemeer, David Martin – A History of Valved Brass Instruments in the Nineteenth Century – MMus thesis, North Texas State University, 1964

Waterhouse, William – The New Langwill Index: A Dictionary of Musical Wind Instrument Makers and Inventors – Tony Bingham, London, 1993. ISBN: 0946113041

Webb, John – British brass makers – Brass Bulletin, 101 (1998), pp. 91-100

Whitehead, Lance and Myers, Arnold – The Köhler Family of Brasswind Instrument Makers – Historic Brass Society Journal , 2004, 16, pp. 89-123 (ISSN 1045-4616)

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