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Baritone trombacello by Graves & Co., Winchester, New Hampshire, ca. 1842-1848

NMM 5261.  Baritone trombacello by Graves & Co., Winchester, New Hampshire, ca. 1842-1848 Back side of Graves trombacello Back of Graves trombacello Front side of Graves trombacello

NMM 5261. Baritone trombacello in B-flat by Graves & Co., Winchester, ca. 1842-1848. Brass. Three double-piston valves. Original case and mouthpiece. One of only five such instruments known to survive. Ex coll.: Mark R. Jones, Eden, New York. Purchase funds gift of Clifford and LaVonne Graese, Windermere, Florida, 1991.

This rare trombacello was discoverd in May 1990, in a barn in Lawtons, Erie County (western New York State), still stored in its original wooden case, filled with old shirt sleeves for padding. Mark R. Jones, a brass instrument collector in the area, purchased it from a descendant of a farmer named Levi A. Taft (born Danby, Vermont, November 21, 1836-died Brant Center, Erie County, New York, 1910). According to family history, the trombacello may have been played by Levi and/or his Quaker father, Phineas, who moved his family from Vermont to Collins, Erie County, sometime after 1833, remaining there until his death on September 1, 1865. Following its purchase, Jones had the instrument restored to playing condition by Robb Stewart of Arcadia, California.

It is likely that the Tafts purchased their trombacello from the musical instrument dealer and melodeon-manufacturer, George A. Prince, who represented Graves & Co. in the Buffalo area, according to an advertisement in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser and Journal, October 8, 1844, p. 2: "GRAVES'S MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS—George A. Prince has this day received—Bass Trombacellos in F.; Bass Trombacellos in Eb; Eb Bugles, 9 keys; B [Bugles] 9 [keys] (new pattern.); Post Horns in Bb. The above, together with a full assortment of the instruments manufactured by Graves & Co., may always be found at the Piano Forte and Music Store, No. 200 Main street, nearly opposite the Farmer's Hotel. George A. Prince, Agent for Graves & Co."

Maker's Signature

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Maker's signature Maker's signature Maker's signature

View of the Leadpipe and Original Mouthpiece

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The manufacture of trombacellos by Graves & Co. can be documented at least as early as 1844, when an example was exhibited in the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association exhibitions held in Boston, according to Graves' scholar, Robert E. Eliason. Trombacellos are referred to in Dodworth's Brass Band School of 1853, where they are simply defined as "valve baritone and bass instruments in B-flat and F." According to an 1850 article written by Allen Dodworth, the trombacello is characterized as "simply a bass post horn, and like that instrument deficient in power, arising from the smallness of the tubing." (Source: Robert E. Eliason, Graves & Company, Musical Instrument Makers, Dearborn, Michigan: Edison Institute, 1975, p. 12.)


Views of Trombacello's Double-Piston Valve Mechanism

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Detail of front

Double-piston mechanism in context

This double-piston valve type with short levers and flat-spring is derived from a model that originated in Saxony and was further developed in Mainz between 1830 and 1840, called the Old Mainz Model. Several American makers built instruments with this valve design as well (both in normal and reversed valve order); e.g., J. Lathrop Allen, E. G. Wright and Wright & Baldwin in Boston, and Graves & Co.

Front of double-piston mechanism
Back of double-piston mechanism

Front view

Back view

Front view of upper valve springs
Back view of upper valve springs

Front view of upper valve springs

Back view of upper valve springs

Front view of uppermost valve springs

Touchpieces are operated by the player's left hand

Back view of lower valve spring
Front view of lower valve spring

Back view of lower valve spring

Front view of lower valve spring

Literature:  "Jones Acquires Graves Trombacello," Newsletter of the American Musical Instrument Society 20, No. 2 (June 1991), p. 15.

"1991 Acquisitions Include Rare Andrea Amati Violin," Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter, 19, No. 2 (January 1992), p. 3.

"1991 Acquisitions at USD Music Museum," Newsletter of the American Musical Instrument Society 21, No. 1 (February 1992), p. 9.

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