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Joseph C. Green's Circular Cornet

By Margaret Downie Banks
Senior Curator of Musical Instruments

Note: Click on any image to see an enlargement.

One of the many historic treasures preserved in the Holton factory collection at the NMM is a circular cornet made by Allen & Hall, Boston, between 1861-1863. The nickel-silver plated cornet features four top-action, string-operated Allen rotary valves, one of which changes the instrument's pitch from B-flat to A. The cornet was originally made for Joseph C. Green I, whose name is engraved on the bell, above the maker's plaque.

J. C. Green engraved on cornet's bell
NMM 13976.  Circular cornet by Allen & Hall, Boston, 1861-1863

Joseph C. Green (b. NY, 1833-d. 1920s) grew up on a farm in Great Bend, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, just two miles south of the New York State border (about ten miles south of Binghamton). He began his musical career as a violinist in New York City before relocating to Omaha (after 1868) where he ran a boarding house and conducted the Seventh Ward Silver Cornet Band. Still active at age 80, J. C. Green continued to compete in—and win—"old-time fiddlers'" contests, according to Holton's Harmony Hints. Clever with his hands, as well, Green crafted a cigar-box fiddle and a 7-inch long miniature violin for his grandchild, perhaps leading to a widely-held belief that he had been trained as a violin maker.

A daguerreotype found in a Green family bible shows Joseph C. Green holding his Allen & Hall circular cornet. Courtesy of Lew Green.

Daguerreotype of Joseph C. Green

The Allen & Hall Circular Cornet

Front of cornet with maker's plaque Maker's and owner's names Back of cornet

Side view of cornet

NMM 13976. Circular cornet in B-flat/A (HP) by Allen & Hall, Boston, 1861-1863. 4 Allen valves. Originally made for Joseph C. Green. Ex coll.: Frank Holton, Elkhorn. Gift of Conn-Selmer, Inc., Elkhart, 2008.

Details of the Allen Rotary Valves

Click here for additional information about the design of Allen valves.

Top view of Allen valves Front of Allen fourth valve Allen valves 1-3

View of fourth Allen valve Second view of fourth Allen valve

Third view of fourth Allen valve Fourth view of fourth Allen valve

In 1889, Joseph's son, George Hamilton Green, Sr. (b. New York, 1868-d. 1920), a cornet soloist, arranger, and conductor, assumed the reins of his father's popular Omaha band and performed weekly for audiences of 7,000-10,000. George had begun his musical study on a Conn Wonder cornet and endorsed that brand for many years until he moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1918, where he was appointed director of the Simmons Mattress Company Band. Due to his proximity to the Holton factory in Elkhorn, George subsequently began playing Holton cornets and personally presented his father's circular cornet to Frank Holton for inclusion in the manufacturer's historical instrument collection. Along with the circular cornet, Green gave Holton this autographed photograph of himself, as well as images of two of his talented sons. Regrettably, George died from an untreatable case of strep throat within two years of his move to Wisconsin, at the age of 52.

George Hamilton Green, Sr.

George Hamilton Green, Jr.

George Green's three sons carried on the family's musical heritage: Joseph Peter Green II (1892-1939), was a xylophonist and drummer who played in Sousa's Band early in his career; George Hamilton Green, Jr. (1893-1970) became a world-reknowned xylophone virtuoso; while Lewis Green (1910-1992) became a percussionist. Performing as a musical ensemble in 1928, the Green brothers made history by recording the original soundtracks for the first three Walt Disney cartoons.

George Green's son, George Hamilton Green, Jr., deservedly earned a reputation as the "world's greatest xylophonist" by the age of eleven. He continued to perform, record, and compose for the instrument for four decades, before becoming a commercial artist, illustrator, and cartoonist in 1946.

Return to NMM Newsletter Index (March 2010)

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