Bb Bass by Allen & Hall, Boston
This Bb bass or baritone horn is unique in my experience in several ways. The Boston City Directory indicates that the partnership between J.L Allen and D.C. Hall at 334 Washington St. existed only in 1861. It is the earliest example that I know of an upright bell instrument with these uniquely American style side action levers that are perpendicular to the main tubing with string action, the precedent being bell front cornets made by Isaac Fiske. A few years later, this was to become the most popular style of instrument in the country. These were certainly inspired by European instruments with mechanical linkage to the rotary valves.
Both Graves and Fiske made a few instruments with side action levers previously, but the design involved tilting the valves, necessitating an extra 90 degree tight curve redirecting each valve tube. The levers were simpler, but these curves complicated the design and construction.
The third photo on the right shows an earlier version of the same size instrument with top action levers on the side made by J.L. Allen no more than four years earlier. The next is an image from D.C. Hall's 1864 catalog showing the same side action levers in a different position and held with the bell tilting to the opposite side. I used to believe that this design appeared first, but the object at hand seems to indicate that they may have originated at about the same time.
This was a time of great creativity among the early US makers, greatly influenced by European designs, but almost always in a uniquely American style. Improvements were constantly being made acoustically and ergonomically. Of the three designs pictured here, this is the most comfortable to hold in playing position. Compared with top action levers, the arc of the lever is much more shallow, giving the finger tips the feeling that they are pushing it straight down rather than following the arc. The same design was soon applied to cornets and there too, became the dominant style among Boston makers and the less expensive European copies made for the US market. The two earliest cornets of this style that I know of were made a year or more later: a D.C. Hall cornet in C in the Brussels MIM and one in Bb by E.G. Wright that is featured on this site.
The "Allen" valves with flat windways as seen in the sixth photo down to the left also add to the playing ease. The levers only move slightly more than 1/4" with a very light touch. This was the main goal of this design and it works very well indeed. You may also notice that this instrument is short and wide compared with the other two. This is another unique feature and was not generally seen in US made basses until the 1870s and is very similar to those made by Hall & Quinby at that time. I don't have any explanation for this other than the makers willingness to try various designs.
The last two photos show this instrument as found in an attic in New York and during restoration. It was originally presented to me with the entire third valve tubing missing along with some important valve parts and damage included some cracking and one valve stem badly bent where the bearing was missing. The cost of the restoration would have likely been too much for most collectors, but I consider this a fairly important addition to my collection. I asked the previous owner to climb back into the attic where it was found and look around for some of the missing parts, hoping that the valve parts would appear. They didn't, but I was more than a little happy that he found the entire third valve tubing assembly and it was in pretty good condition.
This instrument is 26 3/4" tall, the bell rim diameter is 9 1/2" and the bore measures .545".