Bb Cornet by Gustave Besson, 1850
Most of us with more than a casual interest in brass instrument history would agree that Besson and Courtois were the two most important makers in the development of the French style cornet. Also, Besson went on to design the modern trumpet. In view of these facts, it is surprising how little we seem to know about Besson's earliest years of production. According to the Langwill index, Gustave Auguste Besson apprenticed with another Paris maker, Dujarez, of whom even less is known. M. Besson established his own shop in about 1838 and moved to 7 rue des 3 Coronnes in about 1845 and that is where this cornet was made. I found it very interesting that this cornet has no serial number and presumably predates the earliest known instruments that he stamped serial numbers on in about the mid- to late 1850s. There is a small "19" stamped on the mouthpipe shank receiver, that I originally thought might indicate that this was a replaced part, never having seen this on a Besson instrument before. A while later, I got a phone call from Josh Landress, confirming the number that he could see and other details of the instrument. In his research, Josh was starting to make some sense of the cornets being sold by Pask and Koenig in London that were marked in this way and was becoming convinced that these were also made by G. Besson, in Paris. He has now convinced me. He is continuing his work in sorting out Gustave Besson's early years, so stay tuned for future dispatches on this topic, both here and on Josh's website. The valve design is unique and not seen in any of the other Besson cornets. Interestingly, the valve design involves ports in the first and third pistons that make complete 180 degree turns as seen in seen in the third piston of Niles Eldredge's Stoelzel valve Besson cornet. That has the serial number 587 and almost certainly made a number of years later. My guess, based on Niles Eldredge's research, is that these instruments were made right around 1850. Another anomaly is the stamp on the second valve balluster. Unfortunately, it is a partial strike and may have some information missing. What can be clearly seen is "BR / Brevete", but it is unknown what the "BR" abreviates. My best guess for the moment is "Brevete du Rois" because this was most likely made during the reign of Napoleon III. Of course, this stamp could also be "BB" indicating " Besson Brevete".
This cornet is in the collection of Tom Meacham, purchased from a French collector who had photographs of it on his website, where it was hidden in plain sight. The restoration was very straightforward, the most difficult part being the repair of a piston that had been punched through from the bottom in an attempt to free it from the casing. I made replacements of the missing Bb and A mouthpipe shanks. The crooks are not a matched set, but are of the correct size and style. I believe that the Ab crook is the only one original to this cornet and the G and F crooks came from another French cornet of the period. The mouthpiece is of high quality and a very early French example, but is probably not made by Besson.