Earliest Boston Three Star Cornet
I recently acquired this Boston Three Star Cornet from the collection of the late Jim Montgomery in Florida. It was the lowest priced of eight Three Stars, being in the roughest condition of the lot. Like most antique instruments, it had been abused and badly repaired/restored during its long life. Jim had owned it for many years and I don't think that he knew the historical significance it holds. This is the earliest Boston Three Star Cornet with piston valves that I've come across so far. I don't have a precise way of dating it, but I believe that it was built in the late 1870s, possibly before the prototype Three Star that features Henry Esbachs patent rotary valve mechanism. I describe on other pages the development of these models and here I'll describe the clues that indicate its place in that history. Like other very early Three Star Cornets, this has the larger bore, measuring about .487" and valve guides fixed on the pistons. What sets it apart from the other early examples is the narrow third slide crook, the round lyre mount socket and the lack of trade marked decorative wreath that is engraved around the signature on (almost) every Three Star Cornet made after about 1880. I know of only four other Three Star Cornets without the wreath: the Esbach patent cornet mentioned above, two others with piston valves and the wider third slide crooks (one with the smaller, .463" bore!) that were made shortly after this one and another with side action rotary valves in the collection of the First Brigade Band in Wisconsin. The latter, quite surprisingly, has a serial number that dates it to 1907.
As always, I invite the reader to send me additional information that might correct statements that I make. The fourth photo down to the left shows Bob Hazen's Two Star Cornet (now in the collection of the Boston MFA, made of nickel silver with copper bell, that also dates from this period and has the same narrow third slide crook. Below that is another with the same valve section, but no stars engraved on the bell. The extreme rarity of these three cornets indicates that they were made for a very short time and that Boston was putting a lot of effort into developing these new models during the mid-1870s and not sticking with a model until the introduction of the Three Star Cornet as we know it today (about 1881). Next down is an advertising card from the 1870s that shows a piston valve cornet with a very similar looking valve section. This card makes no mention of the "Star" or Esbach models and a reasonable theory is that it is contemporary with the "Pre-Star" large bore cornet. Interestingly, the text describing the "New Bb Cornet" on the reverse is identical to that describing "The Famous Three Star Cornet" in the 1881 Boston catalog. Also offered in that catalog are Two Star Orchestra Cornets (this is the only case where the earlier Orchestra Cornet and the Two Star Cornet are conflated) with either piston or rotary valves. These are the earliest of the "Star" models that I have found in print and the illustrations show the "modern" Three Star Cornets with the wider third slide crooks but the Two Star with the same illustration from the earlier advertising showing the narrow third slide crook. It seems likely that they had switched those to the later design by that time, but hadn't yet updated the engraved illustration.
The last photo shows third valve pistons from three Three Star Cornets. The first is from the cornet featured above and the design is very much like those made by E.G. Wright in the 1860s although with a larger diameter. The second piston is from a Thee Star made about the time of the 1881 catalog. The last was made later in the 1880s with the smaller .472" bore and the floating valve guide.