Distin, London Cornet

In the 1830s, John Distin and his four sons formed a brass quintet for the purpose of performing concerts.  He had established himself as a professional musician at least twenty years previously and realized that there was a market for his family band.  They first performed on keyed bugle, slide trumpet, trombone and hand horn but as valve brasses became available, they utilized them as well.  They were among the very first to popularize the Saxhorns.  It is thought that they first learned of these and immediately started using them on their 1844 tour of Europe.  They were also very quick to become London agents for Sax's instruments, at first selling them from the family home as Distin and Sons.  By 1850, Henry Distin was the proprietor of Distin and Sons and imported French instruments by makers other than Sax and set about to manufacture his own line of brass instruments by 1853 and thus ending his relationship with Adolphe Sax.  Not much is known about the early London shop but from several rotary valve Saxhorns from this period that I have worked on over the years, the quality of design and workmanship rivalled those made by Sax.  In 1864 Distin was granted a patent for an improved cornet with "light piston valves".  These were a slight variation of the valves first made by Francois Perinet in 1838 and which we generically call "Perinet piston valves".  This cornet was very much a copy of Antoine Courtois Koenig's model cornet, being made since about 1855, and vied for popularity of this modern cornet.  Most of these historical facts come from William Waterhouse, The New Langwill Index, Tony Bingham, 1993.


My example of Distin's Light Piston Valve Cornet was made about the time that Distin sold his factory to Boosey and Co. in 1868.  It was entered into the factory stock book in January 30, 1869 and sold to the New York branch of Boosey and Co. on November 15 of that year.  The stock book indicates that it was indeed originally silver plated and is in remarkable state of preservation.  The original silver plating is almost completely intact and while I needed to remove a number of dents, the valves are still quite tight.   This last point is extremely rare in antique cornets.  It also retains its original case, Bb mouthpipe shank, two bits and lyre.  Notice that the shank and bits all are stamped "DISTIN".  Missing from the original kit are the mouthpiece, A shank and crook for G, all of which have a spot in the case.  The overall length with mouthpiece removed is 12 9/16", the bell rim diameter is 4 7/8" and the bore measures .455".  It is very interesting that the bell stamp states: "Approved by Levy" because this is about the same year that Courtois introduced its "Levy's Model" which looked just like this as well as the earlier "Koenig's Model" Courtois cornets although that more famous Levy model had a smaller bore measuring .449".  It would be interesting to find out if there was much overlap between the two Levy model cornets.  Indeed Jules Levy lent his name to quite a few makers for Levy model mouthpieces as well.  I believe that I have at least six distinct makes of Levy model mouthpieces in my collection.  The last photo shows the flamboyant Mr. Levy playing his Courtois cornet in the 1870s.

After selling his company in 1868, Henry Distin spent his time promoting other musical acts and moved to New York in 1877.  His plans were to build a modern brass manufactory befitting the forward looking American ethos.   More about this on my page featuring a Distin cornet made in New York City.