Distin, New York Cornet

Henry Distin was out of the brass instrument manufacturing business after he sold his London factory to Boosey & Co. in 1868.  He acted mostly as a music promoter, living in Belgium during these years, but at some point made plans to move to New York and build a modern factory there.  He made the move in 1877 and was back in the cornet business by 1878 as indicated in the bell stamp on this cornet bell.  Interestingly, he occupied his first New York address, 78 E. 4th Street where this cornet was made, for only about a year.  In 1879 he was listed in the New York City Directory at 255 Bowery, sharing that address with F.W. Busch, another seller/maker of cornets.  Nothing seems to be known of a connection between these two shops but it seems likely that there was.  Jules Levy endorsed both their products, although apparently at different times.  We can guess that in order to get started in business, Distin might have had his cornets made in Europe or imported parts to use in his production.  Busch had grown up in Markneukirchen, a major regional center for musical instrument makers in Europe and may have been in the business before moving to the US, presumably maintaining business connections to the old country.  This is purely speculation and we don't know many details of the business operations of these two men at this time.  Busch continued to operate is business at that address until shortly before his death at about 76 years of age in 1920.  In 1880 Distin moved again to 115 E. 13th St. and in 1881 he was associated with another concern with business ties to eastern European brass makers, Moses Slater.  Slater imported large numbers of American and French style brass instruments and claimed in advertising that he had a large factory in New York under the supervision of Henry Distin.  Distin moved to Philadelphia in 1882 where he was in business with J.W. Pepper, building a new factory and we have much more evidence that this factory was actually built.  Pepper was in the publishing business as well as importing inexpensive instruments from overseas.  The earliest instruments made in the new factory are marked: "Superior (eagle trademark) Made by Henry Distin for J.W. Pepper Phila. and N. York".  This partnership seems to have ended by about 1886 and these two makers went their own ways.  Once in Philadelphia, Distin appeared somewhat more stable and when he moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1891, he was finally able to build his own modern factory with a much larger production than at any previous time.  Most of the history above comes from  William Waterhouse, The New Langwill Index, Tony Bingham, 1993 This is the earliest known Distin instrument made (sold) in New York, being serial number 108.  It appears very similar to the Levy model Distin made in London.   The length and bell rim are about the same at 12 5/8" and 4 7/8" respectively.   The bore is a bit larger at .465".  It also is not as well preserved and even though quite playable, the valves are too leaky to give it a good playing comparison.   There is enough of the finish intact to retain some of the original beauty.  It has gold trim including inside the bell flare, caps, buttons, waterkey including mount, screw and nipples, pull knobs and braces.  Applying the gold trim to the body of this cornet was a very labor intensive process which involved masking with lacquer all the surfaces to remain silver before going into the gold plating bath.   The engraving is attractive but not as high quality as I'm accustomed to seeing on such a high quality instrument.  The engraved shield appears to have been intended for a presentation or monogram but never carried out.  This is very commonly seen on Courtois cornets.  It retains its original case, lyre and Levy model mouthpiece, but the Bb and A shanks both appear to be replacements.

A Distin Eb cornet made in Williamsport, Pennsylvania can be seen here.