Isaac Fiske Alto Horn with Conn Valves
At first look this is a Fiske alto horn from about 1870 that was modified with the installation of a Conn alto valve section from about 1880. I've seen similar conglomerations before and it is normally easy to see the footprints left where braces and other parts were mounted in its previous incarnation. In this case there are no traces of such clues. I've looked very closely with good light and magnification. The nickel plating appears to be a very cheap refinish, giving opportunity to hide the evidence by sanding and polishing heavily on the footprints before plating, but there is almost always the traces just barely detectable. I'm not saying that it is impossible to remove all such traces, but it would take more determined work with a file, followed by sanding and polishing and still likely leave evidence of this work. That could be the case here, but I've come up with a more interesting theory. Brass instrument fanatics know that there is a connection between Isaac Fiske and C.G. Conn. In 1887, Conn purchased Fiske's factory in Worcester, Massachusetts and moved a large part of his production there. There is tantalizing evidence that Conn may have done business with Fiske before this transaction. I've come across several unsigned rubber rim cornet mouthpieces with Conn's first patent date stamped on them. Fiske was never known to stamp his name on his mouthpieces. These were in the cases of otherwise very original kits of Fiske material. It seems likely that either Conn was providing mouthpieces to Fiske or Fiske was making them under license. These mouthpieces look enough different than Conn's own production that I suspect the latter to be the case. I first wondered if maybe Conn supplied Fiske with a valve section for instruments such as this. I doubt that this is the case for several reasons. This alto has two patent dates stamped on it and Fiske was better than most at only stamping patents on instruments that actually contained that protected improvement. While the first patent covers a manufacturing technique that could have been used here, the second patent was one of his ideas for his piston actuated rotary valves. The valve section was obviously made by Conn although has no serial number as seen on all Conn instruments that I know of. This valve design was patented by Conn in 1879 and can be seen and more thoroughly described on this tuba .
So here's my theory: After Conn had started manufacturing in the old Fiske shop in 1887, there were surplus parts and sub-assemblies around from both Conn and Fiske instruments. This would be expected from any mass production. Conn stopped making the 1879 patent valves by about 1885 and they didn't continue making any of Fiske's designs that we know of. They may have assembled such instruments for a lower priced market or perhaps employees were given permission to assemble instruments for their own use out of the obsolete parts that they might otherwise discard. I favor the latter theory. This was likely a very good instrument to play, the parts being of high quality and appropriate to the whole. It isn't playable as it sits, but I hope to restore it to playability eventually. It is 26 1/4" long, the bell rim diameter is 7 3/16" and the bore measures .461".