Fiske Cornet with Double Piston ValvesCornet in Bb
When I first saw this instrument, I called it a post horn, thinking myself quite knowledgeable on the subject. I had learned a few years back that the very small bore trumpets with double piston valves were called that in the US in the 1840s. Nobody that I knew had ever seen an instrument made by Isaac Fiske that was anything like this before although an 1843 newspaper account, reported by Bob Eliason, states that Fiske was selling post horns. The only other instrument with double piston valves by this maker previously known was decidedly Saxhorn in form. Examples of the post horns previously known were made by Graves & Co., E.G. Wright, Allen Mfg. Co. and S.W. Richardson along with some that were imported at the time. I had some email correspondences on this subject and, as luck would have it, Sabine Klaus asked me to read over and comment on some of the text that will be included in her upcoming volume on the early history of trumpets and other high brass with valves. (Sabine's two previous volumes covering the high brass of the pre-valve era are the absolute best source of information on the subject.) Sabine had done much research on the brass instrument makers in Cincinnati, including Franz G. Kaiser, an example of an alto horn of his being in the Utley collection of the National Music Museum. This alto has the same mechanism driving double piston valves as seen in this Fiske cornet and Sabine reminded me that this is called "Neumainzer" and stated that her research indicated that this mechanism had been introduced to the US in the early 1850s. This has side action levers with long leaf springs, distinguishing it from the earlier "Mainzer" design, which is the mechanism seen in the post horns mentioned above. I'm sure that you've already come to the conclusion that these mechanisms along with the names originated in Germany, as did Kaiser and the other Cincinnati makers. The Anglo-American makers must have adopted this technology from German workers they employed, by copying existing instruments or by importing the mechanisms for use in their production.
The fourth photo, from the1860s, is of William S. Pearson in Manchester New Hampshire, holding a very similar cornet. This would have already been an old-fashioned instrument by then, but it appears to have been well cared for. The only detectable differences are the bracing of the valve lever carriage, lyre mount, absence of mouthpipe shank and the lack of cover over the valves. Since Fiske's version of this design was a close copy of what was being made in Germany, there is no way of knowing for sure that this one was also made by him, but the resemblance is remarkable.
The fifth photo on the right is a Bb cornet, in the collection of Ed McDowell, made by E.G. Wright, Boston, which I had also called a "post horn". As you can see, it has the same valve mechanism as seen in this Fiske, and compares similarly in the valve bore size as well. This is what distinguishes these cornets of the 1850s from the post horns of the 1840s, the adoption of the Neumainzer mechanism being coincident, but not dependant on it. Other examples of American cornets from the 1850s, featured on this site include those by B.F. Richardson and Teltow. The valve bore of the Fiske measures .430" and the Wright is a few thousanths of an inch smaller. The valve bores of the American post horns range from .360" to .367". While the bell taper and flare profiles changed by a much smaller degree, the later cornets were becoming larger in this area as well. This is an extremely narrow slice of the history of brass instruments and music in the US, but I find it exciting to find these previously "missing links" between the earliest use of brass instruments in America and the brass band boom that followed immediately afterwards. Along with keyed bugles, the post horns must have balanced well with woodwinds, small bore trombones and even the lower Saxhorns in small numbers. When the brass bands became larger in size and volume, the post horns would have been rendered obsolete and larger bore cornets a better option. That trend must have continued for the next two decades, judging by the increase in cornet bore sizes into the 1860s and peaking in the late 1870s with Boston's cornets with valve bores measuring .487".
The fifth and sixth photos to the left show this instrument before and during the recent restoration for Mark Elrod. It had been restored previously in the last 40 years. While that work was done at a much higher level that I typically encounter, everything had to be restored again and parts that were newly made at that time could not be reused, including the large curved tube between the valves and tuning slide. This was much too large in bore and the curve was too wide, moving other parts from their original positions. The original bell garland had been removed and a new one had to be made. Unfortunately, this cornet is only marginally playable, due to the fact that the pistons have been damaged and repaired repeatedly. All six would have to be remade for better playing qualities.