Alto or Tenor Trombacello by Graves & Co.

Brass instruments with valves were still a novelty when this sort of instrument was first gaining popularity.  The prototypes for this instrument with double piston valves were first made in Germany and similarly proportioned instruments in France and England utilized Stoelzel valves as we are accustomed to seeing on cornopeans or cornets a pistons.  The main weakness, compared with Saxhorns and other later valve instruments was the very small bore diameter (.425") which limited the volume and tone quality.  This alto horn was made by Graves & Co. of Winchester, New Hampshire in about 1845.  The origins of the name "trombacello" is not known, but it was used by Graves, Harvey and Alan Dodworth and other Americans at that time including a few composers.  


To further confuse the issue, the same authorities tended to use the terms "ebor (or hibo) corno" and "neo cor" describing Eb alto instruments.  Bob Eliason, our premier authority on early American brass instruments, has concluded that this alto instrument should be called "trombacello" along with the instruments in Bb bass.    American makers were late in producing these, probably not before 1840, and the Saxhorns and cornets dominated the brass bands within a few short years.   This fact of history makes surviving examples extremely rare.  There are only 25 instruments with double piston valves made in the US known by me at this time.  There are only two other altos similar to this.  The best known example is in the Henry Ford museum.  Another Graves instrument of this sort of double piston valve design is a post horn or small trumpet shown elsewhere on this site.   Other makers of these were E.G. Wright, Allen & Co. and Isaac Fiske.  This instrument came to light just a few years ago in an antiques auction in Sacramento, California and now resides in Mark Elrod's collection.  

The restoration was straightforward, being in a better state of preservation than it first appeared to be.  Aside from many dents, it had several splits in the tubing.  The most difficult to patch was the curved part of the mouthpipe.  This instrument is still quite playable, although as expected, is restricted by its small bore.