Keyed Bugles in Bb by James Keat and Graves & Co
Graves & Co. was the first shop in the US to manufacture wind instruments in any quantity, starting with woodwinds in the 1820s. The successful young company built a new factory in Winchester, New Hampshire in 1830 and in 1837 brought in an English brass instrument maker named James Keat. The timing was excellent because brass instruments were quickly taking a larger role in the bands and orchestras of that time and all brass bands were becoming fashionable with valve brass instruments easily available for the first time.
The Keat family was well established in England as makers and James was able to bring much of this knowledge and technology of brass instrument making to this new factory. There Keat built keyed bugles and some valve brasses but died in 1845 at the age of 31. He had sold the shop to Graves in 1843 and it is known that he suffered an extended illness. The first photo on the left shows a Bb keyed bugle, from Mark Elrod's collection, made by Keat in Winchester and is believed to be a very early example.
Keat had arrived in New York city in 1835 at the age of 21 and in 1838, he travelled back to London, returning to Boston on December 27 that year. It seems unlikely that this was strictly a family visit, but rather to procure tools and supplies that he would need for his new shop in Winchester. Eliason reports that, in 1837, Keat purchased one half of the second floor of the building that Graves occupied, indicating that he ran a separate business. Indeed, that fact is confirmed by a number of instruments, including the first photo featured here, that are engraved: "J. KEAT / for Graves & Co. / Winchester N.H." It is remarkable that a man in his early 20s was able to make these investments and I would wonder if he had the help of his family's money in getting started. To speculate further, perhaps other family members hoped go join him after he was established. His father and at least one brother were already well established in the business in London and he had two other brothers there.
I recently found the complete probate court records that were completed in January of 1846. These indicate that Keat had died without a will and with numerous debts that were incurred during his illness, including $246.24 to Graves & Co. Included in that amount was $107.76 that was paid by Graves for nursing care during Keat's illness and when the estate was settled, they received only $88.37 along with a "lot of small tools" valued at $2. There is no indication that he owed anything to his own family, indeed, there was a promissory note written by his brother William in the amount of $100, although this was not considered of value in the estate inventory. Keat's widow, Frances, was allowed to choose from the inventoried estate, items with a total value of $100 plus a gun valued at $8.
This inventory is the real treasure of these records and I include it here in the last two images on the left. As would be expected, it includes mostly household items, but also supplies, tools and equipment that he had used in making brass instruments for Graves & Co. Of the $212.09 in value, the business related items totaled $158.68. The most valuable tool listed at $20 was a draw bench and fixtures, but he also had owned both a turning lathe and brush lathe (presumably a polishing lathe), a hammering machine, anvil, vices and a fairly impressive list of small tools. Frances, who was under 25 years old at the time, made interesting choices from the inventory to make up her $100 value. Most items were necessary household needs and the 42 books that they had owned, but she paid off promissory notes in the amount of $23.45, chose two lots of small tools and files ($5) and the draw bench and fixtures. The draw bench was the most highly valued item in the estate, along with a waggon, also $20. This was obviously of great value to James Keat's work and makes me wonder what Frances' plans were. The draw bench would have been used for drawing tubing to size with a steel ring on a steel rod, after forming from sheet brass and brazing the seam. This drawn tubing would have been necessary for making valve instruments and there is only one known that is signed with Keat's name. This is an F trumpet with two Stoelzel valves in the Utley collection, but he likely had also started making instruments with double piston valves such as post horns and trombacellos that are extant and signed by Graves.
Perhaps Frances planned on selling this machine to Graves & Co. at some future date, but there is another possibility. As James became unable to work due to his illness, it would make sense that Frances would have pitched in as she could, learning to make some parts. It is possible that she continued to manufacture tubing to sell to Graves and/or the Boston brass instrument makers, although there is no mention of the tools and supplies that she would have needed to braze the seams in the tubing. I haven't been unable to find any census or other listings for Frances Keat, although it would not be surprising that a young woman would have re-married fairly quickly, especially since it appears that the Keats had no children from their marriage.
The Bb keyed bugle in the second through fifth photos on the left contains the design features of those built by Keat and was likely built very shortly after he had sold his shop to Graves. This was a time that the soprano bugle in Eb was becoming the solo voice in American bands and Graves was quick to supply these. Eb keyed bugles made by Grave's contemporary in Boston, E.G. Wright are generally considered to be the finest and most advanced keyed bugles, but most surviving keyed bugles made in the US are Graves Eb bugles made before the shop was moved to Boston in 1850 and the earlier Bb like this one are quite rare. My replica Bb keyed bugles are copies of this instrument.
It is remarkably well preserved and some of the marks from scrapers, files and marking tools are still visible on its surface. The circular crook, bit and mouthpiece may not be original to the instrument but were found with it and likely used with it originally. It is 17 1/2" long with crook removed and the bell rim diameter measures 5 13/16".
The last image to the left is an ad taken out in the Boston Morning Post in May and June of 1842, by Graves & Co, indicating that their instruments were available from Joseph L. Bates in Boston. It is interesting to confirm that Graves was making Eb keyed bugles by that time, as well as trombones and post horns. The larger valve instruments, trombacellos, are not yet mentioned. There is no mention of Keat, but there is no way of knowing his status at this time. Hopefully, more data can be found in the future.
Graves history from Robert E. Eliason, Graves & Company Musical Instrument Makers, Henry Ford Museum, 1975. Most of the Keat history is from my more recent research