Bb Cornet by B.F. Richardson, Boston
Benjamin Franklin Richardson was born February 6, 1823 in Framingham Massachusetts, a small town about half way between Boston and Worcester. He was known to be a professional musician by the late 1840s and I found a newspaper report that he was leader of Flagg's Cornet Band in 1858. More interesting is a document found by Steve Dillon that shows Richardson in partnership with Henry Sibley in 1847. Sibley was a very successful machinist in Boston and the designer of the American style Eb keyed bugle, made not only by himself, but more famously by Graves and Wright. It is possible that all of the successful brass instrument makers in Boston had ties to Sibley, probably needing his skills and tooling to produce the specialized tools and parts needed in the trade. In the 1850 and 1860 censuses he is listed as a musician, but in the Boston directories for the same years, he is listed as musical instrument maker. By 1849, he was at the same address as Henry Prentiss, well known as a music publisher, importer and dealer in all sorts of musical merchandise, including brass instruments made in Europe. It is believed that woodwinds were made in that shop as well. In 1852, Richardson was in partnership with J. Lathrop Allen, where he must have learned more about manufacturing brass instruments. Then in 1861, he was in partnership with John Bayley Sr., an English cornetist who designed a cornet with a straight, fixed mouthpipe ending in a narrow tuning slide and a long, single curve bell hanging below the valve section. In 1862, Bayley registered this design in England along with a similar cornet with piston valves that was produced by Kohler for several decades. The stated purpose of the second design was to allow all the moisture to collect in the main tuning slide where a waterkey was located. Several of each design exists in collections today including one by Richardson with six independent rotary valves. In about 1865, a new partnership was formed with Henry and Carl Lehnert, who also may have learned the business in one of the Boston maker's shops. When Henry Lehnert moved to Philadelphia in 1867, Richardson and Carl Lehnert continued their operation in Boston. The business was still listed as "Richardson and Lehnert" in the 1877 Boston Almanac. Richardson continued to be listed in the Boston Directory as a musical instrument maker until 1890, although I am not familiar with any instruments made by him in the later decades. It is possible that, like D.C. Hall, Patrick Gilmore and others, Richardson was a business partner that did little, if any, work in the shop, but in view of the fact that he spent a few years without a partner that made instruments, it seems likely that he did actually learn at least some of the skills needed to make such an instrument. Common practice for smaller makers was to purchase some parts from other makers. This cornet was made between 1856 and 1859 when the shop was at 26 Washington St during some of those independent years and exhibits a fairly high level of skill. The flat windway rotary valves are similar to those that he would have experienced in Allen's shop and exhibit the distinctively shaped valve knuckles seen on Lehnert's rotary valves beginning 10 years later. Notice that the first and second valve slides are interchangeable, allowing the player to choose the fingerings. This was a time when the design of brass instruments was in a state of flux throughout the western world. The Bb cornet was emerging as the dominant voice in Europe and Britain and the harmony to the Eb keyed and valve bugle in the US. Rotary valves with top action lever as seen here were the most popular choice domestically. The bore measures .429", the overall length with shank removed is 13 3/8" and the bell diameter is 5 1/16".
The ad shown in the fifth image to the right, appeared in the Boston Register in 1862, a time between the Bailey and Lehnert partnerships. The cornet illustrated is of the same design that was made in Boston by Allen and Hall at that time aside from the distinctive valve design. Perhaps the slightly redesigned valve knuckle was one of the improvements that are indicated in the ad. The cornet illustrated appears to have the same valve design as seen in this cornet, including the flat windways and valve caps on the left side (in playing position) rather than on the right as seen on Allen, Lehnert and almost all other Boston made rotary valves. An Eb tuba signed by Richardson and an Eb valve bugle without signature in Mark Elrod's collection may be from this time period. I also show an earlier circular cornet in C with four valves elsewhere on this site. It's especially interesting that he states "Importer and practical manufacturer of Musical Instruments". It is possible that he was having instruments and/or parts made in Europe to his designs or just importing the sorts of instruments that he didn't make. Many makers sold less expensive imports along with their own products, including Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory for a short time. Whatever the case, it does seem clear that B.F. Richardson was a talented and industrious individual that emphasized quality in his products.
This cornet had been restored before, so the biggest challenges were getting it back to how it was originally including determining the correct positions and angles of tubing, braces etc when I put it back together. Mostly, this is a good opportunity to show a very interesting early American cornet from the collection of Wayne Collier and tease out as much information on the maker as possible. Because there are so few instruments extant by Richardson, there has not been much research done and no previous articles written on his career.