Cornopean by Joseph Anton Rohe

I restored this cornopean (Stoelzel valve cornet) for polymath (assuming that brass music is a math) Jeff Stockham in 2002 and took the photos with my first digital camera so the images are clear but small.  The work was extensive and required reproducing a number of missing parts based on an un-restored, but more complete example in my collection.  I'm revisiting this now, not so much that the restoration was interesting, but because an instrument by Rohé was the subject of an inquiry by Sabine Klaus recently.   Sabine is studying the use of instruments with double piston valves (like those in a Vienna style horn) in the US and asked what I thought of the origins of a post horn (the name for a small trumpet in the US at the time and called "trompettino" in Europe) stamped "JA ROHÉ À PARIS", the same as this cornopean and a number of other brass instruments that all appear to date from before 1860.  The most numerous of these are cornopeans like this one, but also include other early style instruments with Berliner piston valves.  I believe that the cornopeans and Berliner valve instruments were made by Gautrot (or Guichard before 1845) in Paris, but I don't have any way to attribute a maker to the post horn.  This style of trumpet originated in Mainz, Germany before being used in the US and elsewhere.  It is possible that a French maker such as Gautrot or Guichard made such an instrument, but I don't believe that any evidence is known for this.  The fifth and sixth photos on the left show a post horn with this same stamp from the collection of Dan Rossi.  The Berliner valve tuba in the last photo is also from Jeff Stockham's collection and the detachable bell cornet is in the collection of Mark Elrod.


I've taken this opportunity to do a little research into the mysterious Mr. Rohé.  At the time that the "New Langwill Index" was published in 1993, there was only a suggested link between J.A. Rohé in Paris, France, known only from the bell markings on instruments and Joseph Anton Rohé who was known to be active in the business, first in Philadelphia, in 1838 to 1839, and then in New York City, from 1840 until his death in 1869 (this date is now known to be wrong).  Collectors that came across the former name on instruments assumed that they predated the man's immigration to the US in 1838.  After coming across a number of the Paris marked instruments and never learning of any marked with the US cities, I theorized that Rohé was importing these into New York and selling them there during the time he lived there.   Langwill reports of a partnership, "Rohé and (Henry M.) Leavitt" in New York City between 1851 and 1863 and there are a number of instruments marked in this way that we can confidently say date from these years.  We might infer that the instruments marked "JA ROHÉ À PARIS" were most likely made between 1839 and 1850.  Since all of the instruments indicating the partnership are of the style that was most popular in the US at the time, with string actuated rotary valves, it is also possible that the European marking was reserved for those of the European style with a possible overlap of the two businesses.  Even more recently, Steve Dillon confirmed my guess when he found a series of advertisements published in the "New York Musical Review and Gazette" in the last quarter of 1855.  Another Internet search turned up a "Wilson's Business Directory..." listing from 1853 stating much the same.  One of these Gazette ads is at the bottom left.

What I have most recently learned about Joseph Anton Rohé, is that at the time of his naturalization on November 4, 1846, he was a citizen of the Kingdom of Bavaria.  He was born in the city of Kleinwallstadt on May 1, 1814 to an unmarried woman.  His childhood was very difficult, but he was able to save enough money as a young man to move to Paris.  It isn't known  how long he lived in Paris, but we can guess that he made important business contacts that would prove to be very valuable to his later activities.  Presumably, this was also the time that he decided to add the accent aigu to his name, making it appear French.  Moving to the US, he first settled in Philadelphia and in 1838 and 1839 where he is listed in the city directories as an importer of music and instruments.  In 1840, he was listed on Maiden Lane in New York City, again in the music business and where he stayed until he left the business in 1863.  Rohé visited Europe at least six times between 1849 and 1874, twice to Liverpool, England and four times to la Havre, which was the closest port to Paris.  His family history states that he also traveled back to Kleinwallstadt during these trips, which is about 380 miles from Paris and the overland trip could have been made via Mainz, which was less than 50 miles east of Kleinwallstadt.  I wasn't able to directly answer Sabine about the origins of the post horn, but it isn't too much of a stretch to think that he may have had business dealings with instrument makers in Mainz and other German cities.  The valve mechanism in the "post horns" marked by Rohe and other US sellers and makers originated in Mainz and so is know to us today as "Mainzer machine".  I also suggested that there may have been wholesalers in Paris or la Havre selling instruments made by makers throughout Europe.  This would be another interesting angle to investigate.  The ad below indicates that they were also selling string and woodwind instruments from their music store.  Rohé would have been interested in buying any instrument for which there was a demand in New York and during the 1850s and the demand was increasingly for the distinctly American style brass instruments with rotary valves.  He sold instruments of this style under the name "Rohé and Leavitt" that were most likely made in Germany.  Based on the number of extant instruments marked by Rohé during his New York years, he must have been one of the most successful in the business of importing and selling brass instruments in the US.  During these years, the demand for brass instruments was greatly increasing and transportation across the Atlantic was becoming safer and more plentiful.  Bob Eliason reports in volume 38 (2012) of the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society in a very well researched article on the life and work of John F. Stratton, that J. Howard Foote had worked for Rohé and Leavitt starting in 1857.  A Foote family genealogy states that Foote started working there in December of 1853.  In 1863, Foote took over the business and entered a partnership with Stratton the next year.  The demand for brass instruments continued to grow during the 1860s and 1870s and Stratton was the most successful supplying America with inexpensive European made alternatives to the domestic product.  Still only 50 years old, Rohé had become a very wealthy man and moved back to Kleinwallstadt where he funded a home for the elderly, which still exists today.  He is also remembered in his home town in the name of the Josef Anton Rohe Schule (elementary and middle school).  Eventually he retired to Italy, where he died in 1892 .  In 1874, he took one more ocean voyage to New York City via Liverpool, but this time it may have been as much for pleasure as business, travelling with a close friend from Italy.  


Post Script:
When Jeff Stockham read what I had written about Joseph Anton Rohé and his instruments, he immediately forwarded to me his communications with Helmuth Lebert, Rohe's second cousin, four times removed, who still lives in Kleinwallstadt and has done much research into his life.  I have incorporated some of this information into the story above and we will likely learn even more in the near future.