Early Tubas in BBb

The first of these two tubas is a bit unattractive and the other is downright ugly but the story here is not in the rough lives that they led, but what they are.  Tubas pitched in BBb (an octave below euphoniums and tenor/bass trombones) were not used much until very late in the 19th century.  Examples were known to have been made by the 1860s and occasionally used in orchestras, but they weren't seen much in bands until the 1890s.  As a result, the demand for instruments was extremely small until that time.  These historical facts make these two tubas especially interesting.  

Perhaps I should clarify terminology here as well.  Depending on the time period and geographical region, you will see a variety of names for what we call "tuba".  Probably the earliest in BBb was made by Adolphe Sax and called "subcontrabass Saxhorn" although this instrument seems only a novelty at that time.  The later French term is "contrabass en sib.  As you see in the 1887 Boston catalog page above, Americans called it "Double Bb Bass".   The modern tuba really seems to have gotten going when Cerveny introduces their "Kaisertuba" around 1875.  Other terms used are variations of the Italian "bombardino" and "flicorno contrabasso" and more names that seem less commonly used.  

The tuba shown in the first three photos was made by Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory.  While Boston was known to have made instruments intended for the symphony orchestra, the vast majority were for use in bands or social orchestras.  The earliest Boston catalog that I know of, showing BBb tubas for sale was published in 1887, although this instrument predates that by several years.  The year of manufacture of this tuba can be narrowed down somewhat by the fact that it has no serial number.  Boston started engraving serial numbers on all of their instruments starting in about 1880 or 1881, making me confident that this tuba was made about that time and is the earliest BBb tuba made in the US that I know of.  (As always, I'd like to hear from you if you have any additional information.)    

In spite of its rough condition and a fairly small bore through the valves (about .660"), this is an especially nice playing instrument.  When Boston introduced their BBb tuba, they used the same valves (with longer tubes, of course) that they had been using on Eb tubas for many years and a well designed body that was quite large for its day.  The bell rim diameter is 15 5/8".

The second tuba illustrated here is not in playable condition, but I can tell by tubing length that it is pitched in BBb.  I'm assuming that it was a relatively inexpensive instrument and is not as impressive the Boston.  The bore through the valves is .633" and the corpus is a bit smaller than the Boston; the bell rim measures 12 1/2".  It is not signed, but is very much like other brass instruments imported to the US from eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th century.  The valves are "Berliner" piston valves that were used on the least expensive of these imports.  Berliner valves were last seen in catalogs of US retailers and importers in the late 1880s, making this another very early example of this size tuba and must have been among the earliest used in an American brass band.

In addition to these documents in brass, Mark Jones, tubist in Buffalo, NY area, has found an 1879 issue of "The Musical Progress" in which Mose Slater advertises "Double Bb Bass" available for $80.  This was almost half the price of the Boston tuba.  Mark believes that these instruments were made in New York and he may well be right, but I differ and believe that they were imported from Germany, like so many other inexpensive instruments in that era.  There must be additional data to be found and we will likely learn more when they are.  Regardless, this is the earliest document showing a BBb tuba available for sale in the US.

Interestingly, there were CC tubas (one whole step higher than BBb) available in the US at least 23 years before this.  In the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society is a contrabass in CC with six valves made by Thomas Paine in about 1853.  In a list of instruments for sale by Harvey Dodworth in 1856 is offered CC Contrabass with either 3 or 4 valves for $160 and $190.