Early Circular Valve Bugle in Eb by E.G. Wright
The restoration process on this Wright instrument was not out of the ordinary, but it is such an important instrument, I wanted to feature it here. It belongs to Mark Elrod, the foremost collector of mid-19th century American brass instruments, this is the only example known to exist. We are fortunate that the engraved presentation includes a date. The few instruments that we can date precisely help give us more information towards dating others and there are very few from before 1860.
I have examined more instruments by Wright than most, and have only seen this exact size bell twice before and only on Eb valve bugles from the early to mid-1850s. It has a larger, faster taper, flare and final diameter than the many examples from the 1860s. This lead me to guess that Wright may have made valve instruments using the same bell as in his Eb keyed bugles, but a comparison proves it to be distinct from them. What it is more similar to, is the original Eb soprano Saxhorns made by Sax himself and it's interesting that Wright later moved onto a different design, while maintaining the Saxhorn character.
The valve mechanism is also a different design than used later and the same as used by Graves & Co. during the same years. This includes the lever shape with leaf spring and the single pin valve stop. There are a few details in this bugle that show that parts may not be original. The bell branch (tapered tube leading from the tuning slide to the bell) has a seam that is very different than that in the bell and the brace flange that joins the mouthpipe to the bell is at a slightly different angle than the shadow of a brace that had been there previously. These prompted me to study the instrument carefully for any other anomalies that would lend evidence for this having been rebuilt from a differently shaped instrument, but I couldn't find any others. While it is possible that the branch was originally made this way, it is also possible that a section of the original bell was badly damaged and a new part made to replace it. This would also account for unusual (for Wright) placement of the ferule joining the bell to this branch and what I believe to be the most likely explanation. Also worth noting is that there is a tuning slide both in the mouthpipe and between the valve section and bell branch. The only purpose for this that I can think of is that it may have come with a longer tuning slide to change the pitch.
The work required in the restoration was not unusual and the biggest challenges were in dealing with previous unskilled repairs and remaking the missing valve lever and springs. Making levers such as this one is very time consuming. It has to be cut and shaped completely by hand and has to match the existing levers exactly. Making the leaf springs from nickel silver is also a challenge, since the material is not available. I make these by hammering pieces of nickel silver that is much thicker until it is spring hard but not brittle and then shaping them to match the original.
I was also able to determine that the second valve slide was removable, which is unusual in rotary valve Eb sopranos, but exists in other Wright instruments that were intended to be crooked to lower pitches as well. This meshes with the last idea in the third paragraph. Not surprisingly, this is a very good playing little horn.