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Digging the Fifties | Part 3

The NMM is excited to bring to you this series of musical delights. Written by curator Ana Sofia Silva, "Digging the Fifties" takes readers through some unseen highlights of our collections, with intriguing stories, commentary, photos and more, celebrating our 50th Anniversary with 50 objects extraordinaire. Read more below to see how we're "Digging the Fifties!"

To view other Notes from this series, and download the full article, check out

Digging the Fifties

A curatorial perspective on 50 objects from the NMM collections

By Ana Sofia Silva, Curator

Internationally renowned clarinet performer and teacher Rosario Mazzeo was also an inventor and a collector. His passion for the clarinet led him to develop his own clarinet system, the Mazzeo System, and to gather a collection of more than 70 clarinets (that now lives at NMM), primarily meant to illustrate the gradual development of clarinet mechanisms. Two of “his” clarinets are featured in the curatorial article “Digging the Fifties.” One is a clarinet by the French company Dolnet (NMM 05850), which probably inspired Mazzeo, and the second is an example of a Mazzeo System clarinet from the Bundy Resonite line of the American Selmer company (NMM 13650). The latter came to the NMM through a donation from Conn-Selmer, Inc., when their subsidiary Frank Holton & Company closed the factory in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The NMM was the recipient of the Holton company's historic records, archives, and 369 instruments. Find out more about a bass-baritone bugle (NMM 13950) that was part of the Holton Factory Reference Collection and see how it is very different from a familiar duty bugle (NMM 01150). One of the strengths of the NMM collections are instruments representing major American manufacturers. Another example is a Reynolds trombone (NMM 05250) that illustrates how the production of instruments was affected by the trend of business merging in the 20th century.

A brown clarinet on a white background.
Clarinet, Henri Dolnet, Paris, France, ca. 1925– 1940, NMM 05850. Photo by Ana Sofia Silva.

Correspondence between Mazzeo and NMM's founding director André Pierre Larson (1942–2017), going back as far as the 1980s, documents that both had the same opinion about the value and interest of this collection in its entirety, particularly because many of the instruments featured “modern” and unusual key mechanisms. In 1995, Mazzeo decided to officially donate the collection to the NMM but kept most of it with him in Carmel, California, for teaching and research. Although Mazzeo retired in 1976 and discontinued playing the clarinet, he remained an active teacher and writer. In his own words, he was “aiming at one hundred and twenty as an age at which (…) [he] would have probably not completed all of [his] currently planned activities.” Sometime along the way, Mazzeo acquired clarinet NMM 05850 for his collection. This clarinet is a 17-key, B-flat Boehm system with full plateau or covered keys (7 keys, including the left thumbhole), instead of rings. All clarinet parts bear a signature stamp for “A. Grass/Paris.” Achille Grass (1879–1952) was a clarinet tester for the French company Dolnet (Dolnet, Lefèvre et Pigis) in Paris, sometime during Henri Dolnet's period between 1925 and 1950. Although Henri died in 1944, there are some company brochures from 1950 (Dolnet, Paris, under the direction of André Jumelin, with distribution in the US) that still mention Grass as a clarinet tester. One “Grass A.” is listed as a maker of reeds and mouthpieces, and wholesaler of wind instruments in Paris directories. Grass was a first prize winner of the Paris Conservatory, and a very active clarinetist during that time (with the likely exception during the war years): he was a member of the Société Taffanel, clarinet soloist in the revived Concerts Pasdeloup and the orchestra of the Radiodiffusion Française, and did the 1918–1919 American tour with the orchestra of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.

Although most of the current research about the Dolnet company is related to their saxophone manufacture, company advertisements dating from circa 1930 confirm that Dolnet was offering Boehm system clarinets with plateau keys. The inclusion of a special B-flat tone-hole and mechanism at the register key confirms that this was a professional grade and perhaps customized clarinet. Part of Mazzeo's customizations (like so many others in clarinet history) were focused on achieving a better upper register performance and a better sound for throat B-flat. Although Mazzeo worked on many clarinets he owned, the mechanisms on clarinet 5850 appear original from manufacture. It is more likely that Mazzeo acquired this instrument as is and used it for inspiration to develop his own system.

A black clarinet with silver keys and gold lettering, on a white background
Clarinet, H. & A. Selmer, Inc., Elkhart, IN, ca. 1962–1971. NMM 13650. Photo by Bill Willroth, Sr.

The first Mazzeo System clarinets were manufactured in 1959 by the company Henri Selmer of Paris, which later received an exclusive license from Mazzeo to manufacture them. Over several years, more than 13,000 professional and student-line instruments were produced in both Paris and Elkhart factories. NMM 13650 is one of those student-line models, marketed as “Bundy.” The trademark name is associated with George Mosher Bundy (1886–1951), who set up the American Selmer company (H. & A. Selmer Inc.) in Elkhart, Indiana. Although the Bundy line of instruments was introduced in the 1930s, the production of plastic clarinets only began “officially” in 1948. A promotional flyer from this year introduces the new “Bundy Resonite, No. 1400” (though it is listed earlier, in a 1947 catalog), and H. & A. Selmer, Inc. registered the “Resonite” trademark in 1954 (SN 666,137), claiming use since 1948. A stock ledger from the Conn-Selmer archives at the NMM, confirms that “#1400 Bundy Resonite clarinets” were being made in 1948 at the 50000 serial number series. Although the plastic formula may have changed throughout the years, a 1959 specs sheet from Selmer indicates that the “No. 1400 Bundy Resonite” B-flat soprano clarinet was made of molded phenolic thermosetting plastic with nylon filler. The “Bundy Resonite Mazzeo Model, No. 1400M,” which is the model seen here, was basically the same as the Bundy Resonite 1400 with the addition of the following Mazzeo features: the new throat B-flat mechanism with its own drilled tonehole, a plateau key for the left-hand thumb, and a ringless bell with a less pronounced flare. This clarinet came to the NMM in 2008 as a donation from Conn-Selmer, Inc., when their subsidiary Frank Holton & Company closed the factory in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

A brass bugle with one piston valve and one rotary valve, on a white background.
Bass-baritone bugle, Frank Holton & Company, Elkhorn, WI, ca. 1959. NMM 13950. Photo by Bill Willroth, Sr.

The NMM was the recipient of the Holton company's historic records, archives, and 369 instruments. The founder of the company, Frank Ezra Holton (1857–1942), was a virtuoso trombone player who began his manufacturing career in 1898, in a small shop in downtown Chicago. After experimenting with trombone manufacturing first, production of other brass instruments followed. By 1920, Holton was running an established and successful international business from the large Elkhorn factory. The Holton Archive now preserved at the NMM is particularly strong in documentation of the early history of the company. The instrument collection includes brass and woodwind instruments of historic interest from Holton's personal collection, as well as experimental models, prototypes, reference, and production instruments. NMM 13950 is one such instrument from the Holton Factory Reference Collection. The company manufactured bugles from circa 1910 until 1964, but this model is not your typical bugle. This is a bass-baritone “G-D” bugle designed for the modern Bugle Corps service era in the 1950s, with a combination of piston and rotary valves. The horizontal piston valve design, incorporated into a loop of tubing, allowed to lower the instrument's pitch from “G” to “D”; a natural evolution from the need that “two-pitch music” began to be used regularly by the corps. The rotary valve, in this design, was incorporated in the main tuning slide of the instrument, and allowed to lower the instrument's pitch a semitone to F-sharp (if using both the piston and rotary valve at the same time, the pitch would be lowered to C-sharp). This “F-sharp” rotary valve was considered more advantageous because it increased the chromatic range of these bugles. While it was integral in the design of bass-baritone bugles, Holton offered the rotary valve as a separate attachment that could be assembled in other bugle sizes. When the Holton company became part of the Leblanc company in 1964, the production of bugles was phased out.

A small, tightly wound brass bugle with a chain connecting the mouthpiece to the leadpipe, on a white background.
Bugle, F. Millard Co., Detroit, MI, 1917. NMM 01150. Photo by Bill Willroth, Sr.

But the NMM is home to many other bugles that may look more familiar, like NMM 01150 from the ABL collection. The signature stamp on this small U.S. duty bugle holds important elements: the manufacturer (“Millard”), the specification number (“Spec.1152”), and date of production (“7.12.17”). The presence of this signature also indicates that the bugle was manufactured for use during World War I, which is why it is also referred to as a “trench” bugle. The M1894 “trumpet” (bugle) in B-flat was a natural trumpet (no valves) designed in three small loops of brass tubing, with no tuning slides. The U.S. Army Quartermaster Specification No. 1152, dated April 25th, 1912, included the two “brass rings” on the inside of the loops for a leather “sling strap,” and the mouthpiece would have had an “attaching link” and a “leather strap” too, but the attaching link and mouthpiece seen on this NMM example are not original. Millard stands for the company F. Millard & Co., which, at this time, was managed by both father Frank (1860–1943) and son Frederick Millard (1887–1955). Both are listed as brass instrument manufacturers in directories from 1910 in Detroit, Michigan. By 1918, the company was listed in Plymouth, Michigan. This company was one of many in the U.S. who supplied the military with abundant field instruments.

A brass and silver trombone, with a large "R" in the bell crook, on a white background.
Tenor slide trombone, F. A . Reynolds Co., Fullerton, CA, 1968. NMM 05250. Photo by Ana Sofia Silva.

The brass R-shaped counterweight on the bell section of the next instrument, which is a slide trombone, leaves little doubt that NMM 05250 is a “Reynolds” trombone. Foster Allen Reynolds (1883–1960) was another key figure in the history of American band instrument manufacturing. In the 1900s, after completing his apprenticeship at J. W. York and Sons, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reynolds went to work for the H. N. White company in Cleveland, Ohio, where he would spend the next 30 years. While an instrumental figure in transforming H. N. White's company into a leading manufacturer, Reynolds wanted to forge a path to his own legacy. In 1935, he established the F. A. Reynolds Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, with partners from Scherl & Roth (New York). After 10 years of building his successful company, Reynolds “retired” and turned F. A. Reynolds Co. to his partners in 1946. In truth, Reynolds went on to consult and work for F. E. Olds & Son, in Fullerton, California, where he pioneered large-scale techniques for manufacturing brasswind instruments. As the years went by and different companies merged and consolidated businesses even further (a trend driven by economies of scale and increasing automation), the F. A. Reynolds Co. ended up being sold to Chicago Musical Instrument Company (CMI) in 1964, which already owned F. E. Olds & Son, and moved production to a new factory located in Abilene, Texas. While Reynolds did not live long enough to see the products that resulted from the merging of Olds and Reynolds production lines, his legacy is present in the instruments themselves. The NMM trombone is one exemplar from that era made in 1968, in the Olds factory in Fullerton. It is a Contempora TO-11 model, serial number 236447, with a bronze alloy bell with a distinct nickel-silver rim (“tone ring”), and a chrome-plated nickel-silver slide.


Stay tuned for more posts in this special curatorial series - Digging the Fifties!



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