A Guide to Dating York Instruments

Determining the date of a York instrument made in Grand Rapids, Michigan is rather problematic because no records are available.Apparently, somewhere during the transfer of the company from Carl Fisher to Tolchin Instruments or the subsequent purchase by Martin Tolchin, the original records were lost, misplaced, or destroyed. This is further compounded by the existence several companies that have used the name "York" since then, including Boosey and Hawkes, the American company Brook Mays and the current manufacturer Schreiber & Keilwerth in Markneukirchen, Germany. Since Carl Fischer chose to outsource some York models and use assemblies from other companies under their control (such as Blessing), trying to make sense of anything not built in Grand Rapids has been compared to trying to herd cats.

Grand Rapids Band Instrument Company instruments, although made on the same York manufacturing lines by the same craftsmen(8), apparently had their own set of serial numberings(7).

This guide, then, confines itself to York instruments made in the Grand Rapids factory. Following the list are the facts and assumptions which were used to create it. This guide was started using details of just a few hundred surviving York instruments. There is now an expanded information base of over 2,600 York instruments to reference, starting with"York & Son" in 1887 and continuing through several name changes until the Grand Rapids plant was closed in 1971.

For more information, go to the Detailed Record of York Instruments. This page lists known and reported York instruments as a service to those researching York and owners of York instruments. The source of the information is listed, and wherever possible, the serial numbers have also been verified visually. Instruments made after Carl Fischer took control of York are included, but obvious conflicts in numbers are confined to their own section.

If you note any discrepancies, or have additional information concerning this company, please contact us here at Horn-u-copia.

Additionally, we would be grateful to anyone who owns a York horn not listed to contact us with the name, type, cities, and serial number (etc.). It would be nice to build our lists using horns other primarily than just those that are being sold.

York Logo

Notes On Creating The Above


- Mike Keller

My primary source for the much of the initial information contained here was Dr. John Swain’s "J.W.York Research Site". Dr. Swain, unfortunately, passed away in 2003 from a battle with cancer. When California State University, Los Angeles stopped maintaining his site, and with the data I had collected, I attempted to recreate the dating work he had done using his own pioneering work while adding additional instrument data (including saxophones), patent research, new information that has come to light, and information gleaned from Horn-u-copia. Dr. Swain had cautioned that a five year spread on either side (+-) would be most accurate when dating an instrument using his original work. I am now fairly confident that the list should be accurate within a year or two. These are the facts and assumptions with which I used in creating it:

As with Dr. Swain, I also used these as assumptions:

The drop in production for 1915-16 is based on similar drops among the other manufacturers as a result of World War I. The slow decline in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s is based on similar fluctuations among other manufacturers. This includes a sizable drop during the years of the Great Depression and a steady growth in the latter half of the 1930’s. Few of the manufacturers produced instruments during the last 2-3 years of World War II. All of the manufacturers exhibit a dramatic growth in production immediately following World War II.

The numbers for 1958-1971 are very subjective. They were created by taking the last number I have obtained in what seems to be an unbroken sequence of serial numbers (up to cornet 308783), and distributing them until the factory was closed in 1971, regardless of manufacturing source. Certainly there were relationships with Blessing, Boehm and Meinl, and many more manufacturers once Carl Fischer took over the company.

I have chosen not to address any volume and run rate issues which occurred in York’s contemporary advertising. These were considered by Dr. Swain to be "anomalies". In my opinion, since we know for a fact that York was involved in several tradenames (such as Grand Rapids Band Instrument Co), unlisted brass manufacture (why would they need workmen and a foreman in the 1890’s?) and also other activities (drums (4), woodwinds, and even strings appear in their various catalogs, along with other instruments they made, like bugles) it seems beyond the scope of this list to attempt to reconcile it.

In 1887 the company was renamed "York & Son" in recognition of JW York’s infant son, Charles E. (SW)

"By 1890 York was operating a repair plant and making a few small instruments. (cornets and trombones). New models were added until 1898 when the company was making a complete line of cup mouthpiece brass instruments."(S45)

In 1894 York hired workmen from Courtois and Besson (S21), so they were obviously involved in brass manufacture of some sort. Three instruments have come to light bearing the "York & Son" name as makers, as well as two "DeMaer" cornets marked with "York & Son" as agents. Langwill has no mention of any "DeMaer", either in Paris, nor anywhere else (NLI). It was my assumption then, that these may have been, in fact, of early York construction, although a "DeMaer" Cornet has surfaced which does not bear the York name.

In 1897 Alfred J. "Bill" Johnson becomes company foreman (SW, MK).

In 1898 the company is renamed "York & Sons" in recognition of JW York’s second son, Frank W. (SW). The oldest "York & Sons" instrument that I am aware of is a "Weldon Model" cornet bearing serial number 1168. It then seems reasonable that IF the company was already serializing their products, they must have restarted very close to 1898. They could not have started this run any earlier due to the name change. The numbering seems consistent beyond this point, so I have chosen to begin this list with the "York & Sons" marked horns. This sequence continues until the plant is closed.

The company, with experienced personnel, is well positioned to have an established run rate as it enters the twentieth century, not only having the main office and factory in Grand Rapid, Michigan, but also a branch office in Chicago (YMJ). In fact, the 1898 edition of York’s Musical Journal contains references to York having built and sold Eb soprano and Bb cornets, band and orchestra horns, baritone and slide trombones, Eb and BBb bass. Soloist Steve Crean "agrees to select and test all Cornets made by us". It also describes hiring a Mr. W. A. Goble as head of a testing department and being responsible for testing each BBb bass, Eb bass, baritone, and slide trombone .

In 1903 the "Professional" model cornet was announced and put into production (1). The earliest such cornet on my information base is numbered 7672.

There is also cornet numbered 8497, which engraved as being presented on Christmas, 1903, so it was undoubtedly made before that date.

The oldest instrument having the High/Low Pitch change loop engraved "pat July 12, 1910" on my information base is a euphonium numbered 24356. They would not know of the actual status change of the patent (and therefore marked "pending") until July 12, 1910, so that any horn so marked should have not been made before the July date.

York advertised that "1912 was largest volume year in the 30-year history of the company, but 1913 will be larger" (2)

In 1913 came the announcement of the Al-Tru cornet (3), the oldest of which I am aware is numbered 36738.

Since most of the 100xx series "Couturier Wizard" cornets are not marked with Couturier’s patent (Sep 23, 1913) , I have placed them in 1913. The normally numbered "Couturier Wizard" cornets I have placed in 1914.

In 1926 the company name changed to York Band Instrument Company (S24), and the first such engraved instrument that I have recorded is numbered 87787, which now corresponds to the 1926 date.

York was awarded two saxophone patents concerning tone holes in the later part of the 1920s: 1690862 and 1673195. York alto saxophone 92259 is reported to have unusual tones holes, and the marking "pat. apld. for". These patents were applied for in 1925 and 1926. and granted Nov 6, 1928, and Jun 12, 1928, respectively.

Instrument 91818 was made in 1928 and was dated though contact by Dr. Swain with the original owner.

"Bill" Johnson's Airflow design patent for trumpets and cornets was filed Nov 24, 1939, and issued Apr 2, 1940. The earliest such horn that I have recorded is cornet 120319, which is constructed to this design including a reverse-rolled rim, but is not marked "Airflow". The latest horn marked "Airflow" is trumpet 124155, which now corresponds to 1940. In December, 1940 York was sold to Carl Fischer Musical Instruments. (SW) but Bill did not transfer his design patent along with the company (6) the result of which I can only assume is the cause of conventional cornets being engraved with the "Airflow" name in the 1950s.

In 1950 serial numbers were in the 150,000 range (S10).

In 1957, a cornet and a trumpet, both with the number 207xxx, were chosen by the original owner at the plant from current production, per the 2nd owner. In 1970, York is sold to Tolchin Instrument Company (S24). In 1971, Tolchin Instrument Company closed the factory. (SW)

Proprietary rights were ultimately purchased in 1976 by Boosey and Hawkes. (SW)

Dr. John Swain’s site had given the following information about particular instruments:

Since most of these serial numbers are only approximate, I used them as benchmarks in the same places on my list that Dr. Swain had on his.

The record, itself, is broken into four sections:

Anomalies and items which may require future revisions

Primary Source:

Dr. John Swain

Update 1: 6 Jun 2010: Add “York & Son” years to beginning of guide, which begins start of serialization.

Update 2: 17 Oct 2011: Make adjustments to years 1906-1915 for the first appearance of the 1910 High/Low Pitch loop patent 963768, build of the Couturier "Wizard" in 1913-1914, sales receipt & warranty dated 8/26/1911 for cornet 28582, and license of the William S. Haynes Drawn Tone Holes patent 1119954, which was issued Dec 8, 1914. Adjustments also to years 1929-1940 to accommodate Feather-Touch instruments which are marked "Pat Apld For”. Patent number 1922685 was filed on Sep 26, 1931 and was granted on Aug 15, 1933.

Updated: 22 Oct 2011

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