Thursday, August 23, 2012

The very first Sousaphone - up close

Right before our family left for vacation in southern California four weeks ago, I learned that the very first Sousaphone, made by J. W. Pepper in 1893 (or perhaps a few years later), is currently on loan to the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, CA (great museum, by the way).

That was just 45 minutes south of where we were staying in Laguna Beach, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see that horn for myself. Actually, I took my Dad along with me, as he played Souspahone in his high school band back in the 1940s. Here's what we saw:

The engraving suggests that the horn was built in 1893, but I'm not so sure. The idea for the horn was given to Pepper by Sousa in 1892, but, as far as I can tell, Pepper didn't publicize the new instrument until a number of years later (more on that shortly). And the engraving of Sousa on the bell, seen below, shows him in the uniform for the 1895 season (more on that shortly as well).

Just below the engraving of Sousa himself is a ribbon that contains the two words "SOUSA" and "PHONE" - just not together as one word. Is it possible that this is the earliest use of this term? Here's the first word, with the second just beginning to start on the lower part of the ribbon:

Other parts of the horn feature beautifully stamped brass, as shown in the two photos below:

Again, you can currently see this historic instrument for yourself at the Museum of Making Music (in the NAMM building) in Carlsbad, CA. It's a great little museum!


  1. I believe the "engraving" on the braces and flanges is really just a stamped piece of brass.

  2. Makes perfect sense - thanks! I just know that it is a nice touch that goes beyond what was necessary.

    Good to see you interacting with this, as I know you possess far more knowledge of the Sousaphone than I do. Let me know if you've been receiving my emails, both from yesterday, and from about a month ago. I hadn't heard back, so wondered if my emails, which had attachments for you, were relegated to your spam box or something.

  3. HIGHEST MEDAL DIPLOMA CHICAGO,1893 PREMIER JW PEPPER MAKER PHILADELPHIA CHICAGO N0.9188 Trombone in Good Shape any Ideas of what it may be worth??

    1. Hi Scott - I really don't know anything about the relative values of vintage instruments. But there are always interested collectors out there! Based on what you say is stamped on the bell, it is a genuine Pepper trombone, built in the factory on 8th and Locust in Philly, and not too long after the first Sousaphone was built there, so shortly after 1895. Sorry I can't help more!