Friday, September 28, 2012

The curious confusion of Conn

If one were to peruse some of the old C. G. Conn instrument catalogs and advertisements (as I now have), it would seem that Conn either had no idea that J. W. Pepper made a Sousaphone around 1894-86, or they were determined to act as if that horn never existed.  They proudly state that they built the first Sousaphone, but in what year did they build it?

To begin with, check out this ad for Conn Sousaphones found in the November-December 1952 edition of The Instrumentalist (p. 5):

Ad found by the author while browsing journals in the USC library

Here's the fine print in the middle of the ad:

Okay, so "Conn made the world's first sousaphone - for Sousa's band, in 1908." Except that's not what they say in their 1955 instrument catalog (and most everywhere else, for that matter):

Image courtesy of Mark Overton at
Got it - not 1908, but 1898 - but it was still the very first one, right? (For what it's worth, Conn is said to have built the first bell-front Sousaphone in 1908, so that might explain the typo.)

Now, is there more to the story of this revolutionary new instrument, for which Conn is laying claim? Check out this page from their 1921 instrument catalog (and this exact page is seen in their 1926 catalog as well, as if they just cut and pasted it five years later!):

Image courtesy of Mark Overton at
Here's an easier-to-read version of the first part:

This supports the date of 1898 noted above, but that is at least two years after Pepper's Sousaphone appeared. And the story goes on to suggest that the Conn horn actually didn't see action in Sousa's Band until "the following season," presumably meaning 1899. We've got some detective work to do now, so stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment