Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Pepper horn finds its way home

John Bailey with the Pepper horn in 1991.
The story of how the original Sousaphone resurfaced in recent years is almost too good to be true. On a quiet Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1973, John Bailey, a 24-year-old tuba player and recent graduate of West Chester State College, joined his mother and sister for an outing to Renningers Flea Market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. John had moved back home to Wernersville, near Reading, where he began teaching and occasionally subbing with the Ringgold Band—yes, the band that holds the distinction of being the very last one that Sousa conducted before he died in 1932.
John wasn’t looking to buy anything that day, but he noticed a vintage three-valve “raincatcher” Sousaphone, heavily tarnished and covered with dust, hanging upside-down from the rafters by a single loop of binder twine! When he was told that it cost only $50, he raced home to get the money. His plan was to get it into playable shape and have an interesting horn for use in parades.

In cleaning up the Sousaphone, John discovered that it was unfinished, that is, just raw brass, which further supported my initial speculation that perhaps the horn was never actually used in public (although it was; see here). He also found that the front of the bell featured some beautiful and highly significant engravings.

However, for almost 20 years, John kept that historic horn in storage, collecting dust once again. Along the way, he received confirmation from experts that he had something special, but, with limited funds, he never got around to having it restored and displayed.

The Pepper Sousaphone as it looked at the time of its purchase by the Pepper company in 1991.
The valves and tuning slides had been kept in a separate box when Bailey bought the horn in 1973.
But then, in August 1991, John gladly sold the horn back to its maker, the J. W. Pepper company. George Class, Pepper's historian, was there to close the deal, and the company then proceeded to have its historic horn restored, including adding a lacquer finish - perhaps its first proper covering in 96 years! The Sousaphone is now proudly displayed in the central atrium of the Pepper building in Exton, PA.

Pepper historian George Class when he picked up the horn at John Bailey's home in 1991.
George in the Pepper atrium in 2014
John Bailey in 2014

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