Friday, January 29, 2016

The first Sousaphone's close cousin

Shortly after Pepper built the first Sousaphone, he engraved the bell of the following imported Eb helicon, which is owned today by Brian Johnson:

Here's what it says on the bell (note the serial number):

And here's what is on the bell of the first Sousaphone (again, note the serial number):

Granted, the helicon was a French import, while the Sousaphone was made in house (noted by "Premier" and "Maker"). But they are only 31 horns apart, as far as when they passed through Pepper's factory - meaning that they were most likely both born in 1895. Close cousins indeed!

They bear little resemblance to each other, but it is fun to learn of another Pepper bass from that same year. Here's the relevant page from Pepper's 1894 catalogue:

According to Brian, the horn is one of the large Eb bass helicons, model number 3168, which weighs 13.5 pounds and has a bell diameter of 14.5 inches. It sold back then for a whopping $52.62!

Here's what Brian shared with me about how he acquired the horn:
The story of how I got this helicon is just being in the right place at the right time.  I play in the two Harbors, Minnesota City Band. We play a concert in the park every Thursday night during the summer. Two Harbors is a common tourist stop on the north shore of Lake Superior. After a concert one Thursday in 2014, My wife and I got into a conversation with some of the tourists. I was playing a 1912 Martin, so we got to talking about tubas. The fellow said, “My dad was a music teacher up in Virginia, MN and he had an old helicon, would you like it?” Sight unseen, I said yes. It took a couple of months, but we got together and he delivered the horn pictured (along with a 1911 double belled euphonium). We talked instruments for a couple of hours and I had the horns. I found out that the horns had been in storage for a long time. Before 2015, this helicon hadn’t been played for 80 years or more.  I have put some money into the helicon, removing dents, soldering and a couple of finger buttons made (by Lee Stofer). I did have to have it tuned, because it was a low pitch horn.  I play the horn when I march with the St. Paul Police Band. Tubas march in the first rank, so I’m front and center during the Winter Carnival and St. Patrick Day parades. I also play it for a few other parades during the year. I likely will solo with it this summer with the Two Harbors Band.


  1. Brian will be playing this horn with the Two Harbors City Band on July 28, 2016. We will feature him on the Eb Tuba Solo, The Mighty Deep, by W.H. Jude, arr. Paul de Ville, and copyrighted by Carl Fischer in 1898. He convinced me (City Band director) this would be the most appropriate solo for this horn, as both instrument and solo were from the same time period. Good thinking, so that's just what we're doing.

  2. Sorry about "unknown" on the name. I'm John Carr, one of the directors of the Two Harbors (Minnesota)City Band, and we are proud to be (possibly) Minnesota's oldest continuously operating City Band, being founded in 1897 and playing every year since. As a side note, both our older (pre-1897) Railroad Band, and the very early City Band, have pictures showing a Helicon in use by our Tuba players of the day.