photos by Bill Willroth

NMM 13,798 Sousaphone in BBb

Bell description: Highly decorated. Images on bell interior are cast brass, which are soldered to bell interior. There are three images of a wreath with open end point down and a medal ribbon attached at top of wreath hanging down toward open end of wreath. The end of ribbon and open ends of each image point toward center of bell. There are four images of bow ribbon with end hanging down and attaching to a lyre with a straight natural horn extending through center of lyre. The horn for each image points to the left and slightly up. At the bottom of bell interior, there is one image of an elk with 12-point antlers facing to the left, its right. Above elk is an engraved oval. Engraved within oval is: Holton. 

The bell is believed to have been spun by Mr. Howard Tess at the Holton plant. 

bell pictures (Bill Willroth)

Historical Notes: 

From the 1927 Music Trade Review, page 22:

Holton Instrument Display at Davenport, Ia., Fair; Schmidt Music Co. Arranges Special Exhibit of Holton Band Instruments Which Includes Special $2,000 Bass Horn.

DAVENPORT, IOWA, AUGUST 22 [1927]. A collection of Holton band instruments worth $10,000 is on display in the Schmidt Music Co. booth in the merchants’ arcade. These instruments were brought here from Fort Worth, Tex., and are beyond a doubt one of the most interesting displays ever brought to Davenport.

The entire collection is on a revolving turntable on the stage with flashing colored lights on them to give an adequate impression of the beauty of the individual instruments. The bass horn is said to have cost $2,000 alone to build and contains $800 worth of gold. The engraver worked four months on the elaborate decorations of the bell, which is a work of art in itself. 

NMM 13,798 hung at the entrance to the museum in the Holton Factory in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The instrument was built in the late 1920s, perhaps in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Frank Holton & Company. In 2008, employees could not recall when the instrument was originally hung, just that, "It's always been there." Published articles from the late 1920s suggest that a second sousaphone with elaborate decorations had been made. 

As the pictures show, the "lacquer" on the back side of the bell is flaking off. Craig Anderson from Allied supply visited NMM on March 5, 2010 and viewed the bell. Larry Gerhardt, a repair technician viewed the bell as well. Both felt the back of the bell was not completed at the Holton Factory. The front is definitely gold plated. The back was finished with some type of gold dye lacquer, perhaps an early lacquer with gold tint. Both thought that a thinner or solvent could be sprayed or brushed on the bell. The solvent would harden and stop the flaking. 

NMM Conservator John Koster analyzed samples of flaking material but could not identify the material. A sample was taken to USD Chemistry (The University of South Dakota) and they conducted an IR test. The results of the test determined that in all likelihood, the flaking material is bakelite. This substance is an early type of spray-on lacquer. C.G. Conn used a similar substance in the late 1920s on its saxophones. 


Model 130

Serial number: 91792

Year of manufacture: 1926

Sounding length: 5447 mm (214-7/16 in)

Bell diameter: 761 mm (30 in)



2nd valve branch inner diameter: 18.9 mm (.747 in)

2nd valve casing inner diameter: 28.6 mm (1.128 in)

The Model 130 Mammoth BBb (bell-front) Sousaphone was introduced in 1931 as a “re-designed” sousaphone. When first introduced in 1921, the standard bell size was 22 inches, but at least 26 inches was suggested. Catalog listings change within a few years to the larger size as standard. However, Holton would manufacture whatever size desired at additional cost. The Model 130 Mammoth BBb Sousaphone remained in production until World War II.

all photos on this page by Bill Willroth


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