An Updated Guide to Dating York Instruments

Determining the exact manufacturing date of a York instrument made in Grand Rapids, Michigan is problematic because no factory records from the original York Company have survived on which to base such an inquiry. Apparently somewhere during the transfer of the company from Carl Fisher to Tolchin Instruments, the original records were lost, misplaced, or destroyed. The challenge is further compounded by the existence several companies that have used the name "York" since then, including Boosey and Hawkes, the American company Brook Mays and the manufacturer Schreiber & Keilwerth in Markneukirchen, Germany. Since Carl Fischer chose to outsource some York models and use assemblies from other companies under their control, (such as Blessing and Boehm and Meinl) trying to make sense of anything not built completely in Grand Rapids has been lightheartedly compared to attempting to herd cats.

Instruments produced by Grand Rapids Band Instrument Company, though made on the same York manufacturing lines by the same craftsmen (64), apparently had their own set of serial numbers (63).  So did many of the stenciled instruments made by York. It does appear, using the data collected (RSYII), that former Grand Rapids Band serial numbers were re-integrated around 1940.

This guide then, confines itself to York instruments made while York had an instrument making factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Following this list is the methodology that was used to create it. This guide was started with the 136 instruments that Dr. John Swain had provided sufficient information on in his Anecdotal Information on York Band Instruments by Serial Number. As of August 2020, over 6,400 instruments have been logged with the “York” name and of these, nearly 5,200 or more are thought to be Grand Rapids plant instruments that were made until the plant was closed in 1971 (SW).

It must be noted that serial numbers are NOT assigned as instruments leave the factory, but rather at the start of the manufacturing process as a way to identify them while the instrument is BEING manufactured.  Even when shop records survive it has been normal for people to caution that a date of plus or minus five years is most accurate when trying to generalize any build date to instrument relation.  York, however, had enough patents to supplement other anecdotal information, and I am fairly satisfied that, outliers notwithstanding, the resulting list is accurate to within a year or two for normal production. 

For more information, go to the Register of Surviving York Instruments and Items (RSYII). This page lists known and reported York instruments as a service to those researching York and owners of York instruments. The source of the information is listed, and whenever possible the serial numbers have also been verified visually. Instruments made after Carl Fischer took control of York are included, but those obvious serial number conflicts and those made elsewhere are confined to their own section. 

If you note any discrepancies please contact us here at Horn-u-copia. 

Additionally, we would like to ask anyone who owns a York horn not listed to  contact us with the form of the York name used, type of instrument, pictures if possible (phone photos are fine) and serial number (etc.). It is always nice to add to our lists using privately owned horns and not just those that are being sold, and we are very grateful to the many owners that have added their instruments to our research.

York Logo
1882-1899 unserialized
1890 1
1891 100
1892 225
1893 375
1894 525
1895 650
1896 800
1897 900
1898 1025
1899 1200
1900 2650
1901 4100
1902 5550
1903 7000
1904 8700
1905 10400
1906 12200
1907 14000
1908 15800
1909 19400
1910 23000
1911 26600
1912 30200
1913 33800
1914 37400
1915 41000
1916 44000
1917 47000
1918 50000
1919 53400
1920 56900
1921 60500
1922 65000
1923 69500
1924 74000
1925 78500
1926 82500
1927 86000
1928 89500
1929 93000
1930 96500
1931 99500
1932 101500
1933 103500
1934 105500
1935 107500
1936 109500
1937 111500
1938 114500
1939 117000
1940 120500
1941 124000
1942 128000
1943 -
1944 -
1945 131000
1946 135000
1947 140000
1948 146000
1949 153000
1950 161000
1951 167000
1952 174000
1953 180000
1954 186000
1955 192000
1956 199000
1957 205000
1958 211000
1959 217000
1960 223000
1961 229000
1962 235000
1963 241000
1964 246000
1965 251000
1966 256000
1967 261000
1968 265000
1969 269000
1970 272000
1971 275000

The Methodology Used For Creating The Above Chart


- Mike Keller

My primary source for the much of the initial information contained here was Dr. John Swain’s J.W.York Research Site. I also have been collecting information about York instruments and documentation (RSYII) for about 17 years (including those instruments in my personal collection).

Using these specific instruments, their 18 patents, the licenses that York used, the forms of engraving and contemporaneous paper documentation I have attempted to transform Dr. Swain’s Provisional Serial Number List into something more definitive.

In 1887 the company was renamed "York & Son" in recognition of JW York’s son, Charles E. becoming a principal in the company (SW).

By 1890 York was operating a repair plant and making a few small instruments (cornets and trombones). New models were added until 1898 when the company was making a complete line of cup mouthpiece brass instruments."(45)

In 1894 York hired workmen from Courtois and Besson (S21), so they were obviously involved in brass manufacture. Seven instruments have come to light bearing the "York & Son" name as makers which are unserialized. One of these is a beautifully made slide trombone, highly embossed and engraved with a lake scene which is owned by the author.

All four "DeMaer" instruments are marked with "York & Son" as agents (RSYII) and also have no obvious serial numbers. The New Langwill Index has no mention of any "DeMaer", in Paris, nor anywhere else (NLI). It is the author’s assumption then, that these may have been also of early York construction. No "DeMaer" instrument has yet surfaced which does not bear the York name.

In 1897 Alfred J. "Bill" Johnson becomes company foreman (SWMK). 

The oldest "York & Son" instrument that I am aware of is an "Imported By” cornet bearing serial number 80 (RSYII). A York advertisement in the Music Educators Journal states that the 3 winners in the “Old York Instruments In Service Today” contest all had serial numbers in the 7xx range and were produced in 1894 (MEJ). Cornet 910 (RSYII) has “York and Sons” engraved on the bell, but has “York & Son” on the valve block, so it must have been made very close to the name change. Working backward at this approximate build rate would put the beginning of serialization at 1890, which would conveniently coincide with York’s description in the Grand Rapids Herald (S45). This sequence continues until the plant is closed.

In 1898 the company is renamed "York & Sons" in recognition of JW York’s second son (Frank W.) becoming a principal in the company (SW).

The oldest "York & Son" instrument that I am aware of is a cornet bearing serial number 910 (RSYII). The company, with experienced personnel, is well positioned to have an established run rate as it enters the twentieth century, not only having the main office and factory in Grand Rapid, Michigan, but also a branch office in Chicago (YMJ). In fact, the 1898 edition of York’s Musical Journal contains references to York having built and sold Eb soprano and Bb cornets, band and orchestra horns, baritones, slide trombones and also Eb and BBb basses.  In the same publication soloist Steve Crean "agrees to select and test all Cornets made by us". It also describes hiring a Mr. W. A. Goble as head of a testing department and being responsible for testing each BBb bass, Eb bass, baritone, and slide trombone.

York & Sons cornet numbered 1266 was "Presented to C.S. Miller by the CC band in November 1899" (YL).

1902 marked the introduction of the valve trombone. The earliest recorded example so far is numbered 6372 (RSYII). In 1903 the "Professional" model cornet was announced and put into production (7). The earliest such cornet recorded thus far (RSYII) is numbered 7040.

There is also a cornet numbered 8497, which is engraved as being presented on Christmas, 1903 (JS/aI). Therefore it was undoubtedly made before that date.

In 1908, the present plant at 1600 South Division Avenue was built. York produces 300 instruments per month. There are 130 workers. (S22)

The oldest instrument having the High/Low Pitch change loop engraved "pat July 12, 1910" recorded thus far (RSYII) is an Improved Band and Orchestra Horn numbered 23877. They would not know of the actual status change of the patent (and therefore marked "pending") until July 12, 1910, so that any horn so marked should have not been made before the July date.

In 1911 the Grand Rapids Band Instrument Company was founded with the same owners at the address (BMIMHP).

York advertised that "1912 was largest volume year in the 30-year history of the company, but 1913 will be larger" (18)

In 1913 came the announcement of the Al-Tru cornet (20), the oldest of which recorded thus far is numbered 36738 (RSYII). 

Since most of the 100xx series "Couturier Wizard" cornets are not marked with Couturier’s patent (Sep 23, 1913) , I have placed them in 1913. The normally numbered "Couturier Wizard" cornets I have placed in 1914.

In 1914 the factory was making 39,600 instruments per year (S22).

A guarantee certificate for cornet 41607 dated 9/21/1915, "#95 Cornet Outfit--C" (RSYII).

Tuba 52796 is described as: "Owner told by a former York employee that the SN places the date of manufacture about 1917" (YRS/aI)

Saxophone 50012 "comes with an original authenticating letter from the York Company... that states the saxophone was new in 1918" (RSYII).

In 1926 the company name changed to York Band Instrument Company (S24), and the first such engraved instrument recorded (RSYII) is numbered 89367. 

York was awarded two saxophone patents concerning tone holes in the later part of the 1920s: 1690862 and 1673195. York alto saxophone 92259 is reported to have unusual tone holes, and the marking "pat. apld. for". These patents were applied for in 1925 and 1926 and granted November 6, 1928, and June 12, 1928, respectively. 

BBb Tuba 91818 was made in 1928 and was dated though contact by Dr. Swain with the original owner (JS/aI).

The “York and Sons” signature is used until 1928 (S30). The oldest recorded engraving thus far is Bass 89379 made in 1927 (RSYII).

112,000 at ca. 1937: An instrument with this approximate serial number was dated through contact with the original owner (JS/PSN),

"Bill" Johnson's Airflow design patent for trumpets and cornets was filed Nov 24, 1939, and issued Apr 2, 1940. The earliest such horn that I have recorded is cornet 120319 (1937?), which is constructed to this design including a reverse-rolled rim, but is not marked "Airflow". The latest horn marked "Airflow" is trumpet 124155(1940). What was the delay in production? In December 1940 York was sold to Carl Fischer Musical Instruments (SW), but Bill did not transfer his design patent along with the company (62). The result of this, I can only assume, is the cause of conventional cornets being engraved with the "Airflow" name in the 1950s.

York company was purchased by Carl Fischer. There is a plan to double production and employment” (46).

In 1950 serial numbers were in the 150,000 range (S10).

186549 @ 1953: This is based on an invoice for a part for an instrument with this serial number (48).

In 1964 the York company is dissolved in Michigan (S9) and registered in the State of New York (S25)

In 1957, a cornet and a trumpet, both with the number 207xxx, were chosen by the original owner at the plant from current production, per the 2nd owner (RSYII).

In 1970, York is sold to Tolchin Instrument Company (S24). In 1971, Tolchin Instrument Company closed the factory. (SW

The numbers for 1958-1971 are very subjective. They were created by taking the last number I have obtained in what seems to be an unbroken sequence of serial numbers (up to cornet 325547 (RSYII)), and distributing them until the factory was closed in 1971. Relationships with Blessing, Boehm & Meinl, and other manufacturers were created once Carl Fischer took over the company in December, 1940 (46).

Proprietary rights were ultimately purchased in 1976 by Boosey and Hawkes (SW)

The record, itself, is broken into six sections:

Anomalies and items which may require future revisions

Additional Research and Correspondence

Update 1: 6 Jun 2010 Add “York & Son” years to beginning of guide, which begins start of serialization.

Update 2: 17 Oct 2011: Make adjustments to years 1906-1915 for the first appearance of the 1910 High/Low Pitch loop patent 963768, build of the Couturier "Wizard" in 1913-1914, sales receipt & warranty dated 8/26/1911 for cornet 28582, and license of the William S. Haynes Drawn Tone Holes patent 1119954, which was issued Dec 8, 1914. Adjustments also to years 1929-1940 to accommodate Feather-Touch instruments which are marked "Pat Apld For”. Patent number 1922685 was filed on Sep 26, 1931 and was granted on Aug 15, 1933.

Update 3: 4 Aug 2020: Changed footnotes and research to be consistent with Dr. John Swain’s York Research Site. Noted record collection now of over 5,200 Grand Rapids instruments and added new sections (5. Mouthpieces & 6. Miscellaneous York items). Created new introduction including explanation use of serial numbers. Added new documentation for start of serialization and revise entire chart with information in the Surviving Instrument record.

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