THE LAST YORK TUBA?
I recently purchased this York tuba off the internet and came to a profound conclusion. This York tuba is possibly one of the last York tubas made from the company whose lineage can be originally traced back to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1882!
Let me explain. York began in 1882 and grew for the next 48 years until the Great Depression. It limped along in the 1930's until the start of World War II, when it was sold to Carl Fischer in 1940. Carl Fischer transferred the quality professional York instruments to Böhm and Meinl, a German brass instrument manufacturer, and kept producing student instruments in the original Grand Rapids factory. B&M is definitely a part of the York lineage, although not as common as the original Grand Rapids instruments.
Carl Fischer focused on music publishing and eventually sold the York brand to Tolchin Musical Instruments in 1970. Tolchin Musical instruments was the final company that we can originally trace back to Grand Rapids, unfortunately little is known about this period. Dr. Swain's research indicates the Grand Rapids factory was out of business by the mid-1960's. The York company was then registered in New York which was the headquarters of Carl Fischer in 1964, so one can conclude the Grand Rapids factory was closed, but leftover instruments were still being sold. In conclusion, the York brand was a business in name only for about 7 or 8 years while still being owned by Carl Fischer.
Tolchin attempted to revitalize the brand by buying it from Carl Fischer in 1970 (along with Buffet Crampon in 1969) and putting out a slick new York catalog in 1972. Not many Tolchin era instruments have survived, which would lead me to conclude this venture was not successful. Tolchin sold the York brand to Boosey & Hawkes who let the brand expire due to restructuring in the mid-seventies by focusing on music publishing. Both Brooks Mays Music Company and Schreiber & Keilwerth had short lived attempts at reviving the York brand decades later, but that is not counted as part of the original lineage of the company.
Which leads us back to this tuba. It is clearly a B&M tuba from the comparison picture on the right, and marked "Germany" on the receiver. It has a serial number of 74XXX. B&M generated their tuba instrument serial numbers with the year the instrument was built as the first 2 digits, and the quantity of instruments produced that year as the next numbers. Therefore, this instrument was built in 1974, which is a year where not much is known. Was Tolchin still actively selling York instruments, or were they already bankrupt? The following paragraph is mostly speculation that one could reasonably make an argument for, with limited circumstantial evidence available.
This is a Tolchin era instrument, which is a rare find in itself due to so few Tolchin instruments produced. It has the most modern York logo on the bell that I have seen to date. It is exciting to see that Tolchin still continued to contract with B&M while producing the York tuba line, just as Carl Fischer had done before it. This was known from the last catalog Tolchin produced, but was not actually seen in any found instruments I have come across.
This tuba is made with the same tooling as the earlier 5/4 sized York Masters with a big .750 bore. The tuba was purchased from Germany, which likely means B&M originally sold it in Germany. Either Tolchin was low on business, restructuring, or just not selling them that fast. Maybe this tuba was leftover B&M stock?
It has three valves which would indicate that Tolchin most likely decided to make cheaper instruments by focusing on the student market. Why? 1973 to 1975 was an economic recession in the United States. Cost cutting measures were likely made. Three valve models of this B&M tuba do not appear in any known catalog which means this is a rather obscure instrument. As an instrument collector, it is funny to see York coming full circle. From producing 3 valved tubas in the early 1900's to finishing in the 1970's with 3 valves. Also, besides the 4th valve missing, the traditional removable bells used on the deluxe York Masters were dropped in favor of an easier and possibly cheaper one piece bell. This model of tuba went on to be called a B&M 5500B (with a fourth valve in the comparison picture) and was sold in Germany for many years until B&M was bought by Nirschl.
Some people look at this York tuba in the picture and think nothing of a three valved beat up old student horn. I look at the picture and think, this could potentially be one of the last surviving York tubas from the great company that was York, whose original lineage can be traced all the way back to 1882 in Grand Rapids, Michigan!
York tuba in "as found" condition from 1974
B&M 5500B tuba courtesy of https://simonettitubacollection.com