photos on this page by Bill Willroth

NMM 14,390 Recording Bass in Bb

The reason to design this type of piston valve was that the stroke, or length the valve needed to be depressed to change the pitch, was reduced (by 28% according to advertisements). The "wedge" shaped windway in the valves are known as an Allen Valve, after J. Lathrop Allen (1815-ca.1905). He designed a rotary valve around 1850 that “combined advantages of short quick action, smooth quiet operation, simple construction and easy maintenance." (Robert Eliason, Early American Brass Makers). The design was popular in the United States through the 1800s, and an example is shown below (bottom right of the page).

In the first part of the 20th century, two patent applications were filed by designers for valves with wedge-shaped windway. The first was by Alson Fairchild in 1923 (U.S. Patent 1,457,623), presumably for a trumpet. A patent for a valve of this type for low brass was made by Fred Kull in 1932 (U.S. Patent 1,932,742). Fred Kull most certainly worked for Frank Holton as he is named in Holton's Last Will & Testament. Alyson Fairchild was presumably an employee of Holton in the 1920s. 

Four upright models were manufactured with this type valve. Models 106 and 107 (same as 106 but with side valve action instead of top) were made from 1936 to 1938. Two upgraded models (108 and 109) were made until most instrument production was halted during World War II. Holton also made a sousaphone (Model 131) with short action valves. However, neither were produced after World War II. 

In a 1958 article in the Holton Fanfare, Holton concluded that the disadvantages of the design required for manufacturing short-action piston valve instruments outweighed the advantages. Specifically, the change of shape in the wind pipes at the valve segment negatively affected intonation and tone quality. In addition, a heavier valve spring was required to offset the increased weight of the piston valve. Holton did not believe it would be worthwhile to produce more short-action instruments until a design that maintained the shape of the wind pipe through the valve casing could be invented. 

Model 106

The “Spring and Summer 1936” edition of Harmony Hints, on page 20, has an advertisement for Short Action Basses, the posting reads: 

Holton Short Action Basses

Here is a powerful BBb recording model bass built with the bell to the left.  Correctly proportioned and properly bal-anced for parade, concert and orchestra work.

Built with the new Holton short action valves.  28% shorter and 26% lighter action.

Model 107.  Height, 48 1/2 inches; bell 24 1/2 inches; weight about 30 pounds.

Finish A-Polished brass …………………………..$295.00

Finish B-Gold lacquer………………………………310.00

Finish D-Silver, gold bell …………………………..350.00

Price Lists 112-A and 112-B (1937) list: “BBb BASSES WITH NEW HOLTON SHORT ACTION” models 106 and 107. [Basses are listed as Recording and Holtonphone (sousaphone)]

The back cover of Harmony Hints No. 112, includes an announcement of Models 106 and 107 “Revelation Short Action Basses.”

Catalog No. 116 has pictures of Models 106 and 107 (Recording Bass).  Model 107 has three, side-action short piston valves and the bell sits to the right side of the player. Model 106 has three, top-action short piston valves and the bell sits to the left side of the player. The catalog goes on to advertise, “Recording Models / To the same ponderous tone and excellent intonation that has characterized these models for years, we have now added the extreme speed and accuracy of the new patented short action. / The amazing simplicity of this Holton patented short action valve is one of its astonishing points. Making use of a new principle in valve construction, the action has been shortened 28% and made 26% lighter at the same time.  This without changing the size of the valves or their relative position.” [p. 16]

Also in Catalog No. 116 “Faster, Shorter Valve Action / Think of a bass with a bore three-quarters of an inch in diameter and an action almost as short, fast, light and smooth as that of a cornet. / You'll be Amazed! / It really is amazing how these short action basses put speed and comfort in your daily work.  It's amazing how easy you can play difficult parts-how those tough spots smooth out under the speed of the Holton short action. / Bass players tell us that they are astounded at the tremendous controlled power of these basses and amazed at the smooth, effortless speed with which they can handle any part placed before them.  Try one.” 

NMM 14,390 Measurements

Advertised Bell Diameter: 622 mm (24-½ in) [in catalogs]

1st valve branch Inner diameter: 19.1 mm (.754 in)

1st valve casing inner diameter: 29.3 mm (1.157 in)

Valve stem height: 10 mm (.396 in)

NMM 13,976 Circular Cornet by J. Lathrop Allen

Photos by Bill Willroth

There will be many references to NMM on this website, which refers to the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota. If you have any interest in the history of musical instruments, I encourage you to click on the link to their webpage below and learn about one of the finest institutions of its kind, anywhere. 
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