What can you guys tell me about Besson Cornets

Discussion in 'Vintage Trumpets / Cornets' started by Anonymous, Oct 26, 2005.

  1. Anonymous

    Anonymous Forte User

    Oct 21, 2003
    I posted a couple of pictures of my Great Grandfathers Besson Cornet that I had restored by Leigh of Eclipse trumpets in Mannys forum. He bought a Besson cornet that has similar writing on the bell

    F. Besson
    193 Euston Road

    What can you guys tell me about the English Besson company?

    Or can you point me in the direction of a good site where I can read up on it.




  2. tom turner

    tom turner Mezzo Forte User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Georgia, USA
    Hi Mike,

    They must have been well-regarded in their era, for you see a lot of 'em still today on e-Bay.

    Being that it is an English-made Besson (there was also a French Besson), and since Leigh worked on your horn, I hope he'll chime in on how the horn plays.

    One thing is for sure . . . it surely is beautiful!

    As far as the history of Gustave Besson's company goes, they began in FRANCE in 1820. In 1857 Gustave started an English plant . . . leaving his wife and daughter to run the French factory. [Hmmmmm . . . "Hey honey, sorry to leave so fast . . . but duty calls and I've GOTTA get back to England."] Opps . . . I'm startin' a rumor here! Sorry! :lol:

    After the old man's death in 1874 his daughter Martha ran both factories for a while, with her French diplomat husband with the last name of Fontaine. [HINT: Now you know what the F. in "F. Besson" stands for . . . and it ain't for "France!"] ;-)

    In 1894 the couple sold off their English "Besson" company and concentrated the rest of their lives on the French company . . . and this was probably the high water-mark time for Besson's innovation. They both died in 1908 and their heirs took over.

    Then . . . well . . . you know how the French sometimes can be, and sometimes how heirs can be . . . and things kinda went downhill real fast for F. Besson! However . . . this was great for Vincent Bach, for he took that great, late F. Besson era-designed trumpet from the late 19th century, cloned it and built it RIGHT . . . but that's another story!

    The 20th century though was a great time for the English Besson company though, especially in the student horn market and they really grew . . . and eventually combined the F. Besson (Fontaine-Besson) horns into their lineup!

    Again, hopefully Leigh can give you more information on the British company!

    Warmest regards,

  3. Anonymous

    Anonymous Forte User

    Oct 21, 2003
    Thanks for that info. What year did the Besson Factory in London shut down? And did I hear the factory was bombed during ww2 or am I way off.
  4. Cornet1

    Cornet1 Pianissimo User

    May 22, 2005
    Essex, England
    The Besson factory at Burnt oak in North london was taken over by the Boosey and Hawkes Co. at the end of WWII. During wartime it had not made many instruments and had been invoved in making special parts in brass including some of the components for 'Winston Churchill's Toy Shop'......the 'extra special devices' dept.

    Besson had always made superior small brass to B&H so the factory was left more or less to its own devices for a many years. During this period there was some exchange of components with B&H and also some cross production such as the Besson 'Stratford' and B&H 'Emperor' trumpets. At various periods of high Besson output the 'Stratford' was infact the 'Emp' made in the B&H factory at Edgeware, not far away. Thus Stratford trumppets can be found with both the Besson enclosed valves and the then new 'Microbor' B&H valves. The 'Emp' was twice the price of the 'Stratford'!!

    For many years the Besson range of cornets were the best on the UK market, equiping most of the top brass bands. B&H made the well known 'Imperial' instruments including a good cornet. These were sold around the world to commonwealth countries and also to UK armed forces bands. Because the Besson cornets were noticeably superior with their modern and unique valve layout, B&H charged Besson with assembly of what looked like an 'Imperial' cornet for use by UK and other armed forces bands,...a kind of heavy duty 'super' 'Impy' with much better valves.

    In the late 50's-early 60's Besson started development on a 'modern' cornet which was to be the 'International'. This fantastic instrument was the forerunner of all the current cornets used by the modern brass band movement. Made largely of nickel silver with expensive and complex components this cornet was still unmistakably 'Besson' but offered new sound dimensions for the top soloists and was the first cornet with triggers on valve slides. Production started in 1965 and as the band world moved into the 70's there was great change in brass bands for the first time since victorian era, largely on the back of new instruments such as the 'International'.

    However, this was perhaps too much for B&H who in 1975 killed off the International and replaced it with their own inferior instrument, the 'Sovereign', also combining production. This was a disaster for cornet players and B&H tried to calm the uproar by claiming that the Sov. was "bassed on" and "developed from" the Internatioal, and even that the two instruments were "the same". In fact the two side by side are competely different and do not play or sound very much alike. Thus ended the last Besson design, arguably the best cornet ever made.

    B&H have in recent years used the 'Beson' brand name on all of their brass including the 'Sovereign' cornet!......'A rose by any other name would smell so sweet'.
  5. music matters

    music matters Pianissimo User

    Apr 26, 2004
    ON Canada
    Thanks for that info - really interesting.

    When i was a teenager the Brass Band gave me a Besson Imperial Cornet and told me it was an ex military one. I have never heard of the besson imperial since until I read your story and just assumed that it was the same as the Boosey anmd hawkes Imperial.

    From what you say the old besson Imperial I played on was superior to the Boosey and hawkes Imperial. When was the besson Imperial made?

  6. larry newman

    larry newman Piano User

    Dec 22, 2005
    North Tonawanda, NY, USA
    A great history lesson, guys...
  7. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Forte User

    Oct 11, 2004
    Farnham (a place too smal
    As a post-script to this discussion, I feel it is worth saying that Besson has recently gone into administration - there have been rumours of a potential buyer for the company, but it looks like Besson has made its last instrument.
  8. GordonH

    GordonH Mezzo Forte User

    May 15, 2005
    Interestingly I had a Besson Imperiam Euphonium made about 1979 which was actually a sovereign apart from the engraving. Apparently a few were made to complete an army contract after the tooling for the old Imperial was done away with. As the contract said "Imperial" they just made up some of the enw ones and did the old engraving on them!
    That's either very British or very B&H....
  9. Alex Yates

    Alex Yates Forte User

    Aug 11, 2005
    Atlanta, GA
    I have a Bflat shepard's crook Besson cornet. It has fancy engraving on the bell and says "Made in England" . It also has "50 Medals of Honour" inscribed right above that. I know nothing about his horn. I bought it years ago very cheap and had it fixed up a bit. It plays fine and definitely has that British cornet sound.

    "Made largely of nickel silver with expensive and complex components this cornet was still unmistakably 'Besson' but offered new sound dimensions for the top soloists and was the first cornet with triggers on valve slides." - mine has the fancy triggers, so it must be from this time period, eh?
  10. Cornet1

    Cornet1 Pianissimo User

    May 22, 2005
    Essex, England
    Alex,......what are the first three digits of the serial no.?....this should be a six digit no. on/under the bell section adjacent to the valves.

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