Establishing A Revised Serial Number List For York Band Instruments 1882-1960

About 15 years ago, I began research on a dissertation cataloguing the E-flat tubas in the Shrine to Music Museum at the University of South Dakota. As part of that research, I attempted to determine the dates of manufacture of each of the instruments surveyed. Serial number lists existed for most of the major manufacturers, and at least two of the manufacturers still in business could provide very accurate dates. Because no such serial number list existed for the York Band Instrument Company (known also as J. W. York and Sons) of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I created a serial number chart with a range of date possibilities based on instrument production curves surmised from the information available at that time. After more than a decade of collecting information (quite sporadically) from a variety of sources, and attempting to interpret that information in a logical fashion, I am now ready to present what should be a far more accurate representation of the production schedule of the York Company.

The York Company

According to most sources, James Warren York started the York Band Instrument Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1882 or 1883. For a time, York imported instruments and sold them ; by 1900, when York's sons Frank and Charles joined the business, the company was producing its own instruments. The signature J.W. York and Sons appears on instruments with serial numbers as far back as #6276.

The company was purchased by James and John Duffy in 1913. The name (and signature) was changed to York Band Instrument Company in 1926. Articles of Association from 1927 which show the offering of 15,000 shares of stock at $10 per share indicate that James Duffy was president and that the address of the factory was 1600 Division Avenue, South East, the location where J. W. York had built the factory in the latter part of the 19th century. The company was sold to Carl Fischer in 1940 for $300,000; Fischer was eventually subsumed by Boosey and Hawkes and the assets of the York Company were purchased by Tolchin Musical Instruments in 1971.

Given that it is difficult to trace records, even for companies with long ownership (witness the mass destruction of records by Lyon and Healy when they moved from the downtown Chicago offices), it should not be surprising that records for York apparently do not exist. According to Gene Pilszuk, ledger books containing serial numbers and dates of manufacture were stored in the company safe. An interview with Mrs. Rose Thorndill (Venza), former executive secretary and Resident Agent at York indicated that all company records were shipped to Tolchin Instruments in Lynnbrook, New York. Tolchin's company would then be the last known location of these records, although repeated attempts to contact him in 1984 and again in 1995 were fruitless.

The project, then, has been to try to piece together information from a wide variety of sources to attempt to create a serial number list which is accurate. The information gathering process drew from a number of sources, including interviews and correspondence with former York employees and other individuals, newspapers, and music trades and music education magazines. Most important, however, was the information gathered from the instruments themselves, many of which are located in the Shrine to Music Museum, and from anecdotal information provided by individuals who own or owned York instruments. Information was provided about some 55 instruments for this aspect of the research. Production information from other manufacturers also played an important role in the design of this serial number list.

1996 by John J. Swain

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