The Mystery of the Lowell Trumpet

Double piston valve trumpets created by Leopold Uhlmann

Two eerily similar double piston valve trumpets (photo credits: left – Linda McCluskey, right – Robb Stewart)

Parisian artist Linda McCluskey (formerly of Chelmsford) came upon the trumpet on the left in a music museum in Seborga, Italy (MAP). At first glance, the information on the card doesn’t correlate with historical documentation covering the brisk advancements and innovations in brass instrument technologies developed during the early to mid-nineteenth century.

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Did American Nathan Adams make a double piston valve trumpet in 1820?

The card in the photo at right states that in 1820, Nathan Adams made an orchestral trumpet with double piston valves and several tuning crooks. 

First, at the time this instrument was reportedly made, Lowell was still East Chelmsford and for the most part farmland. Lowell wasn’t incorporated as a town until 1826, so the oddly shaped trumpet couldn’t have been made in 1820 in “Lowell, Massachusetts.”

Second, the trumpets depicted in the photos above are strikingly similar. Both are double piston “Vienna valve” instruments with tuning crooks.

Third, Leopold Uhlmann of Vienna received a “patent” on the “Vienna valve” in 1830, but this particular valve was invented (also in Vienna) in about 1822 by a man named J. F Riedl. The tuning crooks were designed for orchestral instruments. They’re rare and have profound historical significance.

If you’re a serious student of the history of brass instruments, you can understand the dilemma. The card claims the instrument was made by an American in 1820 … two years before it was supposedly invented by a Viennese instrument maker!

As the industrial revolution went global at the turn of the nineteenth century, there was a frenzy of activity that advanced the technological development of brass instruments. These remarkable improvements made it possible to seamlessly run the scale over several octaves without loss of tonal quality. Nathan Adams was right in the middle of this action.

Adams is best known in brass instrument circles for his introduction of the “rotary valve,” possibly in 1824. It’s becoming more apparent in my research that Nathan Adams created a stir among musical instrument makers (and players) in Europe. He was well traveled and held in high regard in the various circles frequented by the musical elite. But his contributions have yet to be fully acknowledged.

I believe Nathan Adams was involved with the innovations which led to the invention of the “Vienna valve” trumpet. After all he was a machinist and had the capability to recreate, modify, or improve any brass instrument placed in his hands. He was considered a mechanical genius by his peers, colleagues … and especially, his friends. And his contributions to brass instrument development is widely accepted.

More to follow …

ORIGINAL Post July 9, 2015 … REVISED August 14, 2015, 4:26pm

by George DeLuca

Contributors to this post: Linda McCluskey, Paul Early, Mike, and Robb Stewart!

Works Cited:
Rosenberg, Chaim M., The Life and Times of Francis Cabot Lowell, 1775-1817, Lexington Books, copyright 2011

Eliason, Robert, “Early American Valves for American Instruments,” The Galpin Society Journal, Vol 23, p86-96, copyright 1970

Stewart, Robb, “1840s Trumpet in F by Leopold Uhlmann,”

Photos courtesy of Linda McCluskey and Robb Stewart

5 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Lowell Trumpet

  1. Paul Early


    I was a little suspicious at the thought of North Adams being the location for this trumpet’s manufacture so I did a little digging. North Adams was incorporated in 1878 when it was split from Adams. This did not rule out the possibility of North Adams being the location, but I became more suspicious.

    I then googled the quote N. Adams Lowell” and came up with a few books. One being “The Art of the Tuba and Euphonium” by Harvey Philips. The authors assert that a Nathan Adams (1783-1864) was the inventor of the “rotary valve” a few years before a similar creation in Vienna, Austria by J. Reid.

    I found a second citation, “Early American Valves for Brass Instruments” in “Galpin Society Journal”, vol. 23, August 1970 (pp. 86-96) by Robert E. Eliason. This article mentions that a Nathan Adams served on the USS Constitution, as Master of the Band, and that there is a trumpet associated with the USS Constitution that a Nathan Adams is said to have made. In the article there is a song attributed to him entitled “The Ruins of Troy.” According to the attribution it was written in July of 1826 while the ship lay “at anchor in the Pass of Tenedos” Tenedos, according to the “Aeneid” (which I am reading to prep for my Latin class), this is where the Greeks hid out (lying at anchor?) when the Trojans dragged the Horse, with Odysseus and his men inside, into Troy.

    I dug into the history of the USS Constitution and during this time she was stationed in the Mediterranean Squadron. According to Wikipedia she was there to combat piracy (think Barbary Coast) and in particular served in the area of Greece which fits nicely with the origin of the song.

    There is a passage in the “Contributions of Old Residents Historical Association” (Lowell, MA 1894) that mentions a Nathan Adams as the first user of Daguerre types presumedly after 1839 as that, according to Eliason was the year the process was invented.

    There are definitely some issues with this journal article by Eliason he suggests that Nathan Adams had a business interest in NYC (112 Chambers) (1824-1825), he created a trumpet in 1824/1825 in Lowell and that he was serving on the USS Constitution between September 11, 1824 and March 31, 1828. This seems to me on first blush to be problematic.

    My wife Mary and I found a birth record for a Nathan Adams in Dunstable (aka Nashua), NH, born to a Jacob Adams and Mother Maiden name “Jane”. We also found a death certificate dated March 17, 1864 with place of death as Milford, NH (which was probably his place of birth as well). On the certificate his occupation is listed as “mechanic” and his marital status as “single” not married/widowed. The certificate lists “Congestion of Lungs” as reason for his death. Dunstable is also listed as his place of birth. The death certificate does not list a burial site.

    More about trumpets: Eliason refers to a “three plaques” on board the USS Constitution which read, “Permutation trumpet” “Invented & made by N. Adams, Lowell, Mass” and “Paul Heald, Carlisle, Mass, 1825” He suggests that Heald was probably the owner as he refers to an article from a newspaper (“Retired Veteran Coronet Manufacturer Tells of Many Improvements in Musical Instruments”, Springfield Union, (February 12, 1926) , 7) in which John Heald mentions a search for other trumpets made by Nathan Adams in Boston. Elision also mentions that John Heald donated the trumpet to the USS Constitution in 1927 Elision quotes George A Ramsdell, “A History of Milford”. According to Eliason, Ramsdell writes that Nathan Adams was 80 and a native of “this town” (Millford) when he died and that he had been a band master on the Frigate USS Constitution in the War of 1812. He also attributes to Adams “the production of the diatonic scale with 3 touches, the introduction of the valve or piston movement…”

    Eliason quotes an article “Rotary Valves are American” in “Music Journal”, XX (March 1962), 58 by David Hamblen According to this article, “…the rotary valve was invented by Nathan Adams of Milford, New Hampshire, in 1824 and it was first made in Lowell, Massachusetts…”

    I apologize for the discombobulated way this must appear. I was quite enthusiastic in my research and Mary prompted me to do a family record search at I hope that you find this material useful and that I have not gone too far off the beam.

  2. Paul Early

    I failed to mention that in the article by Eliason there are several pictures of trumpets that are quite reminiscent of the photo you posted here.

  3. Lowell2020 Post author

    Thank you for your enthusiastic research. I believe you (and your wife) have us on track.
    It appears that the trumpet was indeed made by Nathan Adams in Lowell, Massachusetts. The question remains … when? The card lists the date 1820.

    The article you mention “Early American Valves for Brass Instruments” by Robert E Eliason notes that Adams invented the rotary valve “Permutation Trumpet” in 1824 “… and it was first made in Lowell, Massachusetts.” The problem is that Lowell wasn’t incorporated as a town until 1826. Yet the article states that Adams made a “Permutation” valve trumpet (for Paul Heald) in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1825, perhaps while on leave from his duties on the S.S. Constitution.

    As we get closer to solving the mystery, the story becomes more fascinating. Great work Paul!

    Here’s a link to Eliason’s article, for those following along: (use the back button to return to this page).


  4. Mike

    The trumpet has double-piston valves, which are first documented in 1821, were patented in 1823, and are very different to the “Adams valve” detailed in Eliason (1970). The instrument also looks peculiar (and would probably be unplayable) because a set of five tuning crooks have been stacked up before the mouthpiece. These may or may not be original to the trumpet, but even if they are (or one or more of them are…) only one at a time is used, as a simple way of transposing the “home” key of the trumpet. Here’s a VERY similar instrument from 1840s Europe:

    The date’s pretty certainly wrong, and maybe the attribution is too—it looks almost nothing like the two known Adams trumpets and a whole lot like the Ullmann, down to the silver chasing on the bell (although that was common enough among many Austrian and German makers). The stack of crooks suggests that the museum does not know its exhibits as intimately as it might…

  5. Lowell2020 Post author

    Thanks Mike, we’re on the verge of solving the mystery. I’ve sent an email to Robb Stewart with the hope he can get involved since he fully restored the Leopold Uhlmann “Vienna trumpet” in the photo (see top of the post). I’ll continue to tweak the post as I continue my research on Nathan Adams. I suggested that Robb contact the museum to try to resolve the information on the card. Perhaps they’ll consider hiring him to restore the instrument!


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