Fiske Cornet

Isaac Fiske Bb Cornet
Worcester, Massachusetts

I never thought that I would have the chance to restore an Isaac Fiske cornet but I managed to find this one with missing parts and a damaged bell. It is one of his unique rotary valve cornets with piston rods from about 1872. The first photo shows the condition when I bought it.

Fiske Cornet 2

Lots of missing parts here but except for the bell, not badly beat up. The next photos are before I started work on it except for some preliminary bell work.

Fiske Cornet 3

Fiske Cornet 4

Fiske Cornet 5

The 1868 patent date is for the piston rotary valve design. This cornet matches the later patent valve arrangement from 1873 so probably was built in 1872. The pieces missing are the shaft and nut for valve 3, the control rods for valves 2 and 3, the hand guard for the valves, and the tuning shank. It also has stuck slides and looks like it was stored in a damp basement for too long.

Fiske Cornet 7

Fiske Cornet Patent 1873

Below is a surprise from inside the third valve spring case. A piece of factory scrap paper glued into a cylinder to quiet the spring. I was hoping this had some buyer information on it but no such luck.

Fiske Cornet 8

Next are photos of the cornet all apart and most repairs done. The only thing to defeat me so far is the stuck third valve slide. I would rather leave it as is than cause some damage trying to take it apart. I had wanted to leave the bell on but two of the solder joints were loose so it came off. The rest is very solid. The one remaining rod was bent but easily straightened and having this one allows me to make the other two much easier.

Fiske Cornet 9

Fiske Cornet Restoration 1

Fiske Cornet Restoration 2

The bell came out well considering how wrinkled it was. Thankfully no cracks.

Fiske Cornet Restoration 3

The above photo shows how Fiske made his small curved pipes. These were made out of one piece, bent on a form, then the seam was soldered together. This follows his patent from 1867.

The next photo shows an original valve on the left and the new cylinder I made on the right for the top of the third valve. I haven't added the side bar yet but put it together to see how well it fit. To get the same shape, I used two pieces of tubing that fit inside each other then a solid brass rod for the center. After soldering these together, I drilled out the center hole and filed it out to the "D" shape hole needed to fit over the valve shaft.

Fiske Cornet

Fiske Cornet

Fiske Cornet

Fiske Cornet

Fiske Cornet

Here you can see the new third valve top nut that I made (bottom valve). The only thing to figure out for this is how to make the ribbed edge.

Here is a photo of the great Isaac Fiske and some of his prized horns.

Isaac Fiske

Next up was making a new valve guard. I had my father make a two-part wood form then squeezed a brass sheet inside for a nearly perfect oval dish. It just required some hammering and filing to get it finished.

Fiske Cornet valve guard

Fiske Cornet Valve Guard 2

The rest of the morning was spent in bending the three guard mounts and tweeking them until it was lined up straight. It was tricky to get all three rods in place and solder them without everything falling over.

Fiske Cornet Valve Guard 3

One thing I noticed when making this is that Issac Fiske did not make all the hand guards the same even for the same model. He used the oval dish for this time period but other cornets that I used for reference photos had the three mounts in different locations. My three mounts were closer to the center than others which required tighter bends for the rods.

Fiske Cornet Hand Guard mounted

As you can see, the bends had to be just right as there are a lot of things to avoid with this design. I then spent the afternoon making a new tuning shank and two new rods for the 2nd and 3rd valves. As you can see in the photo above, the two new rods have a slightly different color than the original. I made them out of nickle silver rods with a brass sleeve on top to make the diameter a little larger for the finger pads. For now I have two mismatched finger buttons which I hope to replace next with reproductions that match the one original.

Here it is all back together and playing excellent. What a great sound this cornet has and the tuning sounds centered. The valves are a little noisy due to the crude way the springs and guide rods work but it's still fun to play. I don't have the original mouthpiece so am using a Henry Diston Levy model one that I had been saving for this.

Issac Fiske Cornet Restored 1

Issac Fiske Cornet Restored 2