Three gold-plated instruments represent the highest-quality musical craftsmanship

Treasures: Legendary Musical Instruments celebrates instruments that not only are visually stunning but also preserve compelling stories of human achievement. The rich musical narratives running through the exhibition are made possible by the partnerships MIM has built with world-class museums, institutions, and collectors over the past 10 years, including the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. 

The music and arts academy loaned MIM two historic sousaphones from its extensive C. G. Conn Collection six years ago. The 48K Grand Jumbo model sousaphone is currently featured in the Target Gallery for the Treasures exhibition. A masterfully crafted Conn cornet and trombone join the exhibition as new loans from Interlochen.

These spectacular instruments celebrate the life and work of cornetist and bandleader Charles Gerard Conn. Conn developed his first musical product—an innovative cushioned mouthpiece—in 1874 and two years later established a small workshop in Elkhart, Indiana, with French maker Eugene Dupont. From these humble beginnings, C. G. Conn developed into the largest band instrument manufacturer in the world and a tremendous supporter of school music departments and marching and community bands.

Conn wanted his instruments to have excellent musical qualities and visual appeal. He built a team of artists, including a master engraver, to bring the instruments to life by hand through vivid and whimsical details.

1888 Innes Model Trombone Image

The three C. G. Conn instruments in Treasures epitomize this attention to detail and are among the company’s greatest work. The 1888 Innes model trombone (above) was decorated by Conn’s first master engraver, James Gardner, as a personal project. He included portraits of himself, his wife, his dog (detail, above), and a castle, among other imaginative designs, on the instrument. The mouthpiece and lever for the water keys are also engraved, and a cat’s face is cast onto the button on the trill valve. 

1886 Wonder Solo Model Cornet Image

The 1886 Wonder Solo model cornet (above) was made for historic bandleader Patrick Gilmore and engraved by Gardner. Considered the father of the American band, Gilmore played at multiple presidential inaugurations, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and the 1876 Centennial Celebration. He was also requested by President Lincoln to lead a band to celebrate the end of the Civil War. No detail was spared in embellishing the cornet, which features a portrait of Gilmore (detail, above).

48K Grand Jumbo Model Sousaphone Image

Gardner’s star engraving student and successor, Julius Stenberg, worked on Conn’s most extravagant instrument: the 48K Grand Jumbo model sousaphone (above). Built in celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary in 1924, the sousaphone—the largest playable model in the world—depicts the growth and success of the company through engravings of its factories, nearly every type of instrument it manufactured, and much more. It was showcased across the country, including at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Every instrument in Treasures begs for a closer look. One cannot help but wonder, when looking at the C. G. Conn instruments in the Target Gallery, whether the makers knew they were creating timeless treasures that would be revered nearly 100 years later.

Presenting sponsor
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Sponsored by Arizona Office of Tourism, John & Joan DʼAddario Foundation, and John & Mary Ann Mangels
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