H.N. White and the First Student Line Instruments

Ron Berndt, 2014


The first band instrument maker to recognize the emergent school music movement in the twentieth century is generally thought to be J.W. York. In 1913, York created the Grand Rapids Band Instrument Company as a wholly owned subsidiary to make lesser quality instruments in competition with mail-order and store stencils from off-shore. York had noticed the increasing volume these stores were doing as bands and occasionally orchestras began to appear in the schools in major cities. The store horns were not of a quality a more skilled player would want to use as an adult in a town band or similar ensemble, but for someone just learning, or whose interest was nothing more than curiosity, they were an affordable and somewhat functional beginner’s instrument.


York launched this venture in 1913, but perhaps the phenomena had already been noticed several years earlier in Cleveland. In 1909, Henderson White opened a factory at 5225 Superior Street (shown below as it appeared after several expansions – the original building is at the far left with the flagpole on top).

With substantially more manufacturing space than White had utilized previously at a rented loft on Erie street, the “King” brand of products could expand. However, White continued to offer stencils.


Henderson White (b. July 16th 1873), a carpenter’s son from Romeo Michigan, left school at age 12 and apprenticed to a builder named Galloway following the death of his father. By age 14, he obtained work in the Detroit music store of Mr. O.F. Berden, learning instrument repair and engraving. At 16, he moved to Cleveland to work for H.E. McMillin in a store like that he opened in 1894. McMillin sold stenciled brass instruments attributed to “Sartel, Paris” or “Geo Barings, London, Eng.” and further reading “HE McMillin Sole Factor Cleveland O.” In his new store, White could build a few trombones at his workbench but had to employ the same methods, even buy from the same supplier as McMillin, for the rest. One of the earliest is pictured above, still marked in the style and font White used for McMillin’s.


By 1897, White was selling stencils of medium quality under trade names instead of attributed to imaginary makers. Some of these were Silver Star, Imperial and Union. The first cornet sold under the Silver Star name was a Courtois Arbuckle style cornet of the late nineteenth century.


At the workbench in the back of his store, White was also building “King” brand trombones - named for trombone artist Thomas King who had offered input on the design. The King trombone, became White’s own store brand and attracted enough demand to justify building for other stores as well. This necessitated the expansion into the rented space on Erie street and that, in turn, allowed White to add cornets and eventually baritones to his King brand. A 1906 King Vocal cornet and a 1910 trumpet are below. Cornet production probably started in 1897 or 1898. Trumpets likely followed later.



This utilizes reversed construction, which many wrongly believed began with the Martin Committee.

Through-out that expansion into producing high quality instruments under the King name, White continued selling stencils to keep his store shelves and catalogs full as well as those of his growing distribution network. An example would be this late 1890s “Union” stencil of a Bohland & Fuchs, the Bohemian workshop that was the supplier of all of White’s early stencil products before World War One.


By 1909, the new factory was needed and it tripled in size by 1917. Starting sometime after 1906 (based on the date of origin of the Conn PerfectedWonder), White began importing the Bohland & Fuchs “American Model” stenciled as the “Imperial, H.N. White, Sole Agent, Cleveland O.”. There are rumors that the bell on the example below is sterling, however there is no evidence to support or refute that dubious assertion examining the horn non-destructively.


With ever growing capacity, one must ask the question why White continued to import stencils of medium quality rather than focus on his professional line exclusively. Certainly the market demand was extant to support the company on that line alone and these stencils represented a lesser instrument relative to his own. The most logical assumption one may make is that White was not one to turn down any revenue stream, and he must have seen the demand for these beginner/student appropriate models expanding as York did. If he saw the trend in 1909, and that is why the stencils persisted after the move to Superior Street, then it is Henderson White, not James York, who was truly the first to enter the student instrument market.


Further support for this possibility can be seen by White’s continued interest in stencils and the horns that followed the Imperial pictured previously. Starting around 1911 or 1912, White built a professional grade cornet of the Perfected Wonder style under the King brand named the “Special”.


The receiver, leadpipe and tuning slide were all lost from this example and recreation based on the components of similar King models of the period was necessary. The horn is a remarkably large bore at .485”.


This horn never penetrated the market, an indication of which is a Fillmore Music House advertisement in their Musical Messenger for October of 1916 (below) stating “you have never seen this model”. It is the author’s belief that this horn probably went out of production the year before that advertisement ran as White revamped his product line in 1915 with the new Master Model horns and the second generation of the King Perfecto. The Special was contemporary to the first Perfecto (an imitation of a Holton Couturier) and to the Improved Long Cornet and Improved Vocal Model cornet. All of those went out of production around that same time.


When the Special flopped, White had an investment in tooling that he could leverage for another product. This author believes that product to be a very unusual horn built by White, but stenciled as if it had not been. That horn is the “Imperial” below, that replaced the Bohland & Fuchs built product. The same cornet was also stenciled by McMillin who had launched a store brand named “Crown” in 1901 after seeing the success of his former apprentice with the King brand. It is a .485” bore.


In 1920, this instrument was renamed in the H.N. White Company catalog and was designated as the “King Junior” model. The description of this Model 1070 read in part: “This is a “Long Model” cornet especially built to meet the needs of beginners”. It also justified the lower cost as being achieved through simpler design and trim – possibly a reference to the lack of the Special’s reversed construction. The “Junior” name is the first open acknowledgement by White of the target market for such an instrument being students, but that market would justify White’s extended use of stencil instruments as well as making this horn himself. The Junior continued to be built with the rope accented ferrules above (a McMillin Crown brand detail) until McMillin’s death at his desk in his music store in Cleveland in 1924. Below is a 1935 Junior with the standard King ferrules.

In 1925, White bought the neighboring Cleveland Band Instrument Company. Cleveland began after World War One and built high quality instruments. The 1925 Cleveland trumpet below was built as such a horn and is easily the equal of similar period models from firms such as Martin, Vega and Buescher.


Cleveland, and its sub-brand American Standard, remained independent until shut down during the depression. White returned to stenciling, applying those names to supplier-built horns of far lesser quality. The White Student Prince pea-shooter below is another by the same supplier.

The student Prince was the last of the H.N. White stencil products and ended before World War Two. By 1938, Cleveland was a student brand, built in the King factory as was American Standard and the Junior became the Cleveland 601 (below) through 1941.


Just before the war, White introduced an additional student line brand, Gladiator. The Gladiator trumpet below was one of the first made, built in 1940. The Gladiator brand disappeared with the war, but returned briefly in the early 1950s. Ultimately, it was one too many student brand names and was dropped in favor of Cleveland and American Standard. In 1962, White rebranded American Standard into Tempo in search of a more modern image as sales fell behind Conn and others.



After World War Two, the band instrument business was dominated by the student market, ultimately creating the opening for Yamaha and the Jupiter to move-in on and eclipse the American manufacturers. By the end of the century, fully half of the band instrument market would be catalog instruments, often made in China, sold under ever changing nameplates, and of mostly inferior quality. In effect, the student instrument market came full circle back to its origins in cheap off-shore stencil instruments of very low quality and durability. For those seeking a better instrument, EBay provides a thriving market for older, higher quality, instruments for students and the jury of history has not yet spoken with regard to the longevity of the modern stencil model.


Regardless of where the future of the student market leads, H.N. White was a pioneer of what would become the vast majority of instrument sales in the United States by the end of the twentieth century   – and perhaps was actually the first.

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