Just because something is old doesn’t mean that it no longer has any value.
In fact, many musicians will tell you that the vintage status of a trumpet, or its previous owner, could double its value and make it a collectible item.
Telling how old your trumpet is can help you figure out where it came from and what the value of it might be.
It is important not to write off old trumpets just because they aren’t shiny and brand new anymore:
Telling the Age of Your Trumpet:
Trumpets will usually have a serial number on either side of their center valve. Depending on the brand, the serial number can tell you when or where the trumpet was made, allowing you to determine its vintage status and age. It also proves that it is a legitimate trumpet from that company.
What Indicates the Age of a Trumpet?
Serial numbers are a great way to tell the age of a trumpet.
Depending on the serial number and company, you can learn a lot about your model. For example, a Bach trumpet from 1926 may have a #500 serial number.
This would be one of the oldest models of the Bach line.
If it has a longer serial number, such as #175000, that would indicate it is much newer, such as from 1980 in this case.
If you are in the market for a historic trumpet and want to make sure that you are getting the real thing, research the serial numbers of the brand you are buying and cross-check that with the serial number on the instrument.
If the serial number is scratched off, incorrect to what it should be, or missing entirely, you may not want to buy that trumpet.
That isn’t to say that accidents won’t happen, but it will be hard to determine that trumpet’s real age if you aren’t an expert.
You can also tell the age of a trumpet by the material that they are made from. Silver-plated trumpets are older than your average 1950s brass trumpet, and anything made from animal parts (horn, bones, etc.) is most likely an ancient instrument or something recently crafted by hand to look historic.
Using the instrument’s materials helps you get a ballpark idea of the age, but a serial number will give you the exact year or decade it was made.
Where Do I Find the Serial Number on Trumpets?
The serial number on trumpets are located on either side of their center valves.
This is common among trumpets vs. trombones, which are located on the slide receiver on the instrument’s body. They can also be located on the mouthpiece receiver on the trombone.
Trumpets are unique in that their serial numbers are on the valve. However, some trumpets will have serial numbers printed next to the mouthpiece.
This would be on the pipe wherein the mouthpiece is inserted.
If you can’t find the serial number or it has been damaged, you might want to get the trumpet appraised to find its real age or value.
Do All Trumpets Have Serial Numbers?
Not all trumpets will still retain their serial numbers after many years of use or abuse.
For example, a trumpet from a historic war may definitely have lost a lot of its polish and even its serial number, making it incredibly difficult to tell when or where it was made.
Other trumpets might have been handcrafted or made by a hobbyist who wanted to take a shot at making their own instrument. This would definitely not have a serial number, as it was not created in a factory and wouldn’t need to be documented in that way.
If you buy a handcrafted trumpet, but the seller claims that it is a Bach or other brand of the trumpet, check for a serial number and make sure there is one.
Finally, factory errors or mis-stamped trumpets could definitely lead to missing serial numbers. Therefore, a legitimate trumpet may not always have its serial number due to an error.
This would be another reason to take your trumpet to an appraiser to have it dated or checked for legitimacy properly.
What are Old Trumpets Made Of?
The very first trumpet instruments or horns were made from natural material such as:
- or any number of materials that early humans had at their disposal to make a lot of noise.
In ancient Greece, trumpets such as those were used in war or to signal danger, fire, royal decrees, and announcements, or even incoming attacks. Bronze and silver trumpets were even discovered in King Tut’s tomb in Egypt!
In the case of this article, however, vintage or first-edition trumpets were made from unlacquered brass-composite materials or even from solid brass. Some 1930s trumpets had plated silver in their construction.
Other trumpets were made from expensive materials, such as gold, sterling silver, or copper. These were known to make a very unique sound and timbre that resembles that of today’s brass trumpet, which became the preferred metal in trumpet construction.
Not to mention that solid gold or gold and silver-plated trumpets would have been heavier and made a different sound than the one you are probably used to in the modern trumpet.
Are Old Trumpets Worth More than New Trumpets?
Vintage trumpets can be worth a lot of money if you are selling them in the right place.
There are plenty of vintage trumpets up for auction on sites like eBay, but the really valuable trumpets are the ones that are sold in antique auctions in places like Christie’s Auction, which is an auction house and society that was founded in 1766.
For example, one of the most expensive trumpets ever auctioned was Miles Davis’ Moon and Stars trumpet, which sold for $275,000 at Christie’s Auction.
Now, this is definitely an outlier.
The trumpet you’ve had sitting in your attic from the 1930s might have value because it is the first edition, but the price will not come near that of a famous trumpet player from the past.
If your trumpet was played in a World War, by a famous musician, or was owned by a famous royal or aristocrat, perhaps that valued price could go up.
However, your basic vintage trumpet, even with the right buyer, wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as new trumpets, which can cost upwards of $3,000.
When is a Trumpet Too Old to Be of Any Use?
Even trumpets from the 1930s can still work, have air pass through them, and make a sound – but is that considered “useful?”
Almost any trumpet, even a trumpet made from a horn in ancient human history, can still produce some sound. However, you wouldn’t use that trumpet at an official band concert or musical performance, would you?
More often than not, an old trumpet that no longer “works” or makes any sound results from the trumpet valves blocking airflow or being badly positioned for the proper sound to appear. There is also the possibility that a trumpet from World War II took so much damage or abuse that it no longer works because of blockages or damages.
Even new trumpets can suffer from improper construction, factory errors, or badly positioned valves. If your trumpet isn’t making a sound, consider getting it looked at or repaired.
However, just because your 1930s trumpet produces a sound, that doesn’t mean it will be as clear or beautiful as when it was first created.