Since its launch in 1974, the Sovereign cornet has been the benchmark for all brass band cornets, but it has gone through various models and changes - including a complete redesign in 1984. This article aims to explain the development of the instrument and the differences between models.
For serial number information go here: Besson (Boosey and Hawkes) serial number list.
Sovereign by Boosey & Hawkes AKA “round stamp” (From 1974)
This is the original sovereign cornet supplied in a blue wooden case. There were three models (including the soprano cornet) launched in 1974.
- 920 Medium bore (.460 bore)
- 921 Large bore (.466 bore)
- 925 Soprano (Eb) - with the tuning slide in the bell crook.
The 920 medium bore was almost identical to the preceding Imperial model and had a second main tuning slide where the lead pipe entered the third valve. This is sometimes referred to as the "flower pot" model due to the shape of its bell flare.
The 921 was a completely different instrument of a larger bore which took many of its features from the Besson International cornet which was also manufactured by Boosey and Hawkes. When people talk about the famous “round stamp” cornet, it is the 921 large bore they are referring to. It described as such because it had the Boosey and Hawkes globe logo engraved on the bell.
|The famous "round stamp"|
|920 medium bore|
|921 large bore|
|921 third valve trigger|
Sovereign by Boosey & Hawkes still with the“round stamp” (From late 70's)
At some point in the late 70’s a new medium bore cornet was produced based on the 921 and designted “923”. This had the same valves but lever style triggers rather than the ring one on the 921. The rare 922 cornet is a 921 without triggers and seems to have been sold into mainland europe rather than the brass band market. The last of the 921 cornets had lever style triggers and a pinky hook instead of a ring.
- 922 Large Bore but without triggers (.466 bore)
- 923 Medium Bore (.460 bore)
|922 large bore|
|923 medium bore|
Besson Sovereign (1984 - Present)
Designed by Dr Richard Smith. Click here for articles explaining how,and why, he designed it. http://www.smithwatkins.com/pdf/cornet84.pdf
These have redesigned, more streamlined looking valves and have “Besson London” engraved on the bell. At some point in the 1990’s they started having the word “Besson” engraved on the mouthpiece receiver.
- 927 Medium bore (.460 bore)
- 928 Large bore (.466 bore)
|928 large bore|
Over the years these have changed slightly:
The later GS variant had a copper bell and was mainly sold in the US and other export markets. At some point they changed from Monel to stainless steel valves, but went back to Monel before returning to stainless steel when manufacturing moved to France.
Second valve tuning slide
Originally pointed forward like the original sovereign. Eventually pointed towards the player to stop water collecting in it.
Earlier models have "cockspur" water keys with long levers pointing backwards - guaranteed to get caught in your band jacket when you go to play a solo. These were replaced with conventional short ones in the 1980's.
Long vs Short Receiver
All sovereign cornets were supplied with a Denis Wick mouthpiece. If you try a modern Wick mouthpiece in an older Sovereign cornet you will see that it sticks out further than an older Wick mouthpiece does. This may just be a coincidence, but the theory is that at some point Wick introduced mouthpieces with the suffix “L” meaning “large”. These had a fractionally larger taper. In the 1990’s Boosey & Hawkes seem to have changed their cornet mouthpiece receiver to this new, longer, size and Wick may have adjusted theirs to suit. The longer receiver may have been to accommodate the engraving of the Besson name. Whatever happened, the older instruments do seem to work better with the older style Wick mouthpieces.
During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s there were large lottery grants available to brass bands for purchase of full instrument sets which led to a battle between Yamaha and Boosey & Hawkes. Prices were kept as low as possible and demand was considerable and the quality of instruments became less consistent. This has led to the term “pre lottery” for a sovereign instrument made before this period. These are considered to be of better quality.
The standard finish for these instruments was bright silver plate but they were also made in lacquer. From my own experience dealers would often get a lacquered cornet plated in order to meet an order for a set because there seemed to be too many lacquered ones being made compared to silver. The quality of third party plating may not be as good as a factory plated one especially if the instrument was over-buffed to remove the lacquer.
The peak period for lottery grants to brass bands were 1996 - 1999. Some of the alleged issues reported with sovereign cornets supplied in the latter part of this period include insufficiently lapped stainless steel valves, leaking joints (especially at the mouthpiece reciever), stays popping off due to tension in the instrument combined with poor soldering. There have also been allegations of leaks being sealed using cyanoacrylate (i.e. super glue) gel. Whatever the truth of this it did damage Boosey and Hawkes reputation.
928E echo cornet
In 1992 Boosey and Hawkes made a limited number of sovereign echo cornets (probably around 100) based on the 928. These have an additional valve in the bell which, when operated by the thumb, allows sound to be diverted into a mute. This is for use in a number of novelty pieces popular with brass bands like Alpine Echoes. The muted bell is removable and stores in the case allowing the cornet to be played like a normal 928.
|928E Echo Cornet|
Since 2009 the 927 and 928 have been manufactured in France by Courtois, although Richard Smith has stated that they have made some changes to his original design. The current Besson range can be found on their web site here.
“Imperial Besson” model by Boosey and Hawkes (c 1980)
For a few years from approx 1980 they made a version of the 923 Sovereign without a first valve trigger, and with a wider bell flare similar to the old 920 which they called model 723. These were badged "Imperial Besson by Boosey and Hawkes", but should not to be confused with the "Besson Imperial" which was long out of production by then. At the time I was told this was to fulfil military orders, but that might be a myth. Also not to be confused with "Besson International BE-723" which is a different instrument. They came in sovereign style cases which were coloured black instead of blue.
(the photo that was here has been removed at the request of the owner)
Besson "International" 723
Not to be confused with the earlier International cornet which was in many ways the predecessor of the Sovereign cornet, the 723 International utilised the sovereign 927 medium bore valve block, slides and triggers, but with the wider bell flare of the "Imperial Besson" model (also shared with the 600 series cornet).
|International 723 Cornet|
Besson Prestige (2001- )
This was developed in consultation with Roger Webster (for a video of a masterclass where Roger talks about the development of the Prestige cornet click here). The leadpipe and bell are identical tapers to the 928 Sovereign but the shape of the bends is different to improve the response and reduce the effort required. The model number is “2028” indicating its roots in the 928 sovereign. The prestige cornet has a third valve trigger but no first valve trigger. Instead it has a main tuning slide trigger. On Boosey and Hawkes made instruments this had a tendency to stick so was redesigned with a “miniball” linkage (as found on rotary valve trumpets) when relaunched by Buffet Crampon. It also comes with an additional set of heavier valve caps and has black onyx, rather than mother of pearl, inlays on the valve buttons.
York Variants (2005-2010)
Following the collapse of Boosey and Hawkes in 2005, Schreiber (AKA Keilwerth, who made the parts for sovereign cornets for B&H) decided to start assembling instruments themselves in Germany. These were sold under the name York Preference with model number 3027 and 3028. A version of the Prestige cornet was sold as the York Eminence. Production of these ended in 2010 as Buffet Crampon (Courtois) started to regain market share with their relaunched Besson range. These have stainless steel valves (as do the current French made “Besson” models).
LMI Variants (2005- )
Some of the staff from Boosey and Hawkes formed London Musical Instruments and have had some success making and selling “Sovereign style” cornets based on the 927 and 928 designs badged as “Royal” and with model numbers RO28 and RE27 respectively. The valves have been redesigned with better felting to reduce noise. Click here for further information.
Possible of reintroduction of the 921 “round stamp”.
Rumours circulate that Courtois have the original tooling or detailed drawings for the 921 cornet and have considered reintroducing it. However, sales of all instruments are so suppressed at the moment that this seems unlikely.
Having played on a 921 for many years and then a 928 (made in the late 80’s) I would say that the 928 is the better instrument. The 921 was quite stuffy and benefited from the large throated Wick mouthpieces. The 928 is more flexible, but is harder for the average player to get a nice sound from on a Wick mouthpiece. This might be why the “round stamp” is still so popular. The key to getting a 928 working well is mouthpiece choice. It seems that the smaller receiver works better with mouthpieces that have the correct taper. Newer 928’s need the larger taper mouthpiece they are designed for. many players benefit from using a mouthpiece that has equal depth, but a bit more resistance (Alliance, Curry, Warburton or even the Wick 4.5).