Metal Clarinets Pt. I

I am trying to find out some information about a clarinet I have. Someone told me it is made of nickel (it looks like nickel). It is not quite as tall as a typical Bb clarinet and it is not as big around. On the bell, it says “H. Bettoney, Boston, Mass. Columbia Model”. Do you have any information on this clarinet, or could you please tell me where I could find out more about it?

My first clarinet was a metal Pedlar, but I played on many Cundy Bettoney instruments because they were made in Boston, which is my home town … not a very good instrument, but a student instrument and sturdy enough,;but very sharp and in general not well in tune. If you have a metal clarinet, it could be german silver, which I think is nickel or, if you are fortunate, it could be sterling – but it would be marked that way and tarnishing in the manner in which silver does.

Metal clarinets were wonderful and only discontinued because they hurt the prestige of the companies making them. For instance Selmer made a beautiful sterling clarinet, with a double bore. You took off a screwcap on the top, breathed air into the instrument and kept it warm that way. It had many other innovations, but was removed from the catalog because “it hurt the company’s prestige”. That quote is from Robert McGibbon, one of the best repairmen in the US, who worked out of Milwaukee, where I played in the symphony for a while. Mac was considerably my senior and knew the Selmer company of the 20s. I have also seen some of these truly wondrous Selmer silver clarinets. If you are lucky, you may run into a set of them … and may be able to steal them, if you follow me.

Anyway, that is all I know about the Bettoney company in Boston. I remember where the factory was, and they also published clarinet music … this I remember well, but at that point my knowledge ceases. It is probably a Bb instument; they were slightly shorter than the wood, and certainly thinner.

I will never ever forget the thrill of running my fingers over those metal keys and thinking how wondrous it would be to be able to learn to play the thing. I guess I learned … kind of.

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