Antiques & Collectibles: Fireman’s speaking trumpet a key tool for early chiefs

Question: We own a large, brass horn my husband discovered in the cellar of an old house we purchased during the 1960s. It is 17 inches long and measures 6½ inches in diameter at its open end. The man who sold us the house said he bought it at a flea market, where he was told it was one of many used by firefighters in the 1800s. I hope you can provide some additional information about this horn and its purpose. — R.C., Mantua Township

Answer: You have described a fireman’s speaking trumpet, used by early fire chiefs to direct vocal commands to firefighters. Such commands could be heard above the furor of roaring fires and the loud noises made by firefighting equipment.

Mention of firemen’s painted tin speaking horns in Europe was made by 16th-century German historians and noted in New York City during the mid- to late 1700s. Considered a very practical instrument that assisted coordination of emergency firefighting efforts, speaking horns made of brass were eventually used to amplify the orders of commanding officers.

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As information about the popular horns spread across America, high demand for them resulted in the production of nickel-plated brass and copper ones as well as steel models.

Folks who collect antique firefighting equipment or associated memorabilia usually specialize in one of three kinds of speaking trumpets. Some are plain working models such as yours, others are parade trumpets used in processions and at ceremonies, and a number are presentation trumpets, often made of precious metals and elaborately engraved, that were given as gifts or awards to honored fire chiefs and retirees.

This year, several working trumpets in very good condition brought $150 to $225.

Question: I am writing to inquire about a very nice piece of costume jewelry marked “Coro Sterling.” It belonged to my late mother-in-law and was itemized in her will as “Carnegie Hall violin pin.” The pin is a three-dimensional miniature gold violin, 3¼ inches long and 1 inch wide, decorated with red, green, blue and clear rhinestones and very detailed. I hope you can tell me something about the pin, its maker and value, if any. —H.P., Spring Lake

Answer: Your somewhat rare figural vermeil pin was made by Coro Inc., one of the oldest and largest American costume jewelry manufacturers. Founded by Emanuel Cohn and Carl Rosenberger as Cohn and Rosenberger in 1921, the company’s name was changed to Coro in 1943.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the firm was famous for its “jelly belly” jewelry decorated with multicolored glass and Lucite cabochons. It was also well-known for its Coro Duette brooches composed of a pair of matching pins that could be worn linked together or separately, and Tremblers, each pin decorated with a small attached part on a spring that trembled when the pin was worn.

By the 1970s, changing fashion and accessory styles as well as competition from foreign markets caused Coro to lose its dominance, and the company closed in 1979.

Your Carnegie Hall violin pin is particularly collectible because it debuted in 1947 at the same time United Artists’ popular “Carnegie Hall” movie was released. The film’s story about the famous New York City concert venue, built in 1891 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, featured appearances by actors portraying prominent deceased Carnegie Hall artists as well as the personal participation of contemporary Carnegie Hall celebrities.

A Coro Carnegie Hall violin pin in excellent condition sold recently for $237.

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