Trumpet Mouthpiece

Project details

  • Object number – 7938-JR
  • Material – Copper Alloy (brass)
  • Place of Origin – Unknown
  • Date – 18th,19th century
  • Context – South Church area (JR3797B)
  • Location – Vault
  • Category – Entertainment

Excavated in 2013, this mouthpiece to a brass instrument was found with a clay tobacco pipestem wedged in its shank, preventing the horn from being blown. Perhaps a practical joke, or simply an acquaintance tired of hearing this horn every morning. While it is possible that the pipestem was unintentionally lodged in the mouthpiece after deposition, the chances of this happening are limited. If intentionally placed, the mouthpiece and the pipestem provides us with a few clues as to when this might have occurred.

The form of the mouthpiece suggests that it belonged to a natural, or valve-less horn, such as a bugle. The tubular valve horn, like the modern trumpet, was developed in the early-1800s. Prior to this, horns were limited to a single harmonic series, and changing that series required the addition of crooks (curved tube) and shanks (straight tube). While natural horns were widely used in classical composure through the 19th century, their use in the military began in antiquity and persists through the present.

To date, archaeologists have uncovered two horn mouthpieces at Jamestown. The first was found in an early 1607-1610 pit feature, and was missing its shank. The second, described here, was found in the upper layers of an excavation unit just south of the church, and likely dates to the American Revolution. The tobacco pipestem lodged in the mouthpiece was manufactured in the mid-18th century, further supporting this date. Jamestown Island served as a temporary posts for the Continental Army and Virginia Militia during the American Revolution, and played a supporting role in the 1781 Battle of Greensprings. It is possible that this mouthpiece, with its tobacco pipestem wedged inside, was discarded at this time.

Was this an early celebration of April Fool’s Day? Probably not, but it is certainly true that the first day of April has been recognized as a day of jokes, pranks, and deception in American and English society since the late-17th century. While Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists have yet to uncover earlier practical jokes, who knows what this year will bring. Stayed tuned until April of 2018.