Monday, March 1, 2010

Bugle Calls

"Official" Boy Scout Bugle

Our Troop 1 BSA Unadilla Scout Museum contains a number of brass "Boy Scout" bugles in various states of condition, several of which date back to the early days of the movement--the 'teens and 20s. While examining a set of c.1914-1916 Scout Gum cards recently, I was pleased to find this reference to bugles on the back of Card No. 1:

"For scout camps especially, the bugle finds its place in daily Scout life. At sunrise, the Reveille or awakening call arouses the Scouts to breakfast and the start of another days' activity. At noontime, perhaps the sound is even more welcome when the bugle calls the hungry ones to mess and perhaps the most unwelcome call is Retreat at sunset, which calls everyone to the Colors, after which follows Evening Mess, the Camp Fire and finally to close the day--Taps and all retire."

This blog entry started out be about bugles, but the issues about "official" Boy Scout-branded bugles and Scout Gum cards are similar. Between 1907 and 1916, several companies tried to capitalize on the popularity of the Scouting movement by branding their products with the name "Scout" and using graphic images of Boy Scouts to promote their merchandise. In 1916, the Boy Scouts of America received a congressional charter that granted the organization exclusive rights to the term “Boy Scout,” the uniforms, and the insignia. The BSA protected this right by very aggressively pursuing all infringements (not unlike it is doing regarding the unauthorized use of its logos today). As a result, any privately printed series of cards that were issued after 1916 were relatively short-lived. In spite of this, there are several very attractive series of postcards published both before and after that date.

The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, and they published the first "American” Boy Scout Handbook in 1911. On page 361 of that handbook, in the APPENDIX - BOY SCOUT EQUIPMENT, is an illustration of a bugle and the statement: “Bugle. It is recommended that the standard bugle used in an army or drum corps be used. Each Patrol should purchase these from a local music store.” By 1913, the statement, “Each Patrol should purchase these from a local music store.” had been replaced by the statement, “These may be purchased from a local music store or National Headquarters will quote prices.” BSA National Headquarters had begun selling bugles.

There were two bugles listed in early 1910s BSA catalogs. These early catalogs used the technically correct term of trumpet, not bugle. Listed were No. 1064 BOY SCOUT TRUMPET and No. 1065 BOY SCOUT TRUMPET, a “higher quality instrument” than No. 1064. No. 1064 was gone from the BSA catalog by 1917, so 1917 and 1918 BSA catalogs contained only the No. 1065 BOY SCOUT TRUMPET.

Three significant changes occurred in 1919. First the terminology in the BSA catalog changed from “trumpet” to “bugle.” Second, a higher quality bugle was introduced, Catalog No.1415, so that there were once again two bugles in the catalog, No. 1065 and No. 1415. Third, the manufacture of the No. 1065 bugle was transferred to Rex International Products of Brooklyn, New York, at that time the largest producer of bugles in America, with their brand name “Rexcraft.” There is strong evidence to suggest that the manufacturer of the No. 1415 bugle was C. G. Conn Ltd. of Elkhart, Indiana, another major band instrument manufacturer.

Rexcraft Official Boy Scout Bugle

Over the next 80 years ads filled Boys Life magazines, Boy Scout Handbooks for Official Boy Scout Bugles from several different manufacturers: Conn, King, Rexcraft, made in various finishes and materials, even a WWII "plastic" military-inspired version made by the Tennessee Eastman Corporation, a Kodak subsidiary.

A very comprehensive History of American Boy Scout Bugles Using Bugles, Handbooks, Equipment Catalogs and Boys Life Magazines by Bruce McCrea can be found at
which provided much of the information included here.

Actually, the Boy Scout bugle is far from being "history." The folks at have produced a modern improved version of the brass instrument Scouts used to complete their Bugler Merit Badge and blow their lungs out nearly a hundred years ago. Their new Philmonttm G Bugle celebrates the Boy Scouts of America 100th Anniversary while meeting today's requirements of ease of play, tone quality, intonation, and construction quality and still be available for an economical price. While maintaining some of the flavor of the traditional 1892 model bugle and the traditional Boy Scout bugle, they have elected to take advantage of 108 additional years of brass instrument manufacturer along with an ISO 9000 qualified factory to deliver the best of modern day product. It's a beautiful instrument! Curiously, its only for sale on their website, you won't find it in BSA's catalog...

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