The Roundtable (RMC)

1960s

Cleveland, Ohio

Elkhart, Indiana

On January 3, 1961, Paul Richards, former general sales manager at Conn, announced the acquisition and merger of the F.A. Reynolds Company, E.K. Blessing Company and Martin Band Instrument Company, among others, into a new company called Richards Music Corp. Based in Elkhart, Indiana, Richards' goal was to bring together a group of manufacturers representing a broad line of instruments under one corporate structure to align on manufacturing, marketing and distribution.

Heinrich Roth remained head of the Reynolds Division, also known as RMC/Reynolds. Richards also contracted to be the exclusive distributors of the Roth viola line from Scherl & Roth (which was not part of the RMC merger).

Instruments produced by these companies during the Richards era all bear an RMC logo engraving. There is some debate whether the "RMC" in the logo stood for Richards Music Corp. or for the "Roundtable of Musical Craftsmen" as the group was informally known and which appeared in advertising.

At the core of RMC's strategy was the creation of a new brass and woodwind line called Medalist. The line was created to take advantage of the sales opportunities created by expanding school band programs (and funding) in the 1960s. The line was initially made up of saxophones and an F-attachment trombone from RMC/Martin and flute, trumpet, cornet and tenor and bass trombone models from RMC/Reynolds. 

Richards used the merger's combined manufacturing resources to produce inventory for the anticipated volume of instrument sales. The presence of an "Elkhart, Ind" engraving on some RMC/Reynolds Medalist models indicates horns that were made at the Blessing factory in Elkhart, Indiana (confirmed by Merle Johnson, former president of Blessing). Other Medalist instruments are generically marked "Made in USA" and are of unknown origin (if not also made by Blessing). There was definite variation in the appearance and construction of instruments from different locations.

1961 advertisement for RMC Medalist instruments from Martin and Reynolds

Paul Rawlins notes that the early student horns produced by RMC/Reynolds were made with low-quality, inexpensive sheet brass. The concept was to put a cheap horn in a durable Samsonite case and sell the package to the student rental market. The approach worked until it was discovered that the low-quality brass used to make the horns could not be repaired without permanent damage to the metal.

1962

According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer story (Sep 14, 1962), 90 craftsmen at the RMC/Reynolds factory manufactured all of the instruments used in the 1962 hit movie, Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" from Warner Brothers. In addition to making 76 trombones (and 110 cornets), the company was required to dig deep into the archives to reproduce the specific dies for a double-bell euphonium featured in the film. It's uncertain if it was the Reynolds, Blessing or Martin vaults that may have had the dies needed for the turn-of-the-century instrument. Each instrument made for the movie carries this engraving, "Made especially for Meredith Willson's 'Music Man' by Richards Musical Instruments Inc."

Building on their relationship to the "Music Man" movie, RMC was a principal sponsor of the 1962 "The Music Man" Marching Band Competition Festival in Mason City, Iowa, held in conjunction with the premiere of the movie. The first place award, won by the Lockport High School Band (Lockport, Illinois), included over $5,000 in Reynolds Contempora brass instruments. RMC also sponsored "The Music Man Contest" for individual musicians between ages 8-18, with national, regional and local award winners. "Music Man"-branded Emperor trumpets, cornets and trombones were produced in conjunction with the contest.

In early summer, Richards Music Corp was changed to Richards Musical Instruments, Inc. The RMC was dropped from advertising mentions of the Reynolds and Martin names, though the logo continued to appear through the end of the year with the "Roundtable of Musical Craftsmen" slogan.

1963

On April 1, 1963, Paul Richards stepped down as President of Richards Musical Instruments. In a letter to THE SCHOOL MUSICIAN magazine, he confirmed: "I have resigned ... and am no longer directly associated with the company. I sincerely hope that the company will continue to serve properly the many music dealers and music educators that have honored the company with their business and their loyalties, and will continue to support music educators in every way possible."

1964

Despite Richards' good intentions, Richards Music and the RMC partnerships dissolved under heavy debt and the various company assets were placed up for public auction on June 13. Wurlitzer bought the rights, registered trademarks, copyrights, patents, engineering records and Elkhart factory of Martin, eventually reselling the brand in 1971 to Leblanc, now part of the Conn-Selmer conglomerate. Maurice Berlin and the Chicago Musical Instrument Co. (CMI) purchased the similar assets of Reynolds and Blessing for more than $200,000 (almost $2M in 2021 dollars). At the time, CMI was one of the largest musical instrument distributors in the world and owned F.E. Olds, Lowrey Organs, Gibson Guitars and several other firms.

On July 21, Berlin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that "the Reynolds division purchase [was made] for sentimental reasons" and reflected on his relationship with Foster Reynolds, who he had coaxed out of retirement in the late 1940s to expand operations at the Olds plant in California, and whose death on the factory floor just four years earlier must have still been fresh in the chairman's mind.

Berlin also told the press that the assets to the E. K. Blessing Company "would be turned over to a group of its employees" led by Merle Johnson (married to Virginia Blessing), restoring it for the time being as a family-owned and -run company.

We'd like to continue the plant in Cleveland if it's feasible, but we don't know whether we can. [...] We intend to keep the Reynolds trade name going. It's a great name in the musical field.

Maurice H. Berlin
Board Chairman, CMI

Just over two weeks later, CMI laid off most Reynolds employees and announced that the company was moving to Texas.

In a separate acquisition, CMI had purchased Caldwell Products Co., "the nation's largest band instrument repair firm," located in the west Texas city of Abilene. Caldwell founder James Caldwell was the general manager of the Olds plant in Fullerton, joining CMI shortly after Foster Reynolds' death. He scouted the Cleveland plant, recommended an operational merger to CMI and on October 1, became the new president and general manager of F.A. Reynolds Band Instruments Co., wholly owned subsidiary of Chicago Musical Instruments Co.

Among the assets that CMI had purchased at the Richards auction were the registered trademarks for "Reynolds", "Contempora", "Emperor" and "Argenta". For the time being, the Reynolds name lived on.

The Scherl & Roth Years
Sunset in the West

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