Saxophone/king sax, late 1920 era
I have my great uncle's king sax, serial # 957--. I don't really want to sell it, but my great aunt, his sister is needing money. I can tell you that the finish is tarnished, I was afraid to polish it. It is silver matte finished and has the original hard case, matching # mouthpiece, and some extra parts. My main question is what this sax may be worth if I were to sell it on eBay or such? I have no idea what key it is in, or what model it is, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Mike
Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. It's been a busy week and I've finally got a few minutes to tell you what you have. Unfortunately you didn't give me much info and I'm having to extrapolate what I can from your message. So I'm going to give you all the options and hopefully it will be of some help.
Based on the serial number the saxophone in your possession is likely an original King. It should say King, made by H.N. White Cleveland, Ohio. If there is anything else on the bell it is a different model. If it says "New King" or "Tone King" then it would have been made by Keilwerth and have noting to do with the King company. This is a common mix up due to the similar names.
According to the serial number this horn was manufactured in the later half of the 1920's this was the era known as the "sax craze" as the saxophone was as popular if not more so than the guitar is now. Jazz was the new "pop" music of the day and everyone and their brother was learning the saxophone. Therefore manufactures like King, Conn, Buescher, Martin, Selmer, etc. were selling saxophones faster than they could make them. The result is saxophones from this era are very common and turn up in closets, attics, basements, yard sales, pawn shops, and just about any where antiques can be found. Most are not in that great of condition however every now and then a real gem will show up.
Regarding what type of saxophone, the most commonly produced is the alto and tenor. A tenor is bigger than an alto but if your not sure and you don't have them to compare they can easily be recognized by the shape of the neck. An alto sax neck will have one bend. If held at the proper angle can look like the number 7. A tenor saxophone neck will have 2 bends and will have a "hump" or kind of resemble an "S". The alto is pitched in Eb and the tenor is pitched in Bb. By being pitched in different keys it allows the saxophone player to only learn one set of fingerings and be able to play all the different sizes of saxophones. However the music has to be transposed. So if the alto sax player sees a middle C on the staff he will actually be sounding an Eb on the piano. But if a tenor sax player sees the same note he will use the same fingering but will sound a Bb on the piano. This can be confusing but saxophone players learn to work with it.
There are a few more possibilities, you may have a C-melody. A C-melody looks almost exactly like a tenor with the same shape in the neck, however it's a little smaller, thus higher pitched. The purpose of the C-melody was to allow the saxophone player to play directly from a piano score or hymnal without having to transpose. Again same fingerings but the note sounded matched the other concert pitched instruments. C-melodies fell out of favor in the 1930's as big bands preferred the use of the Eb and Bb saxophones. By the time the United States entered WWII production of C-melodies was completely discontinued. if your not sure if you have a tenor or C-melody, you will need to take the horn to a professional and have them look it over.
As far as what it is worth, is very difficult to say. As I stated before saxophones from this era were made in great numbers. This drives the price of them down. Also they lack the ergonomics found in modern horns therefore less comfortable to play. There are often intonation problems with horns from this era. Therefore they are not as desirable to sax players. However there are some who collect old saxophones and love having something like this in their collection. As long as it's an alto or tenor, the price can run from a $100 to $500 depending on condition and the buyer. Often horns from this time need repair and that can have an impact so what ever the repair cost is that would deduct from the value. Often the cost of a complete re-pad / overhaul, would be greater than the horns total value.
Just by chance if this is a C-melody it's value is going to be very, very low. Even if it's in pristine condition I would not place the value of a C-melody at more than $100 and that is only if it's pristine. I've had a few come into my store that the owner wanted to sell. I think the most I've ever offered for one was $25. Usually I turn them down as I will not be able to get my money out of the repair cost. Most collectors will love to have a C-melody just to say they have one and will sometimes play it. They know they are not going to get their money back out of it. If they make the investment to have it repaired then it's a matter of love for the instrument and joy of the music. Not a monetary gain.
There is the possibility you may have something else and that would be a soprano or a baritone. King made the soprano in 3 configurations, straight, curved and a saxello model. The straight is often mistaken for a metal clarinet. However it has a more tapered bore and bigger bell. The curved looks like a very small alto but the neck is not detachable and at a sharper angle than the alto. The saxello combines the best of both and has a slightly bent neck and a bell that tips out at 90 degrees from the rest of the body. It will also say saxello on the bell. The soprano is pitched in Bb like the tenor but is one octave higher. King also made a C-soprano which complimented the C-melody but to the best of my knowledge only in the straight configuration. If you have a soprano you will have to have it professionally appraised as the value of these can fluctuate wildly. The C-soprano and saxello are the most rare, and the saxello demand a premium value.
The Baritone saxophone, (bari sax) is the largest of the saxophones King made. I doubt you have one as they are big and not that common. When held in the upright position they almost come up the the height of a grown mans belt, plus they are easily recognized by a 360 degree loop in the body at the top where the neck attaches. However some King bari saxes did not have a detachable neck. If it's a bari you will need to have it professionally appraised.
If you need help identifying the sax you have go to this link.
click on a few of the different models until you find one that closely matches the details you have. Pay attention to the key location and configuration. If you would prefer, you can send me some photos directly to my e-mail at email@example.com
Finally if you need to find someone to take your sax to, go to www.napbirt.org and do a tech search for someone in your area. Just ask them if they have experience with old saxophones from the 1920's before you just hand it over for an appraisal.
Again I'm sorry this is so long winded and I know much will not apply to your instrument, but I'm trying to cover my bases here just in case. If you would like I would love to see a few photos of your saxophone. You can send them to my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll look them over and get back to you in a day or so.
I hope this helps