Saxophone/conn tenor saxophone

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Question
I recently acquired a conn tenor saxophone
model, #1119954, ser#(I think) is M 251502

Can you give approx. age and a little more about this horn.
I believe it was made in the 1930's.

thank you

Answer
Brian,

Thanks for the question. To be honest I would like to see some photos of the instrument you have. I suspect you might have something very valuable, but I would need to see photos to know for sure.

Based on the little info you gave me what you may have is a Conn New Wonder transitional model. This particular model is sometimes called the Chu Berry as it was horn preferred by a famous sax player named ,Leon (Chu) Berry in the 1930's. You can read more about him here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chu_Berry

However there is likely a chance based on the info that the horn you have is not a Chu-Berry and it may not even be a tenor. This is why I need to see some photos. Here is a little history of the model I believe you have.

Conn started making saxophones in the late 19th century. By the time Jazz became the pop music of the day in the late teens and early 20's the popularity of the saxophone was as big if not bigger than the electric guitar is now. Therefore companies like Conn, Buescher, Martin, King, Selmer, etc. were pumping out saxophones in the 10's of thousands each year. This time period we affectionately refer to as the "Sax craze". In the 1920's their "meat and potatoes" instrument was known officially as the "New Wonder". It was a great horn and jazz players flocked to it. Then in the mid 1930's Conn introduced the "Artist Model" and these are commonly known as "Lady Face" or "Naked Lady" as they often had engraving of a womans face and sometimes full nude bust. The Artist model was produced from roughly 1936 until 1972. However during the transition between models Conn used up the older parts from the New Wonder models until they ran out. This resulted in a number of instruments that were a mix between the two. Often these would have the key work of the older New Wonder but the bell keys and left hand pinkie table were from the newer Artist model. Also for a transitional model to be considered a true Chu-Berry it has to have the newer "Art Deco" style engraving with the sharp angles, boxes, etc and may have the lady face as well. The older New Wonder had a more flowery style engraving and likely did not have a lady engraved on it, but there are some that do. Also it has to have what is known as "split" bell keys. Meaning the 2 large keys on the bell are on opposite sides of the bell. There were some Chu-Berrys with both bell keys on the left side of the bell, these are great horns, but are not as sought after as the split bell models.

Regarding the numbers you gave me... 1119954 is a patent number. Prior to 1929, all saxophones made in the U.S. carried this patent number. Also it may have a date of December 18, 1914. That was the date the patent was issued. What this is referring to is a manufacturing method where the tone holes are drawn from the same brass that make up the body tube. Prior to 1914, flutes and saxophones were made by cutting holes in the body and the tone hole chimneys were then soldered back on to the brass body. This created problems as the solder joints would sometimes break loose or leak as saliva and other acidic "stuff" would break down the solder joints. By drawing them out of the body tube, there was no longer any joint and therefore nothing to break. This patent was issued to a Mr. Verne Powell who was a flute maker. Today his company is still making some of the most sough after, and most expensive, concert flutes in the world. All manufactures in the United States who used this patent had to pay a royalty to Mr. Powell until 1939. This made Mr. Powell a very rich man.

There may also be under the patent number a letter. Either a T or a C. If you have a T than you indeed have a tenor saxophone. There may or may not be a catalog number of 10M stamped somewhere on the body as well. If you have a C than you have a C-melody. The C-Melody looks very much like the tenor sax except it is a little smaller. It is considered an obsolete instrument today. By the time the U.S. entered WWII, pretty much all manufactures had discontinued them. However in the 1920's they were selling them faster than they could make them. As the C-melody played in concert pitch, unlike the alto and tenor which are transposing instruments, it can play directly from piano music or out of a hymnal without the player having to transpose the part. This made it very popular during the sax craze. However the jazz bands never adopted it and preferred the more robust tenor sax. Now the C-melodies tend to show up in the strangest places. Attics, basements, garage sales, etc. Needless to say they are not worth very much and most are in various states of dis-repair. There are some sax players who will buy one so that they can say they have a C-melody knowing they can buy one for next to nothing and then pay to have it restored. However they will never get their investment back out of it. I've had a few come into my store that people wanted to sell. I believe the most I've ever offered for one of them was $40 as it was in fairly good condition and only need a basic re-pad which I normally charge over $500 for.

The serial number you gave me yields a production date of 1932 to 1933. However the patent number means it was produced prior to 1929. This is not really a surprise as it's a transitional instrument. Likely the body tube was produced earlier and then set in the inventory until it was pulled and completed. Also Conn was not known for keeping very accurate records regarding production numbers and all serial number list from all manufactures are fudged a bit. This prevents competitors from figuring out exactly how many instruments each factory is producing and if numbers are rising or falling. So the best we can do is say the sax you have was produced in the late 1920's or early 30's.

Before I close I would like to ask that you resist any efforts to "clean" the sax. Many instruments from this time period were silver plated and that silver will tarnish to black. I've seen instruments destroyed by well meaning sellers who try to polish them up with off the shelf polishing products. The products are often very abrasive and will get in to the rods, screws and keys and freeze everything up. Also they can destroy the pads. Unless you have the ability to disassemble the horn and clean all the excess don't attempt to polish it. Buyers and repair techs will respect you and pay more if the horn is in factory condition.

If you could send me some photos to my E-mail I would love to take a look at it and tell you exactly what you have. A good clear photo of the serial number area would be a big help as well.

my email is
charles@harrisbandinstruments.com

Thanks

Charles H.  

Saxophone

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Charles Harris

Expertise

questions regarding equipment, performance, repairs, lessons, etc. Almost all saxophone related questions.

Experience

I am a professional member of N.A.P.B.I.R.T (National Association of Professional Band Instruments Repair Technicians). I have been repairing saxophones, flutes, clarinets, and brass instruments since 1993. I perform in several professional groups covering genres form classical, jazz, and rock.

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N.A.P.B.I.R.T (National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians

Education/Credentials
St. Petersburg Junior College (AA) University of South Florida.

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