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Selmer ‘New York’ Saxophones
(and other examples of why the Selmer name isn’t always something to get excited about)
Q.  I  would really appreciate if you could give me a little information about a sax I bought on Ebay.  It is a straight sax about 22 inches long and the brand is Selmer New York. I would just like to know age and whatever else you may know about it. Thank you in advance. Gray …


A. It’s a C soprano, built by Buescher for Selmer sometime between the end of W.W.I and about 1925. Selmer had no saxophones marketable in the USA until they developed the Modele 22 (in 1922), and really didn’t get going until the Modele 26. Prior to 1922 Selmer produced antiquated saxes based on the original Adolph Sax design which could not compete with the superior USA built instruments. Selmer had purchased the A. Sax Company assets out of bankruptcy in the late 1800′s. Selmer did have marketing ties in the US for other competing instruments, so they stenciled saxes (mostly from Buescher, but some from Conn) in order to fill out their instrument marketing line in the saxophone category. Stenciling was very common in that time since marketing avenues were no where near what we have today. Name associations were very beneficial, so companies such as Wurlitzer, Selmer or Lyon and Healy were able to sell many saxes because of their strong brands in other instruments. You also see many local music store names on saxes from the 1920′s, Jenkins Music in KCMO or Harwood from NYC being two of the more common ones. Buescher made about 70% of all the saxes that were stenciled, yours being one. Hope that helps …
Additional Comments
It is unfortunate that many uninformed individuals blindly associate the Selmer name on a saxophone with vastly superior, collectible — and valuable — vintage saxophones. That has not always been the case, as plainly demonstrated by the stenciled Selmer New York horns that were not even made by Selmer. The Modele 22 is barely passable in quality for a modern sax, while the 26 is only slightly better. The real progress in Selmer quality did not take place until the Cigar Cutter, Super and Radio Improved models of the early 1930s. After that the Balanced Action, Super Balanced Action and Mark VI models formed the core of the Selmer legend. Selmer saxes produced after the Mark VI do not get that high marks from the serious players, and they certainly aren’t viewed as collectibles. Other ordinary saxophones with the Selmer name are the Selmer Bundy (derived from the Buescher stencil sax patterns which are basically a modified 1920s True Tone), the Selmer Signet (derived from the Buescher Aristocrat), and the Selmer USA horns (a mix between Buescher and Selmer Paris features). These lesser horns often play and sound great, but they’re just not worth a lot of money. Treble clefs and dollar signs look enough alike to be confusing, but there’s a big difference between making music and making money …

People get crazy over the Selmer name, which sometimes leads to grief. We recently had a lady call in from the East Coast who saw our Selmer USA 1244 tenor and had to have it overnigted to her husband for a surprise gift. During the conversation with her I noted that she remarked how our price was so great on the horn. to my mind the price was fair, but in the market range. So she PayPaled us the cash — including a hefty FedEx tab — and we jumped through some hops to get the sax shipped that same day. This was a Thursday, and Hubby had to have the horn for a Saturday gig. Well, hubby called Saturday afternoon to explain how wifey had made a huge mistake…seems she thought she was getting one of the higher priced Selmer saxes on the cheap. We would have been dead right to stick them with the horn cuz it was tit-for-tat exactly as we described, but being the Sugar Bear that I am, we let them off with just a modest restocking charge for all those hoops we jumped to get the sax out in the middle of our Christmas rush.

Another instance of Selmer madness many of you may have witnessed involved a Selmer New York C-Melody recently on eBay from Europe where the opening bid was US$5,000. We make it a practice of trying to help when we see strange stuff on eBay, so we wrote this seller very tactfully and told them the real story about their sax. We received a blissful reply that basically stated they were sticking to the dream. The horn ran through at least twice — of course without a single bid. I actually feel embarrassed for some of these people who won’t accept a helping hand.

The moral of our story is that all Selmers are NOT created equal. The core of the legend was formed by the serial numbers between about 12,xxx and 240,xxx, and even then it’s mostly just the altos and tenors that do the heavy lifting. Of course there’s some of my opinion in that statement, but that opinion is based on significant exposure to these instruments. To wit: the background of this page is a group photo we assembled from our collection of Mark VIs. They are from sopranino to bass, so we have the exposure to the horns on which to base an opinion. Some Selmer saxes will stand with any horn on the planet. Some won’t, Our advice, there Pavlov, is make sure the rubber meets the road before you start to salivate at the ring of the Selmer name in your ears. Chicken and feathers come from the same place …



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