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Stolen Saxophones
Reported 3/29/04

Q.
  I enjoy your site and hope you can help me.  These horns were stolen in early February:

King Super 20 Silver Sonic tenor (silver neck and bell) # 385406
Vito soprano #15753159 (Yanagisawa stencil)
Pearl flute #1666

I played these horns exclusively for almost 25 years.  It’s a hard loss. Thanks, Tom Mitchell, West Palm Beach, FL Email: MitchTC@aol.com


Please contact Tom directly if you can help him find these instruments.
Reported 6/22/03

Q.
  On Sept. 14th 2003 my tenor sax was stolen after a gig in Kiel, Germany. It is a KEILWERTH, series “The New King”, no 40173. I would appreciate it if  you have an eye on this! Big thanxxx! Joel Lautenbach, Email: schorse_lautenbach@hotmail.com


Please contact Joel directly if you can help him find this instrument.
Reported 6/10/03

Q.
  I had three horns stolen off of stands at my church sanctuary, so they may show up without cases somewhere.  My bari was a 1938 Buescher,  gold finish, with a leather “holster” type apparatus that the previous owner made to attach it to an upright stand so I can play standing up. I  loved playing that horn. I played it every Sunday!

The others are: 2) Tenor, Selmer Mark VI, Serial #127450, gold finish; and, 3) Alto, Bundy Selmer

All 3 stolen from Living Hope Fellowship, 2056 Regency Road, Lexington, KY 40503 on Sunday, 6/9/03. I am devastated by all this! I feel like someone has died or something. Thanks for anything you might be able to do. Rhonda Bartlett, RB Design  Studio, LLC / (859) 333-8499, www.rbdesignstudio.com


Please contact Rhonda directly if you can help her find these instruments.
Q.  Not sure if you can be of assistance … here goes.  Problem in Canada … A friend’s husband (deceased) was a school band conductor.  He had many instruments – one an 1884 silver Buffet saxophone – pitch F – serial # 7084, double key system.  She loaned this instrument to a friend who had pads replaced etc., and THEN he loaned it to his friend … who will not return it.  They believe it may have been sold.  Her lawyer suggested that she try to find out it’s approximate value.  If it is of considerable value then she should try to reclaim it through legal action. Would you be able to estimate the approximate value of such an instrument or refer me to someone who would attempt to place a value on it?  I am not sure if she has a photo of it. Any suggestions appreciated.  Thank you. Helen … {note: it turned out there were no photos}


A. In the USA that would clearly be a theft situation (theft by appropriation or conversion is how the crime is usually described), so no sale can be made legally. If you can find the horn you can reclaim it. A sax like that is hard to value because it basically belongs in a museum. Saxophones were originally planned to be pitched in F & C (orchestra) as opposed to the Eb & Bb (brass band) we see today. Since orchestras never really accepted saxophones, not many of the F pitched horns were ever made. That would be a very rare saxophone. I didn’t catch whether the instrument is an alto or baritone type, which would affect valuation, but either way the horn would be of sufficient value to pursue.

As I said, the best use for that instrument is museum display, so I’m going to approach valuation as if it were being donated & the value taken as a tax deduction (FYI: I am a CPA here in the states). I believe we could justify in the US$2,000 range for an alto, and possibly US$3,500 on a bari. Since that sax isn’t playable in a modern sense the only other demand for it is from rather advanced collectors. With that in mind I believe a notice on our site might (eventually) help turn up something on your friend’s sax. If you can send pix it would be great to add them to our message. We’re seen by a lot of saxophiles the world over. We will contact you if anyone writes in with helpful information about the whereabouts of the instrument. Send pix if you can …

Additional Comments
Two legal principles combine to make it possible for you to recover your property that’s been stolen. The first is that a thief gains no title to things they steal, and the second is that no one can transfer a superior title to something than they themselves hold. In other words, you can’t sell something you don’t own. You can’t even extinguish a lien against something by selling it. If you sell leased property the tenant can remain on the property as long as they abide by the terms of the lease, and if you sell something you’ve borrowed money against or financed, the secured party can still take it back. Get the picture? No one in the chain of title taken from a thief (or converter) can ever own stolen (or misappropriated) property, whether they even know of the theft (or other taint to the title) or not. What this all means is that if you can locate your stolen saxophone you can get it back. Neither the passing of time nor the change of hands makes any difference. That may be small consolation when you’re staring at the empty spot where you last saw your prized vintage sax, but at least there is hope. 

You should also know that some states have adopted laws to protect innocent future holders of stolen property that has been ‘laundered’ in some way. This could include an erroneous sale to a legitimate dealer, or being passed through numerous hands over time so as to leave the chain of possession untraceable. This protection does not vest title to your prized saxophone to the current holder, but may grant them the right to some form of remuneration for their acquisition costs in your instrument and for the money spent to restore or maintain it. That last item is significant because stolen saxophones are often abused, mutilated and subjected to conditions that mean significant work must be done to make them playable & presentable. Never mind that a sax was in perfect condition the last time you saw it. It may have become a basket case by the time it came into the possession of another saxophile who cared about your instrument — a person who didn’t steal the horn, most probably didn’t even know it was stolen … and loves it in a manner similar to the way you do. 

I know this only too well because both personally and via cybersax.opensourcesaxophoneproject.com, as my business, I have been on both ends of the stolen saxophone experience. The last time was about 3 years ago. We bought a Silver Sonic King tenor from the early 1960s — great condition, reasonable price — from someone we (thought we) knew — who did the pawn shop circuit in a major Texas city. We also thought we knew the complete story of this very desirable instrument, but as it turns out, it took a Texas Sheriff to relate the complete & indisputable facts — and not too delicately, either. It seems our contact had not bought the horn ‘out of pawn’ at all, but rather had bought the pawn ticket from someone & redeemed the sax himself. Long story short, the Sheriff explained rather directly that we could surrender the instrument voluntarily or pack for an extended trip when the local law came to get us for holding stolen property … now let me see …

We contacted our attorney, who explained that we may buy some time with an expensive fight, but that the horn would eventually go back to Texas … and I might indeed get to see the inside of that brand new jail the city had recently completely. When your own lawyer explains things that way, you listen. That was enough to convince us to pack the sax up & send her off in a hurry. Another instance, a little farther back, we picked up a nice pre war Zephyr alto for under $100 at a local pawn shop (in a questionable part of town). The sax wasn’t playing, so we did a bit of work on it before offering the instrument for sale. A gentleman responded to a local ad for the horn & we arranged to let him see it. After playing the sax a while & looking it over closely, he said, “Yup, that’s the sax my Dad left me,” and pulled out his copy of the police report (complete with exact serial number) where he had reported the horn stolen. In short order we got to meet a very polite & professional local detective who insisted that we provide proof that we did not, in fact, steal the horn ourselves. We scrambled around for a receipt, thanking goodness we had not acquired the horn at a flea market or garage sale, and after the detective was satisfied we were only up for HOLDING STOLEN PROPERTY (which he was willing to overlook if we cooperated), he took the Zeph away for return to that rightful owner. Obviously, Oklahoma is not a state where one is entitled to recover any out of pocket costs related to the acquisition or maintenance of stolen property.

There are some patterns forming here, as you can see … a lot of which is common sense … and I hope you are seeing some rules you’d best observe when buying vintage instruments yourself. Pawnshops are clearly an important issue, but you ask, “Don’t pawnshops have to turn their tickets over to local police before they are cleared to sell goods that come out of pawn?” The short answer is ‘yes’, but the full disclosure includes the reality that this process in no way cleanses the title of stolen goods. We questioned the nice Tulsa detective about that very issue, and were rather baffled to learn that reviewing incoming pawn tickets against theft reports just isn’t done, and if it were done, and because of error or timing considerations wasn’t effective, the law doesn’t penalize the theft victim for the inadequacies of law enforcement process & procedure. 

So you best be careful with pawn shops. You could run the serial number on a sax yourself, but the fact that it didn’t show up at a certain point in time would not protect you if the rightful owner later showed up & demanded the return of their horn. The things you can do to add some assurance are 1) be suspicious of good horns at dirt cheap prices, 2) always get a receipt, 3) ask the pawnshop to certify on your receipt that they will take the instrument back if it turns up as stolen, 4) never, ever buy a pawn ticket from anyone you don’t know — and quite well, at that. And finally, don’t give out full serial numbers to anyone unless you have closed a sale and are doing the final paperwork. There are those who would file a false police report, or try to fleece you with other mischievous claims.

We cannot stress too heavily that it is of supreme importance to deal with only people you know or can readily obtain knowledge of — substantial eBay feedback records generated over a significant period of time, for instance. Stick with established dealers whenever you can, even if you pay a few bucks more. You will find that the service that goes along with the sale is invaluable — both in terms of how the instrument will perform out of the box, AND in terms of having recourse should you end up facing a local law enforcement officer as we did. Any reputable dealer will take an instrument back for a refund if it turns out to be stolen — and that is exactly what you should demand if you are caught holding a stolen instrument. The most basic warranty under the law — and one that a seller cannot escape for any cause — is that they have a marketable title to the goods they offer for sale. You can & should pursue legal action, provided the amounts involved justify your cost & time, against a seller that passes you stolen goods. They have the same right back to their source — and so on all the way back to the thief — and it’s not your problem whether anyone else in that chain of possession can be successful. Weasel words in descriptions such as ‘as-is’have absolutely no bearing on title issues, and little on anything else in cases where goods have been misrepresented, or pertinent facts concealed or hidden from you. Now you know your rights, so don’t be a patsy …


Our most recent experience with a stolen vintage sax appears below. We bought the horn on eBay back around Christmas (’02), where it was described as having ‘wear’ to some of the engraved areas. Upon receipt of the sax it was obvious that identifying marks had been intentionally defaced — and the only logical explanation was that a thief had attempted to make the sax untraceable. Since we cannot pass good title to one of our valued clients, and since it’s not advisable to sink our time & expense into restoring the sax, we set out to find the rightful owner. We have had numerous ‘attaboy’ responses from our many friends & visitors, but so far no luck finding the owner. As a result of our experiences with stolen instruments, and in response to your encouragement, we are adding a permanent section to the CS site where visitors can post (we’ll actually do the physical posting, so write us with your details) information about lost or stolen musical equipment. We also will post information on ‘found’ instruments, such as the one below, if you all will take the time to report suspicious situations with horns you’ve encountered. Together we can make a difference, even if we just get one horn back home or a single thief caught & punished.



(reproduced from a past cybersax.opensourcesaxophoneproject.com featured item)
 


Is This Your Saxophone?
(pictured are parts of a 1920s gold plated Conn Artist Model)

This instrument recently sold on eBay. It has had the Conn name and the serial number area intentionally defaced in an attempt to make it impossible to identify. This is a strong indication that the instrument was stolen, though we do not know by whom or when. We would like to return it to its rightful owner if it can be positively identified. Luckily for the owner, we have been able to determine enough of the serial number to be able to identify the instrument if you have the complete number in your records. The engraving on these instruments is also unique, which offers an further opportunity to establish ownership. If you owned this instrument, or know who did, we would love to hear from you. To prove ownership you will need to provide sufficient details about the saxophone, its engraving, its type, etc., or provide the full serial number. eBay has been of no help and the seller claims this obviously intentional damage was ‘normal wear’. Here is a chance for the web saxophone community to come together along with CyberSax to do a good deed. If there is sufficient interest we will start a clearing area for stolen instruments …



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