First, allow me to repeat myself:
According to the official Selmer website, www.selmer.fr, the first saxophone built by Selmer was a Series 1922, released on December 31, 1921.
Now I get to confuse everyone.
The first horns that Selmer produced were very likely the Series 1922 (albeit engraved “Serie,” like the current Super Action 80), Modèle 1922 then Modèle 22. Yes, three different models and in that order.
I don’t believe that there is a significant difference between the three. I can say that it does appear that the horns with a keyed range from low B to altissimo F were only released with the name “Series 1922” stamped on the bell.
Hold up. A low B horn in 1922? Isn’t that 19th century saxophone technology? Well, yes. Yes, it is. Many European manufacturers offered horns with only a low B that were more-or-less copies of A. Sax’s design well into the late 1930s as an “introductory” horn, as is perfectly evident by Keilwerth’s Modell V, which was made in the late 1930’s.
Because there’s no real agreement as to the serial number of Selmer’s first Series 1922 horn (it’s after s/n 674 and before s/n 906. For an explanation why, refer to Part 1 of this series), I can only say that it appears that the last horn stamped “Series 1922″ was put out around s/n 1100 mark. The “Modèle 1922″ was probably available from about s/n 1100 to 1250. Am I 100% positive? Not really. The earliest horn I’ve seen stamped “Modèle 22″ is s/n 1374. The latest “Modèle 1922″ I’ve seen is s/n 122x. This means that your mileage may very, but not by too much. Remember: Selmer’s saxophone production in 1922 was only 30 per month. The amount of workers went from 50 to 136 by 1926, so one would assume that production of saxophones kept pace with that, even though Selmer serial numbers went from 1400 in 1922 to 2350 in 1923 (see the Selmer history timeline for 1922 at www.selmer.fr).
The one thing that I think is very attractive about the Series 22 and Modèle 1922 is there is lettering — generally “Corps Embouti.” Translating and transliterating, I think that means “for everyone,” rather than, say, designed for the army — and/or a design on the ring that connects the bow to the bell or body to the bow.
That’s enough on Series 1922 and Modèle 1922. Let’s go on to what Selmer says about the Modèle 22:
Replacing the “Series 1922,” the Modèle 22 was a technically innovative, more streamlined and [had] a stronger construction compared to traditional workmanship. The automatic octave key was already offered on [the low Bb] model. Encouraged by the warm reception which greeted the arrival of this saxophone, the Selmer company decided to go ahead with the production of the straight Bb soprano, the curved [Bb] soprano, the soprano in C and the tenor saxophones in Bb and C, the latter being better known under the name “C Melody.” Shortly afterwards the rest of the [saxophone] family was made available[: Eb baritone and Bb bass].
(Sorry for all the inserts. The English text on the www.selmer.fr website isn’t the best.)
The article goes on to talk about the C melody being particularly popular amongst jazz musicians in the 1920′s. That’s incorrect: the C melody was popular because it was a horn that could play in the same key as a piano, so you could play vocal charts at home. Hey, these were the days of radio. If you could afford one. Lots of folks had pianos and that was the evening entertainment.
While there may have been a couple of jazz musicians that occasionally used C melodies, Frankie Trumbauer is the only “big name” player that used it almost exclusively used it.
I also did some more clicking on the Selmer.fr website and found a 1925 hand-written pricelist. Let’s do some comparison shopping! A 1925 silver plated bass was $189.61. Add 12% tax and you get $212.36. In 2010 dollars, that’s $2618.40. A Conn New Wonder silver plated bass in 1922 was $220.00. That’s $2836.13 in 2010 dollars. A brand spankin’ new Selmer S80 Serie III Jubilee silver plated bass is only $11,549.00. Only.
As an offhand comment — and a colleague of mine might have a different take — I do not know of, well, anyone that has played a French-made bass of this vintage. I generally hear of folks playing American-made basses from this vintage, and that means Conn or Buescher, as other American manufacturers may have made a prototype bass or two and then found it cheaper to buy stencils from Conn or Buescher. One of the reasons I find this odd is because the majority of the original contrabasses I’m aware of are from Evette-Schaeffer (Buffet).
Oh. Sorry. One more comment. A couple of the pics you’ll see below are of bare brass horns: no lacquer, no plating. It does appear that Selmer only offered three finishes: bare brass, silver and nickel. It is possible, of course, that Selmer offered lacquer as an option — i.e. one of those, “if you’ve got the cash, we’ll do it” things — or horns were lacquered as part of a later overhaul, as the brass bari with nickel keywork essentially indicates (replating keywork was common in overhauls, up until the 1960′s or slightly later).