Everyone knows about the major American saxophone companies from the late 19th and early- to mid-/late-20th century:
- CG Conn
- HN White (King)
Some folks might also know that these companies made something called “stencils” for other companies that didn’t have their own saxophone lines. They’re called “stencils” because the manufacturer would sell an unengraved horn to the company or storefront that didn’t have a saxophone line and that company or storefront would stencil on their own engraving. Additionally, most American-made stencils shared three other things: they were “watered down” in some way (for example, most Conn stencils don’t have rolled tone holes), their serial numbers didn’t match up with the manufacturer’s pro line (for example, a Buescher-made Acme stencil will have a completely different serial number than that of a True Tone made in the same year), and they were generally lower quality than the manufacturer’s pro line (for example, while the Conn-made Cavalier looks like a Conn Standard model, every one I’ve played is consistently junk). The stenciling process continues today, primarily with Chinese or Taiwanese making horns for other folks (for instance, the Buffet 400s aren’t made by Buffet).
A very few folks might know that some companies were contracted to build saxophones for other companies that didn’t have a saxophone line. The best example of this is the Holton and EA Courturier-made, but Lyon and Healy designed Perfect Curved soprano from about 1928.
Even fewer folks know that there were a couple more American saxophone manufacturers.
JW York is far better known as a brasswind manufacturer, but they did produce a line of saxophones for awhile. However, there are a couple problems researching them:
- JW York also purchased stencils from a variety of places.
- People seem to have a problem agreeing what a “true” York-made saxophone is (see, for example, this SOTW post).
Let’s start with some examples.
The horn that’s to your right (click on the pic to go to a full gallery) is a beautiful curved soprano that was advertised as a York-made horn. It’s not. It’s a Buescher-made horn. Probably.
The horn you see at your left (click on the pic to go to a full gallery) is one of the extremely rare beveled-tone-hole
Buescher True Tones (you can read about these horns at saxpics.com). What are the visible differences between the Buescher and the York? The beveled tone holes — and beveled tone holes are a feature that a) Buescher really downplayed and b) we know that stencils sometimes don’t always have the exact same features as the horn it was stenciled from. Other than that, there’s just the “reinforcement” on the bow.
However, there’s another problem. Take a look at this beautiful Martin Handcraft curved soprano. What are the visible differences between the Handcraft and the York? The G# key (it’s rectangular on the Martin) and the beveled tone holes. However, you could also make the point that the differences between the Buescher and the Martin are those two features, as well.
*Sigh* That makes my life difficult. At the very least, I can say that the Conn New Wonder curved soprano and the Holton models around the same age do look pretty different, so at least I can eliminate some things. The other “forgotten” American sax maker, EA Couturier, also made horns that looked very different. (It’s also possible that Couturier and Holton never made curved sopranos.)
So, what were the York models?
1. Plate construction. The York is unique in the kind of plate construction that’s used: it looks like the tone holes are on a plate and then the plate is soldered onto the horn — most plate construction is of key mounts affixed to a plate and then the plate is soldered onto the horn. This seems to be the subject of two separate patents by Alfred J. Johnson: 1,673,195 (applied for on January 28, 1926 and granted on June 12, 1928) and 1,690,862 (applied for on January 3, 1925 and granted on November 6, 1928). Note the “button” G# key on these horns.
3. Three octave-vent. This is an insanely rare variant that was produced for a very, very brief time. The patent’s 1,703,109 and that was applied for on December 23, 1926 and it was granted on February 26, 1929. Also note the unique shape of the low C key. This shape is found on these Yorks and on Holton horns.
It is also POSSIBLE that there are Yorks with bell keys on one side, as well, so that’d be model #4. I’m trying to get a handle on that.