Pan American Saxophones From 1931
Pan American Saxophones From 1931

Pan American Saxophones From 1931

Pan American saxophones, vintage catalogue, 1931, Chicago Musical Instrument Co.

As promised, this is the second instalment of the saxophone pages from the 1931 catalogue from the Chicago Musical Instrument Co. While the first article included all the Martin saxophones, this one features the Pan American saxophones for sale in 1931.

Let’s just do a bit of a re-cap of what Pan American was and wasn’t, before taking a look at what the company offered up in the saxophone department.

  • Pan American was NOT a stencil horn. Rather, Pan American saxophones were a second line produced by a subsidiary of Conn. The Conn Loyalist website describes the company like this:

The Pan American band instrument company was a subsidiary of Conn. It was started in the early 1920’s and produced more affordable instruments than the regular Conn line, geared towards students. Around 1955 Conn started producing student instruments under the Conn brand name and Pan American disappeared.

Source: The Pan American Section of the Conn Loyalist

  • According to Kurt, the fellow who has been doing an immense amount of research into the Pan American brand:

Pan American had their own patents, trademarks, catalogs, models and dealer structure.

Source: Woodwind Forum

  • The patent numbers on Conn and Pan American saxophones is different. These patent numbers are usually stamped just above the serial number. If you are interested in comparing the patents, the Conn patent was: Dec. 8, 1914, 1119954, while the Pan American one was: Sept 14, 1915, 1153489.

Bb curved and straight soprano, as well as tenor Pan American saxophones

Notice that the tenor has the Mercedes-style key guard on the low C key that we commonly associate with Conn.

Pan American saxophones, vintage catalogue, 1931, Chicago Musical Instrument Co., soprano sax, curved soprano, straight soprano, tenor saxophone, 66M, 62M, 68M

Eb alto and C melody Pan American saxophones

Notice how they describe the alto. “It is…the equal of many higher priced [altos in its price class].”

Although easily dismissed as pure advertising hype, I happen to have seen and played one of these babies that was in very fine shape. I can attest to the fact that this particular Pan American alto was just as well made as many pro horns of the day. If you would like to see photos of the horn in question, you can find them in my Pan American gallery. (You’ll see that the alto I played has a Mercedes-style key guard on its low C key.)

Speaking on Mercedes-style key guards, you also notice that feature being shown on the 50M—the C melody.

Pan American saxophones, vintage catalogue, 1931, Chicago Musical Instrument Co., alto sax, C melody saxophone, 64M, 50M

Eb baritone and Bb bass Pan American saxophones

Now we get to the big boys of the Pan American series. Too bad that they managed to get the descriptions of the horns under the wrong instruments. 👿

Pan American saxophones, vintage catalogue, 1931, Chicago Musical Instrument Co., baritone saxophone, bari sax, bass sax, 54M, 56M

If you compare the prices of the bare brass Pan American baritone saxophone at $162.00, to that of the Martin Handcraft in the same catalogue at $150.00, you have to ask yourself: Why the price difference? If Martin was a pro-level horn, and Pan American ostensibly a student model, why did the Pan American cost more?

I would simply answer this question like this: Pan American was not a cheaply-made student instrument like we are used to seeing today. Although the horns might not have had all the features of Conn’s pro models—for example they lacked rolled tone holes, and their left pinkie clusters were different—but at their core they were still built like Conn saxophones, and had many of that brand name’s features.

There is a great testament to the quality of the Pan American bass saxophone, on sax tech’s Stephan Howard’s website. There he reviewed one he had in the shop. (Although he wrongly called it a stencil horn. In his defence, maybe it’s a British thing.) 😉   The bass that Stephan played happened to be the 56M-2, in silver plate with a gold bell that originally would have sold for $275.00 in 1931.

My personal thoughts on Pan American saxophones

I am not going to enter into a debate about the quality of the Pan American build, and whether they measure up to the standard of a “pro level” horn. I happen to own a 62M curvy that I bought about 15 years ago from Gayle at vintagesax.com . Those of you who know Gayle and/or her rep know that she only deals in the finest of vintage horns.

My 62M is a great horn, and I would challenge it against any, and I do mean any, curved soprano built over the last 75 years or so. I just had it restored a little over a year ago, and this baby is in very fine condition. It also happens to sing like you wouldn’t believe. It has a couple of notes that need to be adjusted for, but then I’m not a soprano player, so I have to work really hard to get a decent sound and intonation on all sopranos: including new ones.

I am not alone in my assessment of the high quality of Pan American saxophones. You don’t have to look hard in the online sax world to find techs who think highly enough about this brand that they play and collect Pan American saxophones themselves.

That said, over time the Pan American saxophones started to look less like Conn’s first line of instruments, and definitely took on more of a student horn look, until eventually in 1956 their production was discontinued altogether. In their place Conn introduced the Director Series of horns.

I hope you enjoyed this collection of vintage catalogue pages on Pan American saxophones. The last of the series will be a few pages on Pan American’s own budget brand, Cavalier. (Now there was a true student horn.) That article will be coming up in the next couple of days.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

10 Comments

  1. Neville bonner

    I have a 1953 model 58 that was sold to me as a prototype Conn by notable sax collector Ron Semak in 2009. I suspect now it’s the Pan Am , but did the production sax have grub screws locking the rod ends in? Mine has .. i’d Love to find out as much as I can about my beloved “ Connie”. I’m on face book ( Neville Bonner ) many thanks in hopeful advance . S.W.France

  2. Javier

    great article! I have a query: I have a Pan-American from the late 50’s and I’m tempted to change it and they offer me a conn 50m.
    Do you think it’s a convenient change? Thank you.

    1. Hi John.

      What kind of information are you looking for?

      I have a couple of questions for you: 1. Do you play sax already? 2. Do you know what kind (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone) of saxophone you have there?

      The reason I ask these questions is that the links I’m providing here will potentially be more helpful if you have some saxophone knowledge already.

      In any event, here are some places to start:
      The Pan American Saxophone model number index
      Pan American Saxophone Serial Numbers

      There are lots of other sources on forums as well, but you end up going down rabbit holes rather quickly. Without knowing a bit more about your background knowledge, I don’t want to send you off in potentially overwhelming places that contain very few tidbits of useful info.

  3. Max, if https://cderksen.home.xs4all.nl/ConnSerialsPanAmWW.html is correct — and there is room for argument, as Conn never published a serial number chart for their Pan American line; Mr. McKnight is kinda guessing — it was made in 1950. If that serial number chart is close to accurate, the B and Bb bell keys on your horn should be on the left side, as you’re playing. If the keys are on opposing sides of the bell (“split-bell-key”), the chart isn’t that accurate and your horn is probably from 1940ish.

  4. Well, I first thank you for proving my point, Jeff 😀

    The two patents have to do with how the toneholes are created, not about how the bore of the horn is made. I suppose it is possible that you could have an actual Pan American-made horn, but I think it’s more likely that it’s a 12M without rolled tone holes with the Pan Am name stenciled on the bell.

    I have two questions for you, Jeff:

    * Can you link some photos?
    * What letter does your serial number start with, if you have any at all? Usually, it’ll be “P,” “E,” “M,” and possibly “X.”

  5. Jeff

    Great post! Interestingly, I just bought an old Pan Am Bari with the Conn 1119954 patent. Not sure if this means it’s a Conn stencil. It has split tone holes but the serial number (41,xxx), if following Pan Am nubers, puts it around 1930

  6. I’m a little more hesitant to say all Pan American saxophones aren’t stencils or slight modifications of older Conn models, particularly basses and curved sopranos. This is primarily because I haven’t really studied Pan American horns in great depth: they’re not pro models, so not my focus. I do know that the Pan American company started about 1919 and you mention that they stopped production in 1956, so that’s a lot of ground to cover!

    I can say that the 56M bass pictured on Mr. Howard’s excellent website doesn’t have the same G#/C#/B/Bb cluster that New Wonders and later do, but has a cluster similar to a Buescher True Tone. However, I also didn’t see a 1915 patent stamp.

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