Mystery Soprano/Christmas Tree

A number of years ago I was given what I believed was likely an antique soprano saxophone. It is a quirky horn, and certainly not in playable condition.

It was supposed to be raw the material for a lamp. I however , saw its higher purpose: a Christmas tree for the top of the 1950s wooden stereo—as well as a teaching tool when I give workshops on saxophones. This sax could be safely passed around, without worrying that someone might damage a valuable horn.

In December 2016 my buddy Pete Hales was curious about this quirky horn, and asked me to take some photos of it once I had it de-treed. Well it took me a while, but I finally remembered to do so just before I re-treed it again last month.

Of course it took me almost another month to finally get around to running the pics through Photoshop, but I finally got around to doing that yesterday. I must confess that I’m surprised by what I saw.

No, I’m not talking about the crappy photos—because they are indeed crappy, since the lighting was anything but ideal. Instead I’m talking about what the stamped plate on the horn may indicate about this mystery soprano’s origins.

Furthermore, if the origins are indeed what it may say on the stamped plate, then perhaps my assumptions about the horn’s age are incorrect. Before we go any further, here’s a quick listing of the mystery soprano’s specs:

Mystery soprano facts & figures

  • Range: Keyed from low B to high Eb;
  • Does NOT have an automatic octave key;
  • Has felt pads;
  • Does not have rollers;
  • Does not have MOP key touches;
  • Serial #: 30X;
  • No engraving, but has a stamped plate soldered on that in part reads: S.A.I.I.I.M  ?  SORNIA (?) [I’m partially guessing on this last word here, but it looks right.];
  • It is not silver plated, but rather has some kind of other silver finish over the brass that doesn’t seem to ever tarnish;
  • Length is 23½” from the bottom of the bell lip to the top of the neck opening.

What does it look like?

Simply put, the features of this mystery soprano look old. As a matter of fact, they look so old, that they could be thought of as antique (more than 100 years old).

These features are all identical to the ones found on my Evette Schaeffer bari from 1886!

For anyone interested in saxophone pads, here is something unusual for you: felt pads:

It must not have been a one-off, since it is serial #30X:

And lastly, here are just a few more shots of various parts of the horn showing some of the remaining areas:

My thinking that this soprano was an antique was entirely based on its features. However, if I sit back and seriously think about things, there were number of European saxophone makers who had double octave keys (Pierret, Orsi); limited ranges (Orsi, Adler, Max Keilwerth), and were lacking rollers (Orsi, Adler, Pierret). What makes these horns noteworthy, is that they were built well into first half of the twentieth century—sometimes concurrently with horns in the same model series that had the more modern features. This leads to me think that if this mystery soprano came from say Italy or France, then lacking modern features may not be an accurate indicator of its age.

But where did it come from?

What has confounded me since I got this mystery soprano, were its origins. Normally the search for a vintage horn’s origins starts with its name, or perhaps a city engraved on the bell.

Most horns are of course engraved in some way. In my researching of vintage and antique saxophones, I have only come across a handful of other brands that have had a name plated soldered on like this one has.

What makes this name plate frustrating, is that it is incredibly difficult to read. (No, it is not just the crappy photos. 😉 )  A word critical to understanding this mystery soprano’s pedigree is not any clearer in real life than it is in the following pics. I had hoped by photographing it I would finally be able to make sense of what it said. Sadly I can’t make sense of it, but perhaps some else can…

By photographing the name plate, I was finally able to read that this mystery soprano is stamped:

S.A.I.I.I.M
AS?E??UOVO
SORNIA

Or at least I think it is. The stamping is done incredibly poorly.

Now I used to think my googling skills were pretty good, but if my results for this mystery soprano are any indication, perhaps I need to reassess my thinking. France; Italy; Spain; USSR; all of these could be possible places of origin based on the languages that came up when I searched the various possibilities via the different search engines.

So at this point I’m throwing this out to all of you for comments and suggestions. If anyone who stumbles across this article now or in the future, has any ideas about this mystery soprano, please leave a comment below, or email me. Because at this point, I am quite comfortable in admitting I’ve never seen anything like it before. This soprano really does seem to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

© 2018, Helen. All rights reserved.

Helen

Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.

9 Comments:

  1. Discussion on the WF where Kev, others, and me talk about SAIIIM in relation to Ditta Giglio:
    http://www.woodwindforum.com/forum/index.php?threads/emperor-and-selmer.23746/page-2

    JSTOR article on all major Italian makes (PDF):
    http://woodwindshelp.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/7/9/23791000/italy_sax.pdf

  2. Darn, Gerard beat me to it on the location. Just to add it’s SW of Milano.

    • Interesting Kev. I would never have thought that I get answers to the question of where this quirky horn came from so quickly! Thank you for the additional info.

      Funny thing, for all the research I’ve done on European horns, I must confess I have done nearly none on Italian ones. Although I have researched Orsi, they are really the only ones that I have any research on. I had no idea that there were as many saxophone makes in Italy as there were back in the day.

  3. Interesting keywork. The A key has a rod that seems to connect to the second octave opening. Is there any action in the octave mechanism when you open the A key?
    And yes it looks Italian to me.

    • I would have thought the pads might have solicited a comment from you Theo. 😉

      • No, they look like normal pads.
        Someone took the leather off when it became too hard or too moldy.
        Imagine what will happen if a bathroom is isolated with leather.

        Now the octave mechanism looks like a half automated system with two keys.
        I have not seen that before.

        • Mmm… Once I take the lights off the tree later today or tomorrow, I’ll look at the pads to see if I can see any evidence of past leather encasement.

          As for the octave key, that I’ll have to look at more closely. I must admit I never paid it much attention.

  4. Hi Helen,
    It’s Italian. I could decipher Castelnuovo Scrivia.
    From the Saxontheweb-Forum:
    S.A.I.M.A. Castelnuovo Scrivia (1925-1932), (Anonymous Society Musical Instruments) Founded in 1925 by former workers of Rampone, including Mario Gilardi and after Alfonso Rampone and Aldo De Bernardi, and active until 1934, when the shareholders’ meeting decided to put it into liquidation. He was declared bankrupt in 1937 and the failure revoked in 1938. Alfonso, one of the liquidators of the company, buys part of the machinery to start a production of only saxophones branded with his name. The company produced instruments Woodwind and later brass. (Francesco Carreras)

    • Hello Gerard. Welcome to my site.

      Wow, I did not expect an answer so fast. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      Funny thing, I searched SOTW, but I guess I was looking for the wrong combination of letters. :mrgreen:

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