Saxette

Saxette with Original Box, Lyre, & Music

Source: bowman1109 on eBay.com

Given how many years I’ve been doing research on sax-shaped/named things, I find it odd that until June 2014, I’d never come across a Saxette. This is especially strange given how popular these little instruments appear to have been in the late 1920s and 30s. When I first entered Saxette into the search bar of Google, I was absolutely amazed at how many hits the term the returned.

A bit of history about the Saxette

The Saxette was invented by a music teacher by the name of Elver Joseph Fitchhorn, from Delaware, Ohio. Fitchhorn invented the instrument as a way for children, as well as others, to begin learning to read music and playing a musical instrument. The following articles provides us with an example of how the Saxette was used at the time. The one on the left is from the November 11, 1933 edition of The Ohio Wesleyan Transcript, from Delaware, OH. The one on the right is from School Chatter section of The Herald-Mail, from Fairport, NY. It was published on March 28, 1935.

archived newspaper article, November 11, 1933, The Ohio Wesleyan Transcript, Delaware, OH, Saxette, musical instrument   archived newspaper article, School Chatter section of The Herald-Mail, Fairport, NY, March 28, 1935, Saxette Band Organized

Source: The Five Colleges Of Ohio Digital Collections

Note: Although the text is hard to read, it appears to say in the above article,”Instigator of Unique Instrument Helps Willis Band Win Laurels”, that the patent for the Saxette was obtained in 1924. That is not correct. No doubt Fitchhorn worked on his instrument for years, and could easily have been working on it in 1924 already. However, Fitchhorn has no patents listed to him prior to 1939—the Saxette was patented a full six years after this article was written. I wonder what the article is referring to?

When Elver Fitchhorn applied for a patent for his Saxette in 1937, he stated the following:

• It was related to instruments of the flageolet, flute or clarinet type.
• It provided a simple, inexpensive instrument that was particularly adaptable for use by children, wanting to learn how to read music and play an instrument.
• It would be made of a metal, tubular (read cylindrical) body, which ended in a flared bell.
• The body tube had multiple tone holes of varying diameters.
• On the back of the body tube, just above the bell, there was a tone-regulating opening.
• It had a right thumb rest.
• It had a lyre holder.
• The mouthpiece was made of plastic.
• The mouthpiece was designed with a baffle and chambers that direct the air where it is supposed to go: through the instrument. (No reed or other accessories required.)
• Due to its construction, this instrument plays in the key of G, in perfectly in-tune octave intervals.
• The instrument’s flute-like tone is in large part coming from the large resonating chamber in the mouthpiece (12 in Fig. 3 of patent drawing).

Saxette patent drawings

Saxette Patent Image, Feb 7, 1939, patent number 2,146,179, E.J. Fitchhorn

Source: Google Patents

The Saxette vs. the Clar-O-Sax: What are the differences?

If this instrument looks a lot like Conn’s Clar-O-Sax to you, you’re likely not alone. Until I did some research on these two instruments, I too thought that they were quite similar. I wondered: 1. How Fitchhorn got a patent on the Saxette, 2. Which came first, and 3. If Conn ever pursued any action him for copying their idea. I don’t have the answer to # 3 yet, since I haven’t done any research on the subject, but based on what I discovered on #’s 1 and 2, I rather doubt it.

Here’s a chart comparing/contrasting the Clar-O-Sax and the Saxette. You be the judge.

Saxette Clar-O-Sax
Patent filed for when? May. 15, 1937 Feb. 26, 1931
Patent granted when? Feb. 7, 1939 Apr. 26, 1932
Pitched in key of? G G
Material Non-corrosive metal tubing Metal
Body tube Cylindrical Conical
Related to what branch of the woodwind family “This invention relates to musical instruments and, more particularly, to instruments of the wind type such as the flute, flageolet or clarinet, “ “The principal object of my invention is to provide a reed musical instrument of the saxophone type which is keyless except for an octave key.”
Target market “…the object of the invention being to provide a simple inexpensive musical instrument of the type indicated which is particularly adapted for use by children, or others, desiring or commencing instruction in the use of musical instruments and reading of simple musical scores. “ “A third object [of invention] …which has one or more transversely elongated tone openings therein to facilitate operation thereof by a child whose fingers have a limited reach or spread.” And further on: ” Inasmuch as my improved saxophone may be extensively used by children whose finger spread or reach is less than that of the average adult person…”
No. of tone holes on front 6 6
No. of tone hole on back 0 1
Perma-hole on back of bell Yes Yes
Octave key No Yes
Mouthpiece construction Plastic piece with baffle and chambers that does not require a reed. Uses a removable (sopranino saxophone?) mouthpiece with the usual reed held on with a ligature.

It is worth noting that in their patent application, Conn used the word “saxophone” no less than 16 times to describe the Clar-O-Sax, while Fitchhorn didn’t mention it once. That makes sense since Conn’s instrument had a conical bore, while Fitchhorn’s had a cylindrical one. By definition therefore, the Saxette cannot be any kind of saxophone, since a horn must have a conical bore to be considered a saxophone.

Obviously the biggest difference between the Saxette and the Clar-O-Sax was the mouthpiece. Conn’s Clar-O-Sax used a removable mouthpiece that was either the same size as, or even the same as a sopranino saxophone mouthpiece. The Saxette however, appears to have had a fixed mouthpiece. This mouthpiece did not require the use of a reed, but rather simply required a player to blow through the carefully constructed chambers to produce the instrument’s sound. No fuss no muss. Those of us who spend our lives fiddling with reeds can certainly understand the simplicity and ease of this method. This easy method would be especially advantageous for young, beginning players.

It is curious that it took the United States Patent Office nearly a full two years to issue the patent for the Saxette. Why would that be? Was 1937 just a very busy year for patent applications? Or were they perhaps investigating the differences between Fitchhorn’s Saxette and the Clar-O-Sax? It’s likely the case that we’ll never know.

Two styles of Saxettes in the Library of Congress

No discussion about the Saxette would be complete without mentioning that the Library Of Congress has some information about this interesting instrument on file. Not only does the it have information about Fitchhorn’s instrument in its records, but the Library Of Congress has two different versions of the Saxette in its collection.

The first is identical to the Saxette pictured above and below with the bakelite mouthpiece. In their description of the instrument, the Library Of Congress provides this interesting bit of added information directly from the inventor himself:

In letter from Fitchhorn to DCM, 26 March 1937, he states: “You will note that this mouthpiece has resonance chamber of fixed capacity located under to [sic] air inlet which not only gives it more of the true flute quality, but permits the octaves to over blow in tune. It has take[n] not a little time and experimental work to get the right capacity and by test you will note that the ‘D’ (all six holes closed) will octave in very good tune and the same is true with all other tones up to ‘B’ which only comes in true with the first and last hole closed. I am still keeping the tempered ‘G’ scale with ‘C’ natural played by closing the second hole with the second finger. I am told that Saxette is the first end blown flute tuned to play the G scale; all other[s] tuned for the ‘D’ scale.”

Source: Saxette (Vertical Whistle Flute) page on the Library Of Congress website

The Library Of Congress lists the following specs for the Saxette:

Contributor Names
Elver Joseph Fitchhorn

Created / Published
Delaware, Ohio, ca. 1937

Notes
– Key Holes System: 0/6 holes. Holes outline a scale as starting with all 6 fingerholes closed.
– Physical Description: 1 piece, cylindrical. See DCM 1288a. [See example immediately below.] The fipple end is modified with a plastic mouthpiece. The Langwill index refers to this instrument or the patent for it as a “Song Flute.” Compared to DCM 1288a, holes are drilled in the normal manner.
– Mark Maximum: SAXETTE / PAT. / APL’D. FOR
– Mark Additional: Mark on foot. Lyre marked with monogram.

Medium
Nickel-plated brass, bakelite mouthpiece.; 37.8 cm.

The second example that the Library Of Congress has does not have a bakelite mouthpiece. It appears to be an earlier model. Note that it too has a Pat. App. for stamp though. One can only presume that the patent wasn’t granted, and that Fitchhorn retooled his invention and added the bakelite mouthpiece in the design that did finally receive the patent in 1939.

For this version of the Saxette, the Library Of Congress offers the following specs:

Contributor Names
Elver Joseph Fitchhorn

Created / Published
Delaware, Ohio, 1929-1936

Notes
– Key Holes System: 0/6 holes. Six fingerholes plus vent hole. Fingerholes applied in either unusual or incorrect locations. DCM ledger indicates holes spaced for “special ‘scale’ [and] Designed for young children, beginning music.”
– Physical Description: 1 piece. Sheet metal cylindrical tube, extruded, to which is silver-soldered a spun bell with roll-back bead. Music lyre attached.
– Mark Maximum: SAXETTE / PAT. / APL’D. FOR
– Mark Additional: Mark on foot.
– Provenance: E. J. Fitchhorn, of “Saxette Company,” Delaware, Ohio, 30 June 1936.

Medium
Nickel-plated brass.; 40.1 cm.

More pix

As I mentioned at the top, the Saxette first came to my attention when a rather lovely example of one appeared for sale on eBay in June 2014. Here are the photos. Oh, I should mention that it sold for the Buy It Now price of $75.

Source: bowman1109 on eBay.com

Another Saxette appeared for sale on eBay in May 2015. This one didn’t have any accessories with it, but was in decent shape. It sold for $30.00.


Source: pickersspot on eBay.com

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