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The Mysterious Saxie

John Robert Brown

The Mysterious Saxie

The little saxophone looks like a toy. A simplified soprano saxophone, the inscription on the bell names it as a Saxie, states that it was made by Couesnon and Company, and that it has a US patent dated June 3rd, 1924.

Constructed in unlacquered brass, the Saxie has a curved conical body, an elegantly flared bell, and is fitted with a conventional ebonite mouthpiece suitable to take a clarinet reed secured by a brass one-screw ligature. The body has six raised finger holes (tone holes) and two keys, one of which is an octave key.

Using the normal saxophone fingering, the Saxie is pitched in C. The range is similar to that of the soprano saxophone, although it can only descend to D below the first line of the treble clef, and has no bell keys. The bell is therefore fitted mainly for appearance, the venting for the low D being the two large holes on each side of the body. One of these holes can be seen in the photograph. Having no left-hand palm keys, the upper range is limited, though of course with practice and experimentation a set of fingerings could be devised to enable the range to be extended to the normal top notes of the soprano. Presumably this was not intended by the designers of the instrument.

On the internet I have found a copy of the original patent, filed in 1929 by Frederick Hammann, of Baltimore, USA. There he says: "My invention relates to a toy saxophone and has for its object the providing of a reed musical instrument capable of being played without keys with a curved exterior to resemble a saxophone." Some commentators have been unkind about the Saxie, one fellow describing it as: "A sort of basic 'novelty' sax, which, frankly, was about as nasty as it sounds."

Internet reports of 2012 refer to two Saxies appearing for sale on eBay that year, in rapid succession. The prices asked are inconsistent (and too high!) As would be expected, resale prices are influenced by the condition of the instrument, a dent-free body attracting the higher figure. Another internet report states: "The Couesnon company in Paris must have quickly bought the patent rights as their name is on the four now known extant saxies. It was described to the 'ever-widening circle of admirers of the saxophone' as 'the little brother of the saxophone', but easier to play. The small number of extant Saxies suggests that it was an interesting experiment but not a commercial success."

Whether my Saxie brings the world total of extant Saxies up to five, I have no idea. I first discovered this particular example back in 1972. Only recently did I become the owner.

When I first encountered the Saxie, more than forty years ago, I contacted Monsieur Kiss, then the export manager for Couesnon in France, who was most co-operative in trying to trace the origins for me, but could find no-one working in the Couesnon factory at Clichy who could remember what it was. 

On the web is a picture of what appears to be a silver-plated Saxie, with the bell cranked forward, but identical to my own instrument in every other respect. Also of interest is a short video clip on YouTube of saxophonist Antillio Berni playing a selection of rare saxophones, among which is a Saxie, seen on the recording at number 18. One commentator says: "The man has 500 vintage saxes! Can't possible be married!"

To this account I can add little more. An article about the Saxie was published in The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 52 (April, 1999), pp. 195-201, written by David Rycroft. The author asserts that at that time there were only two extant examples of the Saxie in public museums: in Frankfurt (Oder) and Vermillion, South Dakota.

Maybe you can tell me more?

John Robert Brown

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