Adolphe SAX alto 1868


Last arrived in my small collection of historical instruments : an Adolphe SAX alto dating 1868. It is back from TLC and cleaning and it looks beautiful. Hervé Martin did a marvelous job, congratulations !! To know how this old man sounds, I need to find an appropriate mouthpiece (I wouldn’t like to reface the original wooden mpc, very closed)!

His future job will be to play  XIXth century music, evidently ...

A few photos and details lower.

The bell engraving mentions clearly the following :

N° 33776

Saxophone Alto en mi b

Adolphe Sax  Facteur Breveté

de la Maison Militaire de l’Empereur

50 rue St Georges à Paris



followed by SAX’s monogram

(a S and an A interlaced with the mention PARIS on the S’s transversal bar.

A complete view of the beast (insert : Before cleaning and repairing).

A few details : original wooden mouthpiece, no cork replaced by string, high octave key, lyre support, left hand keys (the silver plating is worn by finger contact (mother of pearl key protections didn’t exist in1868). Clés d’aigu jusqu’au fa. No «plateau» Bb.

Side Bb and high E keys (the Tc key of C will wait 30 years to be invented). No rolls between low Eb and C.

The low keys protections wear a round cork to avoid metal contact. The bottom curve, originally dammaged is back to a very nice shape.

Repadded with white pads, like on the original. The bell engraving is magnificent.

Down to low B, the key is placed at the rear of the sax. Details of the thumb posts, of the 2 separate octave keys, and of the left hand high keys.

An inside view : bell and body high part. The neck screw, lyra holder and high octave key transmission appear clearly. Also note the presence of an inside low octave key, avoiding dripping condensation water.

Other views from above.

Details : mouthpiece, white pads under the SAX monogram.

Rare : protruding axis screws.

SAX monogram and double stamping «Seul grand prix 1867».

The holding ring is curiously horizontal.

Detail of low keys : no rolls between G#, C#, B, nor for Eb C.

Details of left hand and right hand keys.

Detail of high F key, turning around the Eb. Detail of the neck tenon and of the lyra holder. The Eb and Bb saxophone familly was meant for military orchestras in priority (where those tonalities were dominant). So marching was important ...

Here it is near three of his glorious successors (all altos) :

- Adolphe SAX silvered, 1868 descending to low B.

  1. -Evette et Schaeffer (ex-Buffet) bare brass, 1915. Still double octave key.

  2. -Buescher gold-plated,1928 (the favourite instrument of Sigurd Rascher)

  3. -Selmer Series II lacquered, 1994 (typical modern sax, heir of the Mark VI).

An other aspect of historical perspective :

mouthpieces are Adolphe SAX, Martin USA, Rascher, Selmer.

A few remarks at first sight :


The wooden mouthpiece has  common charactes with those built until the beginning of the XXth century in France : a very large chamber, the overall length is less important than in modern mouthpieces (thus compensating a straighter chamber), but anyhow longer than the mini-dimensions of the Rascher mouthpiece. The opening of this model is very little. It seems that musicians liked to play without effort on this level.


This saxophone dating 1868 has two separate octave keys, since the automatic system will wait the turn of the XXth century to be invented. Also, it possesses neither the C trill key, nor the low Bb, the rollers between the keys of Eb and C. The index medium Bb doesn’t existe either, and the only possibility is the A trill (Ta). Its range is from low B to high F.


The bocal has no cork, but a roll of string (probably greased) which provides hermeticity. If the rest of the body is soldered, the bocal can be detached, like on all modern altos. Nevertheless, it probably stayed on the body for long years without being detached : the tenon is shiny, lacking any kind ofoxydation (it was very difficult to detach it for transport).

The mention Grand Prix 1867 figuring over the Adolphe Sax monogram, confirms the datation of 1868. Apparently, the worker who engraved it must have slipped and done it twice ...

Strange curiosity, the presence of a supplementary monogram (GR ?) on the most exposed part of the bell. Apparently added after the making of the instrument, it can’t represent the Garde Républicaine, since it will take its  definitive name only 2 years later in 1870 … and we are still under the Empire.

It is most probably the initials of the owner, proud of his beautifull instrument.