tiny STAMPS ?

While studying 19th century saxophones, I found on a number of them tiny stamps, of about 5 millimetres across. All of these were punched into the wall of the instruments, carefully hidden under the arm of the key nr. 6, third finger right hand, between the hinges and the tone hole.


type "A"
without a circle
So far I've found two different types of these stamps. Let's call them type "A" and type "B". Moreover, in the "A"–type, there are two variants. One without a circle and another one, which looks a bit more delicate, with a circle around it. It is obvious that these stamps were punched in when the main tube of the instrument was still in its bare, unassembled state, possibly even before the tone holes were soldered on, as at least one imprint is very near to a tone hole chimney. None of these imprints are a 100% identical. This is due in the first place to accidents in the process of the stamping itself: there is one imprint which seems to have a semicircle on the left hand side completing a form made by the letters on the right hand side and there is another one which is just the opposite – it is possible that in these cases the circle is just an imprint of the rim of the body of the stamp itself.

There is also a difference in orientation between the two types: while the "A"–type has its top toward the hinges of the keystack, the "B"–type can be in the same position but it can also have its top upright, with the saxophone in playing position.

The stamps are composed of two letters and as they were found on instruments bearing different names (or no names at all), it is easily suspected that they are a way to 'fingerprint' a stencil instrument, leaving a tiny, hidden mark of the real maker on an instrument. In most of the imprints type A can be read as "AF" or maybe as "AI" or "AJ", whereas type B reads more likely as "AS" or maybe as "AG". The letters themselves are not quite identical too. Sometimes parts of them are missing due to the stamping process or to a damaged stamp. In the Jérôme Thibouville Lamy soprano we find a double imprint due to a displaced stamp. The typeface is inspired by the example set by Demengeot.

In 1864 Charles Demengeot published a book named “Recueil complet de chiffres modernes à deux lettres” in which he included examples of monograms to be used by “jewellers, instrument makers and in other branches of industry”. His designs use the Copperplate font, which in its turn is based on the copper plate engravings by roundhand writing masters. It is obvious that the stamps on our instruments follow Demengeot's example. The main differences lie in the fact that the stamps were made to fit within a circle.


type "A"
with a circle

a. e. sax

type "B"
without a circle


The instruments are all built in the way saxophones were made at very beginning, most of them with their mechanisms in the most basic form still. The general layout of the mechanism is similar to those of Adolphe Sax, up to the typical way in which pivot screws and steel rods are distributed over the key stacks. Screws themselves proved in some, but not in all cases to be interchangeable with those of real Adolphe Sax instruments. In the sopranos the G#-key is placed slantly outside of the main row. Two of the sopranos have the typical split mechanism for the upper octave key, such as Sax also used, while the others have an upper octave key made out of one single piece. Drawing up a first quick inventory among a couple of people who might have seen such stamps taught me the following:

Until now 22 instruments carrying such stamps have been identified:

serial type
anonimous A
Association Générale, Feurs de l' armee, Paris 9146 B
F. Besson, 92 Rue d'Angoulême, Paris A
Auguste Feuillet, 90 Rue Rochechouart, Paris A
Royet, breveté, Toulouse A
Jérôme Thibouville Lamy, Paris B
anonimous A
A. Feuillet & Fils, 12 Boulevard Ornano, Paris | this instrument bears two stamps 4453 A
Association Générale des Ouvriers Réunies, Rue St. Maur 81, Paris | this instrument is 'left handed'! 7900 B
Halari, 6 Rue des Poitevins, A PARIS A
Livain, Braine le Comte A
Millereau & Cie., 29, Rue des Trois Bornes, Paris 192 A (?)
Salf à Toulon A
Adolphe Sax, 51 Rue Blanche 51, Paris B
Thibouville Frères, Evry la Bataille B
Association Générale des Ouvriers Réunies, Rue St. Maur 81, Paris A
Gaubert, Rue Esquermoise 34 à Lille A
Thibouville–Cabart, Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth 35 A
A. Feuillet & Fils, Boulevard Ornano 12, Paris | as documented on the internet 4827 A
Millereau & Cie., 29, Rue des Trois Bornes, Paris | as documented on the internet 155 A (?)
Adolphe Sax, 51 Rue Blanche 51, Paris B
anonimous A
The complete documentation of the stamps can be viewed here.

what next?

As stamps are made for bulk use, there must be many more instruments carrying such imprints. Probably most of them, maybe even all of them are stencil saxophones. To understand a bit more about their origin, I would – for a first step – very much want to ask collectors to investigate their instruments for more such stamps. Please sent me pictures. Pictures of the instrument in full and details of the imprints of the stamp and the inscriptions on the bell. If you own 19th century instruments which are not stamped in this way, this is interesting to know as well: again, please let me know.
As a next step I would want to measure a significant number of these instruments (SATB) and compare their bore profiles and tone hole dimensions in order to try to establish their maker. For a limited number of instruments this exercise has already been done and the results surely are promising.

I think such an exercise is worthwhile for the sake of history and to honour the as yet unidentified maker!

with kind regards to Jean Jaques Bona and Robert Howe.