This is part 1. Check out part 2 here.

*Note: The gallery at the very bottom of this post is a slide show with subtitles, so click it to watch it (read captions) and get most of the information from this post! You only get the subtitles on desktop format or on a tablet, in landscape orientation to see the text. On mobile, you see only images, no text.

I very often get asked whether someone’s vintage Selmer Mark VI, Balanced Action, Super Balanced Action or other Selmer saxophone has its original lacquer, or is relacquered. There is no existing guide on the internet that I have yet seen that does a good job of answering this question for people. So that’s what this is.

In this guide, I’ll show you what original Selmer lacquer looks like, and I will show you examples of relacquered Selmers. This is important, since the originality of the lacquer has a lot to do with the value of a vintage Selmer. This article is Selmer-specific, for a few key reasons.

  1. Vintage Selmer lacquer looks quite different depending on WHERE the saxophone assembled and finished.
  2. Selmer lacquer looks quite different depending upon WHEN the saxophone was made.
  3. Many relacquered Selmer saxophones were refinished at the factory, and they were done so well that it is hard for the non-specialist to tell if they are original or not. The only specialists I know are either full-time vintage saxophone dealers, and a handful of experienced private collectors. Learning about vintage Selmer lacquer identification is not really part of saxophone repair, so this is not a question that your local repair shop is likely to answer reliably. If you study this guide carefully, you will know enough to identify whether a Selmer is original or relacquered with more certainty than was possible before this guide.

The image above is of a Selmer Balanced Action tenor saxophone from around 1939. The engraving is very sharp and clear, but it is all filled in with a red material. This is red rouge, which is an abrasive polishing compound used to shine up saxophones when they are relacquered. Red rouge is difficult to remove from the grooves in the engraving, as well as from the nooks and crannies of the saxophone. You can look around the feet of posts and key guard legs for it, and in the scroll work along the body and bow seams, and it is often there. An original lacquer vintage Selmer almost never would look like this, with lacquer everywhere, but red in the grooves. It’s good to be able to spot these things if you are buying a vintage Selmer. This guide should help people to buy and sell with more confidence about what your Selmer is. I know every seller wants the horn to be original lacquer, and this wanting is a powerful thing.

Some horns were relacquered without their owners’ knowledge! Some were actually relacquered before being sold the first time! Some were relacquered in their first few years of use. It was common practice back in the day, and it only cost a few bucks!

But repeat after me: “It is what it is. It is what it is. It is what it is!” You have to be ok with the possibility that your vintage Selmer was relacquered. So let’s see what it is. This post helps you narrow down where your horn was made, and when. The next post will help you get a feel for what relacquered Mark VI’s (and other Selmers) look like.

The first question you need to answer is where your Mark VI was assembled, engraved, and lacquered. You can tell this by the engraving pattern.


First question: Is my Selmer American-Assembled or European-Assembled? Here are some photos to help you!

You can tell by the engraving pattern. Here are American Engraving Examples

As you can see, the American-engraving pattern has a few distinctive features. First of all, it has a flower bud on the back of the bell that is the easiest tell-tale identifier. It also has the distinctive sweeping leafy pattern extending around the side of the bell from the Selmer stamp, on both sides of the flower bud.

American-engraving Selmer Mark VI Alto

Euro-engraved (French and British Assembled) Selmer Mark VI Original Lacquer

The French and British engraved Selmer Mark VI saxophones NEVER have the distinctive flower bud stretching around the side of the bell. They have more abstract designs on the bell, and they sometimes have a more sparsely engraved flower above the Selmer stamp on the bell. Here are a range of examples covering most of the patterns that you will see. There are also many un-engraved Euro-assembled Mark VI’s, and some (especially French and Swedish-market) Mark VI’s had original silver plated keys and a lacquered body.

What does American-assembled Selmer Mark VI Original lacquer look like? (Watch the whole slideshow!)

The gallery below is a slide show, so click it to watch it and get most of the information from this post!

If you have a smartphone, the slide text doesn’t appear. If you have a tablet, you have to turn it to landscape orientation to see the text.

The answer depends upon when it was made, and also how it was stored and how much it has been used. Below is an extensive tour through every period of Selmer Mark VI production showing what original lacquer typically looks like at different vintages, going from early to late. Lacquer color changes both from batch to batch within the early Mark VI’s and also generally goes from darker to lighter over time. See the many qualifications in the slide show below. This took forever to make, because i had to go through thousands of possible photos to select very representative ones that help you to learn important things about particular vintages of Mark VI.

There is a LOT of information here, so click “full screen,” get a cup of coffee, and read through this carefully.

Mark VI 59xxx

Note the dark lacquer and deeply cut engraving.

Mark VI 61xxx

Note the heavily cut engraving and dark lacquer. This is very typical for a 55xxx-65xxx.

Mark VI 61xxx Closeup

Closeup of that 61xxx lacquer and engraving, typical of 55xx-65xxx VI's.

Mark VI 63xxx

This horn gives you a feel for the dark, greenish gold colored lacquer that you sometimes see between 60xxx-85xxx. It may be hot, dry storage that does this to old Selmer lacquer from this period. You also see distinct areas of darkening in the lacquer sometimes just where the horn touches the case lining on the back of the body.

Mark VI 67xxx

Beautiful original lacquer that has aged darker honey gold. Not as chocolatey looking as a 55xxx-65xxx VI though. More translucent and less dense.

Mark VI 67xxx #2!

Same period as previous horn, made only months later. Selmer in Elkhart mixed its lacquer in batches, and they were not all identical. This lacquer is lighter looking, honey gold. Later sixty-thousands serials have engraving usually not quite as deeply cut as a 54xxx-61xxx VI.

Mark VI 70xxx

Near Mint Original 70xxx showing the very lightly cut engraving still with the final coat of lacquer on it and on the edges of the original pads. This top coat of lacquer wears out of the engraving on horns that have been played for any length of time and the engraving starts looking sharper and a bit more distinct.

Mark VI 77xxx

From 70xxx-83xxx (or so) the engraving tends to be cut very lightly. It can almost not look original sometimes when it is. You have to be careful!

Mark VI 77xxx

Another photo showing how finely cut the engraving typically is in 70xxx-83xxx Mark VI's.

Mark VI 84xxx

Starting around 84xxx I have seen engraving that is more deeply cut again and very typically looks like this horn.

Mark VI 86xxx

Notice the lighter lacquer color in the later 86xxx VI's. And the heavier cut in the engraving. My theory is that between 70xxx-83xxx Selmer had only one engraver, and after that, another one started working who has a heavier touch, so you see a mix of heavier and lighter engraving styles after that. Who knows?

Mark VI 92xxx

Honey Gold original 92xxx lacquer.

Mark VI 92xxx

One more shot of a very typical 90xxx tenor.

Mark VI 93xxx

Another typical 90-100k tenor.

Mark VI 93xxx Back of Bell

American Engraving Pattern with flower bud typical 93k. Photo is a little overexposed, and horn is darker in person.

Mark VI 100xxx

Medium dark lacquer, finely cut engraving.

Mark VI 100xxx

One more photo of the same horn. Structurally, an early 6-digit is exactly the same horn as a late 5-digit.

Mark VI 116xxx

Typical 110xxx-119xxx Mark VI tenor lacquer and engraving. Color can be darker or lighter. Sometimes the engraving is more finely cut.

Mark VI 129xxx

Typical 120-130xxx Mark VI lacquer and engraving. This lacquer has aged darker over time, like a 55-65xxx. You see this pretty often in the 130k range too, but not much after that. I have never seen a very dark 140k or later VI that was original.

Mark VI 129xxx

Important to note that on Mark VI tenors, sometimes the lacquer inside the bell is a different color from the body. On 70-80k tenors, it is often lighter than the body. On this 129k it is a bit darker.

Mark VI 136xxx

Mint Original VI 136xxx lacquer photo #1

Mark VI 136xxx

Same horn as before, photo taken at a different angle. Lacquer is a beautiful honey gold.

Mark VI 146xxx

It can be helpful to see what more worn original lacquer looks like. Brass contains copper and turns red when it tarnishes in the presence of certain common substances (ammonia, sulphate, salts).

Mark VI 146xxx

Horns that lived near the ocean often turn more green than red.

Mark VI 151xxx

After 145xxx, Selmer lacquer tends to be a lighter honey gold from here all the way to the present with a much narrower range of variation. Gone is the darker earlier lacquer.

Mark VI 151xxx

Very typical for 146xxx-160xxx

Mark VI 168xxx

Very typical Original Lacquer VI 160xxx and later. All the way to the end of the Mark VI run, they look pretty much like this.

Mark VI 168xxx

Very typical Original Lacquer VI 160xxx and later. All the way to the end of the Mark VI run, they look pretty much like this.

Mark VI 233xxx

Typical later Mark VI lacquer color and engraving style.

Mark VI 233xxx #2

Pretty much all American-assembled Mark VI's between 160xxx and the end of the Mark VI run look like this. American-engraved Mark VII's look like this too.

Whew! That was a lot for one post. Be sure to read PART 2, which features both a tour of original lacquer European-assembled Mark VI’s, and shows you how to identify relacquered Selmer Mark VI’s.