In the previous post, we looked at how to identify whether your Mark VI was assembled and engraved in the European market, or assembled and engraved for the American market. We also looked at what typical examples of original lacquer, American-assembled Mark VI’s look like in every major time period.
In Part 2, we will look at some different European engraving and lacquer styles, and then we will talk about how to distinguish a relacquered Mark VI from an original lacquer Mark VI.
**Note: This is an article that I plan to improve in level of detail over time as I get more and better photos of different types of Euro-assembled and relacquered Euro-assembled Selmers. Hopefully it is still helpful in the current form.
European-assembled Selmers are often all lumped together when we talk about vintage Selmers. We basically think American vs Euro. But in reality, there were multiple distributors, each doing its own thing. Many Euro-market VI’s were assembled and engraved in France. But quite a few others were engraved in London. That ‘London’ stamp on the bell actually means something! London-distributed Selmers were not only sold in Great Britain, but also at least in Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Here are some examples of distinctive British engraving patterns on lacquered saxophones.
Selmer Mark VI 57xxx original Euro (British) engraving: Here is a typical British-Market 57xxx with a brighter lacquer with lots of reflective clarity. It’s nothing like the dense, dark lacquer on a 57xxx American-assembled VI. The engraving on Euro horns comes in various patterns. None of them have the distinctive flower bud stretching around the side of the bell like an American-engraved Mark VI. British-engraved Mark VI’s typically have very delicate and precise engraving patterns like this. And they usually have a fair amount lacquer sprayed over the engraving.
Here’s the bell of the same horn.
Bell Closeup 57xxx Mark VI original lacquer.
Here is a beautiful Mark VI baritone 62xxx closeup. This is a typical 60xxx in the British (euro) market. It has aged to a deeper honey gold color, and the lacquer is very delicate. It has a metallic/opaque look to it, and it often flakes off on your hands. The next few photos show more of this type of lacquer on this bari and on a 61xxx tenor.
I think of this dark, fragile, almost-metallic looking lacquer as a distinctively British lacquer finish. I could be wrong about the distinctive part, because I have not seem much of anything written about London-engraved and lacquered Selmers. But as i currently understand it, French assembled and lacquered Mark VI’s almost always have a lighter, almost clear lacquer color, and they are much more likely to be entirely unengraved than any other distributor of Mark VI’s.
To help you distinguish British market Selmer Mark VI’s from French-engraved ones, here is a rare 81xxx British engraved Mark VI soprano. The next photo shows a 93xxx French assembled, unengraved soprano with much lighter lacquer.
So the above soprano is a 93xxx French assembled and lacquered example. Next is a Euro, engraved Mark VI soprano 187xxx.
To round out our tour of the Mark VI soprano, the next horn is a rare original lacquer American-engraved Mark VI soprano 97xxx. If you have already toured the American engraved Selmers in the previous post, then you will be familiar with this kind of lacquer already.
Here is a later British market Mark VI serial 143xxx. The lacquer is lighter than the earlier ones, and these horns are pretty hard to distinguish from French-assembled and engraved Mark VI’s of the same era. Only the earlier British Mark VI’s have the darker, fragile lacquer shown above.
Here is a French Assembled and lacquered Mark VI 143xxx. Compared to the British market alto immediately above, you can see that the French lacquer is clear, shiny, and transparent, while the British-finished alto (sold in Canada in this case), is more of a medium gold with more of a matte appearance.
Does the above saxophone look a little odd to you? By now, if you have been paying close attention, it might. It has French lacquer that is clear and bright gold-colored. But what is that American engraving doing there? The reason for this is that this is an originally-unengraved Mark VI finished in France that was later given aftermarket ‘American’ engraving after the fact for aesthetic reasons. It is original lacquer, but the engraving, though beautiful, is not original to the horn. There are quite a few of these horns out there. You can distinguish them by their mismatch of lacquer and engraving. You can spot a re-engraved Mark VI generally when the engraving looks too sharp and too fresh, like a new Reference 54, with bright brass showing through. Like this relacquered, re-engraved 75xxx tenor below:
Here is a typical French-Assembled and engraved Selmer Mark VI. This is a 137xxx serial.
Note that the engraving on British and French-assembled Selmers typically goes onto the bow as well as the bell. American-engraved Mark VI’s very rarely have engraving on the bow.
This and the next couple of photos show a French-assembled and engraved Mark VI tenor 139xxx. You can see that the engraving is very sharp and crisp, the lacquer is light-colored. The keys, in this case, are silver plated. This is probably exclusively a feature of Euro-assembled Mark VI’s. If an American-engraved Mark VI has silver or nickel keys, it has always been a refinish in my experience.
As a final note, I want to mention that earlier French-engraved Mark VI’s often have a heavier final coat of lacquer over the engraving than other Mark VI’s. This feature, combined with the very light lacquer color, can make them look like relacquered horns when they are actually original, or vice versa. If you are in doubt about your light-colored Mark VI with crisp-looking French engraving and lacquer over the engraving, it would be best to get the opinion of an experienced Selmer dealer to be sure of what you have. You may not be able to tell from lacquer and engraving alone, but might need to look at a combination of other factors to make a correct determination.
OK so much for typical original lacquer and engraving on Euro-assembled Mark VI’s.
Now we move on to some examples of relacquered Mark VI’s to help you get a feel for them.
In what follows, I will be focusing on American-engraved Mark VI’s, but everything that I am saying transfers also to Euro Mark VI’s. I don’t have enough photos of relacquered Euro-assembled Mark VI’s to give good enough examples in most cases.
In the above two pairs of images, the first two show an original lacquer 58xxx Mark VI next to a relacquered 57xxx Mark VI. These two horns would have originally had the same kind of lacquer. The relacquered horn (on the right, second image) was buffed to a bright shine and covered with a clear lacquer that is used on modern saxophones today.
In the second pair of images, you see an original lacquer 61xxx tenor next to an unlacquered 60xxx tenor. Is the unlacquered Mark VI stripped original lacquer, or a stripped relacquer? Sometimes it is hard to tell, if the relacquer job was done very well without buffing (lacquer chemically stripped), but in this case, it is a stripped relacquer. If you look closely at the engraving, there are several places where cuts that should continue to be sharp fade out. This fading out is not a result of normal use of the horn in most cases, but of someone checking his text while operating a buffing wheel and getting a wee bit too aggressive for a moment. Particularly on a 60xxx which originally had very deep, sharp engraving, this is clearly a stripped relacquer.
Here’s another example of a stripped relacquer.
The above example is a Selmer Balanced Action, but I couldn’t resist including it. The Balanced Action (original lacquer) on the top has the most gorgeous honey gold lacquer that you have ever seen. The Balanced Action below shows absolutely no buffing to the engraving on the bell. Super sharp, and the lacquer is dark, nitrocellulose like Selmer used. But it’s not the right lacquer for a Balanced Action. That was the point of taking you through the tour of Selmer lacquer over time. This horn has lacquer probably from the late 40’s or early 50’s (the dark, chocolatey, nearly opaque kind). It was most likely relacquered at that time.
To finish up this post, I want to comment in detail on a couple of photos. The above photo is a classic example of a relacquered Selmer Mark VI. There are several features to notice that you can look for. For one thing, you can see that the engraving is rounded at the edges of the cuts and filled in with a thick layer of lacquer. Originally, Selmer would apply several coats of lacquer, then engrave, then apply a final thin overspray of lacquer. On very pristine Mark VI you can even still see this last coat on the edges of the original pads. So you have to look closely at how sharp the engraving is. If this were a later serial Selmer, the lacquer color would almost look correct. It would still be too clear, not warm enough, and too shiny.
On Selmer relacquered with the right color lacquer, you have to look more carefully. Here’s an example.
On this horn, you can see that it is a Euro-engraved Mark VI, and the lacquer is basically the right color, but there is engraving worn away underneath the lacquer. Since the lacquer is a protective coating over the brass, it is not possible for the brass to wear down without the lacquer first getting worn off. So this is clearly relacquered. Still, if you can spot this, and know what you are looking at, you are doing pretty well!
Besides using the above guide to spot non-original lacquer, here are a few more things to look for in spotting relacquers.
1. Check the palm keys and the pinky keys for wear or pitting in the brass under the lacquer. It would look wavy when held up to the light since there is worn off brass from heavy use on those key touches. Don’t go crazy looking for scratches under the lacquer though. Scratches aren’t a reliable indicator, because it is usually very hard to distinguish a light scratch in lacquer made by a stand from a scratch under the lacquer. Any decent relacquer job should have removed scratches anyway.
2. Check the nooks and crannies around post feet and key guard legs for red rouge. A reddish look only in the engraving itself can just be oxidizing brass where air got in there, but if there are other signs of refinishing, it could also be buffing compound. If there’s a ton of red, it’s pretty likely relacquered. If there’s only a tiny amount in the deepest spots, and everything else looks original, it could have been like this from the factory originally.
3. If the lacquer just looks dull and drab, it is more likely to be non-original. Even worn Selmers are pretty shiny where any lacquer is present. On an unengraved Mark VI, this is a good indicator.
4. If you have seen an original Mark VI before, you can look for duller edges in places that should be sharp, like the edges of keys, the ribs on pad cups, and the bell to bow ring. All the scrollwork or vertical lines should be intact there. See how the lines on the bow ring are worn down and the lacquer reflects light unevenly. This is typical of a relacquered Mark VI.