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The Conn New Wonder Artist Special

"New Wonder Artist's Special" is an official model name from Conn referring to a finish, specifically, finish 00: Heavily gold plated, hand burnished over all. Pearl rollers, bell richly hand-engraved. Inside of bell, engraving background, keys, posts and ferrules hand burnished. However, I have decided to extend this definition and include any horn that does not have one of the seven standard engraving types from Conn.

Unlike the much more stunning (and more expensive) New Wonder Virtuoso Deluxe model, this model does not have additional inlaid pearl keytouches on the side keys.

These horns are elaborately engraved: the featured engraving on the bell is generally of a portrait or of a small bucolic scene and there is extensive floral pattering surrounding the portrait, sometimes even over the entire body and bell lip of the horn, although engraving on keys seems to have been only a feature of the New Wonder Virtuoso Deluxe models. These engravings are supposedly done from a template, but there are over 30 varieties (I have not seen the same engraving on both a silver and a gold horn, but I have seen the same engraving on an alto and tenor). You can see on the gold 203xxx and 209xxx altos in the listings below, that the engravings do repeat.

These horns have one major feature not introduced on their non-virtuoso brethren until later (approximately 143xxx): microtuner necks (except for some of the earliest models.

Errata: possibly the most interesting horn is the 212xxx horn featured HERE. The horn, submitted by a reader, "has a finish over its entire body that looks like the 'gold wash' in the bell of my other horns and unlike a 'real' gold plated horn". As the finish is supposed to be almost 100%, it very well may be that this horn got the very light plating found in the bells of some silver plated horns. Dunno. Haven't seen it in person.

And then there's this beautiful curved soprano from the folks at The engraving on the bell definitely reads, "CG Conn, LTD" -- and it has the Haynes patent stamped on the back -- but the odd serial number (P218xx) and lack of rolled tone holes says the horn's a stencil. Interesting.

Rumor Control: The More Naked the Better

There is a standard oft-repeated rumor about Conn horns: "The more naked the lady on the bell, the better the horn." (See, for instance, Dr. Paul Cohen's Vintage Saxophones Revisited column in the Nov./Dec. 1991 issue of the Saxophone Journal). Surprisingly, this rumor does have some basis in fact.

I believe this "rumor" was started one of four ways:

  • THEORY 1:

    From about 1917 to 1929, Conn offered two exquisite plating variations of its New Wonder model: the "Artist's Special" finish (sometimes called "finish 00") and the "Virtuoso Deluxe" finish (sometimes called "finish 000"). These horns were heavily gold plated and had elaborate engraving on the bell, and sometimes over the entire body AND keywork of the horn. These models were also approximately 50% to 75% more expensive than their more plainly engraved brass, nickel or silver brethren.

    While it's true that only a few of these horns have nude portraits on their bells, there are enough examples with museum-quality nudes to support this "rumor".

    It has been thoroughly debunked on Sax-on-the-Web and in other places that these elaborate models were from better "stock" than other Conn models, but they were obviously subjected to a much higher standard of quality control during final assembly, especially in the case of the Virtuoso Deluxe models which needed different keywork (pearl keytouches).

  • THEORY 2:

    From about 1929 to 1935, Conn started transitioning the New Wonder into the Artist model 4/6/10/12/14M. During this time, most gold plated instruments had a bit of a variation on the standard "transitional" art deco engraving that featured a portrait of a full stylized nude, whereas the brass, nickel and silver plated models only had a less elaborate "New Wonder-style" engraving or a different art-deco variation. Also, gold-plated altos generally had an underslung octave key and most had left-hand bell keys. While these features were available on brass, nickel and silver horns, the combination of the engraving and gold plating (which cost more than twice as much as a brass horn) could certainly start a rumor.

  • THEORY 3:

    From 1935 to 1943, Conn offered the Connqueror 26M and 30M models: a "super pro" variation on the standard 6M Artist alto and 10M Artist tenor (respectively) that had a variety of adjustment screws to regulate key and pad height. Additionally, these horns had silver keytouches on the chromatic Bb, C and altissimo E vent, chromatic F#, low C and Eb, all altissimo keys, and the G# cluster. Combine this with the fact that these horns had a variation of the standard 6/10M "naked lady" engraving that was considerably more detailed than on the 6/10M. (and for 1935, the underslung octave key was only offered on the 26M alto, not the 6M.)

    The Connqueror also appears to have been offered with a custom gold plated finish that had custom engraving -- of a full nude, if desired?

  • THEORY 4:

    From about 1980 to 1985, Daniel J. Henkin offered the Conn 94, 108 and 110M. These fairly rare horns occasionally featured extensive engraving or the "naked lady in a pentagon" (which had been missing from Conn models for almost 20 years at this point).

While the custom engraved horns aren't mechanically different from standard DJH horns, all DJH horns are different from other Conns: these horns were actually manufactured by Keilwerth. They are also, unarguably, considerably better than the late 1960 and 1970 model Conns that were made in Nogales, AZ. So, the rumor could have started by someone who either didn't like Conns and liked Keilwerth or by someone comparing a 1970's horn to a 1980's horn.

What this means to you: if you find a horn that has elaborate engraving, chances are very good that it will be an excellent player. Please beware, though: Conn produced some of these engraved beauties in HIGH PITCH.

Models & Original Price List

    Models (odd numbers would indicate high pitch -- e.g. 11M tenor -- and are not included):
  • 20M Straight Eb Sopranino (they called it an "Eb Soprano")
  • 2M C Soprano
  • 4M Bb Soprano, Curved
  • 18M Bb Soprano, Straight
  • 22M F Mezzo Soprano
  • 24M Conn-O-Sax (F Alto)
  • 6M Eb Alto
  • 8M C Melody Tenor
  • 10M Bb Tenor
  • 12M Eb Baritone (low Bb; low A not available until 1955-ish)
  • 14M Bb Bass
  • 16V Eb Contabass Sarrusophone

Please remember that Conn never produced a contrabass saxophone -- they offered the Model 16V Eb Contrabass Sarrusophone as an alternative.

20M 2M 4M 18M 22M 24M 6M 8M 10M 12M 14M 16V
00 210 200 210 200 260 250 220 225 275 380 510 440

A price chart, in 1927/8 dollars. ONE 1927 dollar = 10.33 2006 dollars1.

(In other words, tack another zero to the end of the price for about what that horn would have cost today.)

Note that I have included the price only for gold plated models. I cannot find any Conn advert that says how much custom engraving cost. If you follow the prices from a finish 0 to a finish 00, you may assume that additional engraving added approximately 20% to the cost of the horn.

Please also note that I've confirmed that the engravings on these horns are NOT unique. I once read someplace that there were approximately 30 different designs you could choose from. The Virtuoso Deluxe horns, however, feature unique designs.

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