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The Conn Wonder Improved

1Conn exhibited alto and tenor models at the 1893 World's Columbia Exhibition under the model name "Wonder" (trademarked Feburary 1, 1891), and in 1894 advertised a line of "[Wonder] Improved System" saxophones which included straight soprano, alto, [Bb] tenor, and baritone models. These instruments were available in silver plate with gold plated keys, [silver plate], nickel plate, and polished brass [full gold plate was introduced around 1907]. Only the alto and tenor models were keyed to high F, the rest of the line was limited to high E flat.

C. G. Conn, the founder and owner of the company, was elected to the United States Congress in 1892, and introduced a bill which required that every United States Army regiment have its own band, and specified the instrumentation for the musical unit. As a result, military orders for Conn instruments boomed, and in May, 1900, 150 Conn "Wonder" saxophones were delivered to the Army, and were received at the Schuylkill Arsenal by Louis Seel. In [1907], Conn advertised a family of saxophones that included a curved soprano (which replaced the previous straight model); a C Melody; and a bass, in addition to the standard alto, tenor, and baritone models. The ad mentions an automatic octave key (actually introduced some time earlier [about 1905/1907]) and a forked E flat mechanism.2 [The keyed range on these horns was extended to altissimo F, excepting baritone and bass models. The G# trill key was added around 1913.] In an effort to increase international sales during this period, Conn offered saxophones in both Low Pitch (A=440hz), and in High Pitch (A=457hz) 3.

Note that there is a break in manufacture of these horns: there was a fire on May 22, 1910 at the Conn plant that destroyed everything. The plant was rebuilt in short order, though, and Conn produced a limited editon of horns for the rest of the year (and through the beginning of 1912, it seems) to celebrate their rebirth: the New Invention model.4

My best research indicates that Conn, Ltd. was continuing to sell the Conn Wonder Improved horns until 1917, when horns were first produced with the Haynes tonehole patent, and two years after the purchase of the company by Mr. Greenleaf. I'm also assuming that these horns have the Union label on the back of the horn (above the serial number) and have soldered tone holes. These horns, however, are engraved "C.G. Conn Ltd." instead of "C.G. Conn", a definite change from earlier models, but rolled tone holes and other features that "defined" the New Wonder weren't introduced until a little later.5

  • Still a striking resemblance to the A. Sax horns, but considerably different manufacture than the Worcester models
  • Split (double) octave key until about 1905 -- probably 1907.
  • No pearl keys
  • Straight tone holes
  • NO LACQUER HORNS. Bare brass, only. If it's lacquered, it was done aftermarket.
  • Horns were generally engraved just "C.G. Conn" (NOT "C.G. Conn, Ltd." That's the New Wonder model)
  • Note that curved sopranos do NOT have the Mercedes-Benz-logo low C keyguard

Special, special thanks to Jenseman for contributing pics of his stunning s/n 182 alto. It's one of the earliest Conns extant.

Footnotes & References

  1. Taken from an article on Conn history from Steve Goodson (, who has graciously let me copy, paste and otherwise shred his article for this website. Items in brackets ([ ]) are additions to quotes by your humble webmaster.
  2. Mr. Goodson lists 1911 in his article, but, looking at the above 1907 advertisement, that date is obviously incorrect. All the horns from 1907, listed in the below galleries (for example, the 1280x curved soprano), have Eb vent keys.
  3. Please see my somewhat lengthy article about low vs. high pitch on Sax-on-the-Web (
  4. See Margaret Downie Banks' Homepage The introduction date for these horns that Dr. Banks gives contradicts Steve Goodson's statement: "The 1915 horns were referred to as 'New Invention' models, and were awarded the Medal of Honor; a gold medal; a silver medal; and a bronze medal at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition held in San Francisco." I have not been able to find a listing available of all the exhibits at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition, and Mr. Goodson has not produced documentation supporting his statement. (I'm assuming Mr. Goodson made a textual error and the date he wanted is atually 1912.) Also, note that the Conn company was purchased in 1915 and a new series of horns was introduced. I'd think that the Conn company would showcase their newest horns, not an older line produced under a different owner.
  5. 1919 is the date that both Dr. Banks and Mr. Goodson generally for when horns were first produced with the Haynes tonehole patent. I have several pictures of pre-s/n 50xxx horns with pearl keys and the Haynes patent stamped on the back of the horn, and according to the serial number chart I use (, my earliest pearled alto (s/n 46xxx) translates to 1917/1918, not 1919 (s/n 50xxx). It is possible, however, that the current serial number charts are incorrect (see the frontispiece to America's Shrine to Music Museum's disclaimer I have found that most early stencils lack pearled keywork

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