The Conn New Wonder Virtuoso Deluxe
These are, arguably, the most beautiful saxophones ever made -- and, according to most, are the best made Conn horns.
Conn decided to go all out in opulescence on these horns, indicative of the world before the 1929 stock market crash: heavy gold plated horns that have mother-of-pearl inlaid (not riveted like the King Zephyr Special or early Super 20/Silversonic) into the altissimo keys, G# cluster, low C/Eb, chromatic F# and all the RH side keys (Bb, chromatic C and altissimo vent). Just this feature alone qualifies these horns as some of the most elaborate ever made.
Conn took another step further, however: these horns have elaborate engraving, sometimes over the horn's entire body AND keys. The engraving is extremely beautiful and detailed, generally showing a portrait or a small scene.
Officially, the only Conn "Virtuoso Deluxe" horns are only "Finish 000 -- Burnished Gold", with the description: "Furnished only on special orders and prices quoted on request." Heavily gold plated over all, hand burnished over all. Each and every key inlaid with special choice and carefully selected pearls. Highest class hand engraving on bell of instrument, as well as a greater portion of the body, all of which is a special design and of the highest character.
However, as you can see with the stupendous 186xxx alto, in the galleries below, it looks like straight silver and silver plate with gold keywork/highlights were also available, depending on the player's preference. These additional finishes (two-tone, silver plate, etc.) are not listed in any catalog I have ever seen, but I have listed them here to distinguish them from other models of Conn New Wonder.
C instruments in this "Virtuoso Deluxe" finish are extremely rare: C instruments were primarily for home use and most households wouldn't want to pay the equivalent of $500 US extra for a home model instrument. Baritone, bass and Sarrusophone models are also rare, probably due to the prohibitive expense of these horns coupled with the added expense of the very time-consuming engraving and inlay work and the cost of two to three times the amount of gold plate used on other models. The baritone pictured below is now worth close to $4000 US -- and it's not even full gold plate.
The engraving on the earlier New Wonder "Artist's Special" horns seem to be from a limited amount of patterns (although there are 30 of them!), but the engraving on each of these beauties is unique -- truly making them works of art. These horns even occasionally have the engraver's name someplace on the horn -- generally Julius Stemberg (Conn's master engraver) or L. Osborne (they also engraved some of the Artist's horns, too).
The CHEAPEST of these horns generally sell in the $2000 range, today. The two-tone alto pictured below sold for over $3000 in 2003. These horns are mechanically and sonically superior to the Selmer 26 of approximately identical vintage and if you're offered a choice between the two -- at generally the same price -- go for the Conn.
Finally, King, Martin and Buescher also produced "Virtuoso Deluxe"-style horns in heavy gold plate with elaborate engraving and extra pearl inlay (and even some stencils). These are rare to the point of almost being non-extant.
WARNING! Note that that Conn produced HIGH PITCH horns until about 1940. Modern instruments, except for some instruments used in concert orchestras in Europe, are LOW PITCH, with A (the tuning note used in orchestras) =440 hz. Some high pitch horns from other manufacturers can be used, if you've got a good ear, because they're tuned to, say, A=442. Conns are pitched around A=457. In other words, you can't play a Conn high pitch horn with other instrumentalists because you'll be seriously out of tune with them! Luckily, Conn did include the stamp "HP" or "High Pitch" above the serial number for these horns that had the odd tuning.
- Models (odd numbers would indicate high pitch -- e.g. 11M tenor -- and are not included)1:
- 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 (I've not seen one in this finish)
- 24M Conn-O-Sax (F Alto) (I've not seen one in this finish)
- 6M Eb Alto
- 8M C Melody Tenor
- 10M Bb Tenor
- 12M Eb Baritone (low Bb; the 11M low A bari wasn't available until 1955-ish)
- 14M Bb Bass
Please remember that Conn never produced a contrabass saxophone -- they offered the Model 16V Eb Contrabass Sarrusophone as an alternative. Yes, the Virtuoso finish was available for these.
Finish 000 horns, I have been told, generally cost twice as much as a Finish 0 horn, so if you check out a catalog, you'll get some idea as to how much these beasties cost.