Hawkes And Son XX Century Alto (1932)

The Story

A Couple of years ago I was looking to add a good English saxophone to my collection. Hawkes and Son made saxophones in their factory in Edgeware near London. I saw this in an eBay auction and put a bid on it.
I never took much interest in the instrument when it arrived, because it was immediately evidently that it was a ‘high C’ and unplayable in tune. Although I collect saxophones, I’m really not interested in them if they’re unplayable with other musicians, which is true of all ‘high C’ instruments. For those of you who don’t know, concert pitch was not always the standard 440Hz in is today. Many instrument manufacturers from the nineteenth onwards made high and low pitched instruments. While pitch is possible to adjust for stringed instruments, it can’t be changed for brass and saxophones, where the length of the tube dictates the frequency of the notes. Looking at the pictures now I realise that I completely failed to see that this horn had a solid silver bell and neck – like a King Silversonic. If I had I might have been more tempted to keep it.

I had some trouble getting a refund for this sax, but took some photos, which I think are useful for those thinking of owning a Hawkes XX Century horn. Oh… and to avoid purchasing a high-pitched Hawkes look for the ‘#’ or ‘H’ (bad) and ‘b’ or ‘L’ (good) markings by the serial number. I’m not personally against owning ‘high C’ horns, but I’m not going to pay proper saxophone prices for them.

My advice to those selling them is to make sure the fact that it’s a ‘high C’ is listed right at the top of the advert. Sell the instrument on its historical importance, but not on its playability.

The Instrument

It is a silver plated brass alto, with a silver bell. The engraving on the bell says ‘XX Century’ above a picture of an eagle and globe. Under this are the words ‘Hawkes & Son, makers, Denman street, Piccadilly Circus, London W, 58XXX’.

The XX Century model was the main one made by the company up until the time it merged with Boosey to form the company Boosey and Hawkes in around 1934. As I can find no reliable information on the dating of these instruments I’ve decided to date it as 1932 – just before Hawkes & Son ceased to exist.

Actually the horn was in surprisingly good condition (or perhaps not so surprising as no one could have played it in tune with any modern instrument). It has an interesting ‘H’ decal on the side of the key protector to the low f# trill key. It also has a fascinating octave mechanism, which can be seen in the photos.

The Player

I can’t say much about how this played. Having the disappointment of acquiring an unusable instrument I didn’t blow it. Hopefully it has now formed part of collection of a non-player, because it is excellently well manufactured. Saxophone making was a specialist craft and the in early years many of the makers travelled the globe. Conn for instance persuaded French makers based in London to move to Elkhart, Indiana to work for his company. The existence of well-made instruments in London in the 1930s suggests that some of them remained behind perhaps.

Saxifications

  • Make – Hawkes and Son
  • Model – XX Century alto (high C)
  • Serial Number – 58XXX
  • Date of Manufacture – 1932
  • Place of Manufacture – Edgeware, London, UK
  • Finish – Silver plated with a silver bell and crook
  • Weight – 4lb 9oz
  • Sound – Unknown (high C)
  • Ease of Blowing – Open and wide
  • Ease of Fingering – Some clever keys

An excellent description of a Hawkes & Son XX Century tenor can be read on shwoodwind‘s site.

Do you own high C instruments? Am I wrong to avoid them? Have you ever played one live? Let me know by commenting on this article.

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18 Responses

  1. A friend has asked me to research her late fathers XX Alto Sax, Hawkes and Son, so was interested to read you article on your recent purchase of what turned out to be a high C instrument.
    This instrument is in good condition despite being played in a forces band throughout WW2. It is in original case, I believe, and has the original stand as well. A Sax’ playing friend played it straight away and is sure that it is an E flat version.
    It has a lively sound, and is crying out to be loved and played once more. Interested?

    • Sara
      Thanks so much for visiting. I’d love to profile your saxophone here. Look for the ‘b’ (low pitch) or ‘#’ (high pitch) mark on the back; also whether it has a silver bell and crook. Some photos would be good. If you have details of the band details it could be an excellent story.
      Best Wishes
      Martin

  2. Hi ,
    I have had an XX Century Alto in my loft for 20 years ..I’ve just decided to research it ….it’s in good nick …a bit leaky as you’d expect after years of non -use ….I always could play better in my head than in reality sp gave up !

    Serial number is 58187 , but no other markings (b or #)

    Cheers
    Barry

  3. Barry
    Send me a picture – we should cover it here.
    Best
    Martin

  4. I am looking at one for sale with serial number 55 782
    Sadly I don’t know where to find a listing of serial numbers for this manufacturer, though in the saxifications section of the story about we see a 58xxx serial number with a manufacture date of 1932, so I guess that dates them close enough.

    Cheers

  5. Bruce
    Thanks for you question.
    Have a look at http://www.horn-u-copia.net/serial/Hawkeslist.html.
    Best Martin

  6. Hi, I am looking for Hawkes & son, XX century -Alto sax, ( high C ), can you tell me where I can get in Paris , I mean which shop, it will be nice if you mail me the shop address , and at what price I should buy it.thanks

    • Mr More
      Unfortunately I have no knowledge of saxophone shops in Paris – maybe on of our other readers can help there. Hawkes & Son were a British company and their saxophones appear for sale on eBay UK.
      There are a number for sale there today.
      You have a very strange ambition to own a high ‘C’ instrument, since they are essentially unusable today as my post describes.
      Go for a low ‘C’ if you want to play the instrument.
      Best Wishes – Martin

  7. Hello

    Can anyone help? I have a Hawkes and Son Saxaphone, it was my grandads so it is pretty old. This only say’s XX century with the serial 52563. I have looked up the Hawkes and Son serial numbers but mine isn’t listed. ???

  8. Hi, I have a Siver plated E-flat Alto, which is VGC and,…. was told 1928, by the previous owner and researcher, it reads XX Century Hawkes & Son and the Sax G position transposes to concert pitch B-flat which suggests it is an E-flat instrument the serial number reads: 58718
    It is completely silver plated and I paid a lot of money to have it restored so it plays ok and has new pads, springs etc, it sounds better than any Alto I have ever heard, a Magical Raspy trumpet -like tonality which I have learned to love very much.

    • hej I have also a silverplated sax with no 61266 wiht original transport case. I got it from the family after the old man died 6 yars ago.If you have interest please mail >profett830@gmail.com<

      Michael Nørgaard
      Copenhagen
      Denmark

  9. I have got from my late grandfather a xx century clarinet serial number 55252

  10. I owe a xx century HAWKES&SON makers DENMAN STREET PICCADILLY CIRCUS LONDON W. 58581.I would like to no the value of the instrument

  11. Very nice information to H&S saxophone history and manufacturing

  12. Hi I have a hawkes and son saxophone which my grandad used to play many years ago it’s in the original box serial number is 55407 I was thinking of selling and wondered what the value would be it is not in that good condition and the box is tatty there is also some music with it as well . Thank you so to

  13. Hi. I’ve got a Hawkes and Son alto sax with the 2380 number and HP written on it. Can you tell me where I can find anymore info on this instrument, please? Thanks.

  14. We have also a saxofon picaddily circus from the Year 1934 With a low c. From zilver in a very good condition. We can send you Some pictures if you want. Our mail adress is gysbrechtsa@skynet.be

  15. Hey there,
    I have a silver plated e-flat (with a #mark), with new white pads and in an overall perfect state. The no. is 50245. As I understand the sax was made between1922 and 1925.
    Unfortunately, I am not playing anymore and want to give it away.
    My problem is, that I am not sure about the value of it.
    When I bought it I trusted my old sax teacher, but I am afraid that this wasn’t the correct value of it.

    If you have interest please mail:

    martinduve@gmail.com

    Martin Duve
    Germany
    Dortmund

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