Selmer Pennsylvania Special Alto (1938)

The Story

I bought this horn from Tony at Maggini Supplies in 2005. At the time I was building my collection and very keen on Selmer, which made the best saxophones of all – especially the Mark VI, which beat all comers from the late 1950s onwards.

The Instrument

Selmer in Europe didn’t stencil other maker’s instruments on the whole, with the Pennsylvania Special the main exception. These horns were made by a number of different European manufacturers including Amati and Karl Meyer according to saxontheweb and of vary significantly in quality (I have a tenor version which palls in comparison). This one was certainly made by Kohlert in Czechoslovakia and is one of the best made in my collection. The serial number dates it to 1938 according to the Selmer dating, which is a reasonable even if other Pennslvania Specials have non-Selmer numbering.

This is a silver plated instrument with very elaborate pearl inlays on the pibky cluster. It also has pearl covers to the side keys, somewhat akin to the Martin typewriter saxophones. It has the bottom keys on the right hand side, unlike the ‘flappers’ typical of the earlier part of the decade. For more on an earlier Kohlert alto see Peter Chadwick’s excellent review on this site.

The Player

Sweet and true, but a bit lighter sounding than a modern horn, this is a great player of more delicate music. I haven’t played it very much to date, but will try it more in future. The fingering is very light and balanced.

Saxifications

  • Make – Selmer (Kohlert)
  • Model – Pennsylvania Special
  • Serial Number – 267,481
  • Date of Manufacture – 1938
  • Place of Manufacture – Czechoslovakia
  • Finish – Silver plated with pearl inlays on keys, pinky cluster and side keys
  • Weight – 4lb 7oz
  • Sound – Light and accurate
  • Ease of Blowing – Simple and full
  • Ease of Fingering – Very well balanced, great facility

More about Selmer Pensylvannia Special saxophones can be found currently on the Web from saxpics.
Do you own one of these? I’m particularly interested in reviewing as many of the different versions as possible. Please let me know by commenting on this post.

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36 Responses

  1. Hi Martin,
    I also have a Penn Special alto ser. no. 262857, so roughly the same vintage as yours. Mine is all brass but has all the extra pearl touches. I bought it from a dealer on eBay and all the rollers had corroded onto their shafts and couldn’t be saved apart but from that and an araldite fix to a key guard, it is in fantastic condition.
    If such things interest you, it has several Gordon Beeson pads on the bottom stack whilst some of the top ones look to be original!
    I used to be a committed Martin player and had an Indiana then a beautiful late Committee – trouble was in my hands (mouth?) they just sounded muddy. Playing the Selmer was a revelation as it has enough brightness without having that “new horn” sound if you know what I mean. My only moan is the bottom B key – its so small and my fingers are so clumsy that its a bit of a lottery as to what note will actually sound when I go for it. I agree with your comments otherwise
    I sold the Committee and am now a fan of European horns – I just picked up a cheap silver Kohlert alto which needs an overhaul but plays well enough to indicate that it might be a good specimen.
    ‘Hope this is helpful.
    Best regards,
    Peter

  2. Peter
    Many thanks for your comments.
    I forgot to mention in the Penn Special post that it has rolled tone holes of course – I assume yours has the same.
    Perhaps we can feature your Kohlert once you’ve got it sorted
    Best Wishes
    Martin

  3. hi there is a pennsylvaina special on ebay at the moment,as spelt,do you think its the real thing,only days to go,please help david

  4. Hi David,
    Just checked this horn on eBay – what a terrific-looking horn, more beautiful than mine which is brass and not so well engraved. Maybe its just too good to be true, the seller obviously knows what he has, so why the low start price?
    If you decide to go for it, I would make sure it is a low pitch instrument. Get the seller to check with the relative and confirm to you through the eBay web site that it plays in tune when used in a reading band.

  5. Well the buyer removed the ebay auction. I hope David will let us know if he bought it privately!
    best
    Martin

  6. Hi. I recently bought a Pennsylvania Special alto sax, #261702. it’s laquered brass, with no dents or major scrapes, but it does have that ‘used’ look about it. Has the pearly finish on all the keys, but engraving is slightly different to yours. I’ve only just started playing,and saw this for £150, in the end Igot it for £100.It seems to make the right noises, but I think someone who knows how to play would have to try it. It also came with a VERY tatty Selmer case. Since buying it, I’ve been looking in to history, etc. Has this been made by Kohlert, or Keilwerth? You’ve said yours is keilwerth, and I wondered if mine would be as well, although it has a Kohlert number? I know that something is only worth what someone will pay, but have you any idea what it might be worth? Thank you. Mark.

    • Mark
      Thanks for your comment.
      Look to see if it says made in Germany or Czechoslovakia on the back – that will tell you whether its Keilwerth or Kohlert.
      Learn to play loud, long notes and get it checked out by a repairer to see if the pads are sound.
      Best – Martin

      • Hi again. THanks for reply. There is nothing on back, but between Pennsylvania and Special on bell, it is engraved made in Cechoslovakia. So is itKeilwerth? Either way, what might it be worth? Thanks again.

      • Mark
        Czech… makes it a Kohlert, as is the review model as I now realise. It depends on condition and playability, but it’s certainly worth a lot more than you paid in my opinion. Definitely a better first instrument than a cheap Chinese instrument and the start of a love for good old saxophones. Send a couple of pictures and I’ll add them to the review.
        Best
        Martin

  7. I have a “Pennsylvania Special” baritone sax. Basic brass finish, serial number of 257510. Made in Czechoslovakia engraved on the bell. Low Bb only, no high F#, lots of pearl on the left hand pinky keys. I would have guessed at 1950s for this sax – is it really pre-war?

    Oh yes – It came into my music shop in 2 parts – the body, then most of the pads which had fallen out in the sellers loft!

  8. Dear Boz
    Your serial number says 1935 – see saxpics http://www.saxpics.com/Kohlert/serials.htm
    Let me know if it looks like our review model at https://saximax.com/2011/09/17/selmer-ps-baritone/.
    Best
    Martin

  9. It looks a little different to your pics. Is there a way I can post my own photos on this page?

  10. Boz
    Many thanks. For other readers please see the baitoone at https://saximax.com/2012/01/27/selmer-ps-baritone-02/
    Best
    Martin

  11. I have a nickel silver Pennsylvania Special alto with pearl keys ,serial number 250484, that I bought for £30 in Nottingham,UK back in 1965. It came with a selmer c mouthpiece and together produces a bright tone.I love playing it but wonder what it is worth.

    • Brian
      It looks as if yours was made in 1934. In terms of value you’d have to check ebay to see whether there are any for sale. As I mention in my reviews the quality of these Kohlert made saxophones differ a lot.
      We’ve also uncovered lots of them on this site.
      Where do you play yours?
      Best wishes
      Martin

      • Thank you for the information. I play in big bands and a modern jazz group in north Cambridgeshire,UK

      • I play mine in a modern jazz quintet and sometimes in a big band in the Peterborough area of the UK.Mine has rolled key holes. The number is stamped on the back below the alternate F sharp key and just above the number it says “Foreign”. I also have a Besson tenor sax and a Boosey soprano sax which I think were made in the 1920s. If you would like more details I all send them to you.Brian

  12. Sorry I have just found this thread via an ebay 2013 link, good post but I beg to differ from this, this is not by Henri Selmer at all, the Penns certainly were made by several companies, but it was Selmer London whom imported them, Not Henri Selmer. They are two different companies.If you research you shall find this. The Penns which were imported were usually stamped upon the bell-bow connecting ring and would have been stamped with Selmer London, Foreign.

    I have the one in lacquer with the underslung octave key, mine is not stamped to the bell ring so it is just a Kohlert-Pennsylvania Special, not a Selmer. I had to add this because it is misinformation which causes too much speculation and mystery about the European makers of that era.

    Unless any instrument has the Henri Selmer Paris logo on it, then it is not a Henri Selmer.

    The Penns I have found- and have owned are:

    Kohlert Penn Special.
    Beaugnier Penn ! wish I had not sold it.
    Orsi of Milan-1960’s on
    Borgani Italy 1960’s on
    Amati Penn
    Karl Meyer Penn

    The later 1960’s Penns did suffer from intonation problems because of the bow, usually just corking them works a treat. I have found many variations amongst all of these, i.e. the rolled tone holes, underslung octaves, full pearls down to no extra pearls. Some with High F#, Aux G#, there really are quite a few.

    I sold one of my Brass Kohlerts for £700.00+ so if you bought one cheaper I personally think you have a bargain, I would choose this over a Conn of the same caliber.
    Best wishes.
    Mel

    • Mel
      Many thanks. You’re right – this is definitely not made by Henri Selmer, but I thought I made that clear in the post. All of the Pennsylvania Specials reviewed here seem to have been made by Kohlert, although there are major differences in their quality. They’re all ‘Selmer’ stencils, but can be dated using Selmer serial number charts.
      Best Wishes
      Martin

  13. Hmm it looks like your website atte myy first comment (it
    was extremnely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote
    and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any recommendations for inexperienced blog writers?

    I’d certainly appreciate it.

    • The Web lacks real content. In the world of saxophones Dr Rick, saxpics and a few others do a good job, but I found most of the others are just trying to sell instruments. My advice is to start with a concept that would help you in the subject you choose – the information that is currently missing.
      Best of luck
      Martin

  14. Hi Martin, I have a Pensylvania special (identical to the one featured above) serial number is 267468. I am thinking of trading it in, and was wondering if you could give me a rough guideline of its value. It is in excellent condition. I would appreciate any advice/ insight you may have.
    Many thanks
    Tim James

  15. Evening Gents,
    I have been doing some research this evening regarding valuing my Alto Sax. I started on the pretence it was a Selmer Pensylvania ‘special’ but i think I have a fake! I have owned it for over 20 years and have played (badly) on and off throughout this period. The sax is gathering dust and i thought it had some value which would help with the xmas gifts if I traded it in.

    The very battered case bears a Selmer label, London England. The Sax itself has a very worn Pennsylvania engraving but it does not bare Selmer laurel just the worn name on the bell within the Pennsylvania engraving. It is in good condition and plays lovely. On the bell it also has Made in France stamped on it and is numbered 5371 to the rear below the thumb stay. So it appears a mixed bag from what i have read tonight but I am convinced now its not a genuine Selmer special or model 26 which the number stamp would lead to.

    Any views on what I might actually have and what it might be worth.

    Thanks guys
    Malcolm

    • And ladies 😉
      Malcolm, do you possibly have a photo of your sax, I believe your sax may actually be made by Beaugnier..possibly. None of the Selmer London saxophones have the Henri Selmer laurel, I believe many are confused with this, all London Selmers have indeed just that which is usually stamped upon the bell ring.

      Your sax still may be a Genuine Selmer (London) Pennsylvania special, they imported many from various European manufacturers.

      Kind regards
      Mel

      • Mel
        I’m enjoying this discussion, but I’d rather you didn’t ask our other readers to interact without telling them that you are not associated with this site.
        Best Regards
        Martin

      • Martin,
        Sincere apologies, I was just very interested in seeing yet another Penn, to all others of the thread, I am a collector/player of Penns and eager to make some form of database up of all the different manufacturers of them.
        Kind regards
        Mel

      • Mel
        No worries – I must be getting touchy in my old age! A database of Penns sounds a very good idea.
        Best Wishes – Martin

  16. Hi Mel
    Apologies it’s taken me a little time to get back to you on this post.
    I have taken some photo of my Sax for you to take a look at and confirm whether it’s a genuine Selmer but have been struggling to get the pictures to upload onto the blog. I will give it another go in the next few days. Hopefully they will be clear enough to assess and put a value on the Sax. Worst case I will email them.

    Many thanks
    Malcolm

    • Malcolm
      I appreciate your conversation with Mel, but want to point out that her shop has absolutely nothing to do with this site.
      If you’d like to send some photos to info@itcandor.com I’d love to profile it here – especially if it’s different from the other Selemers we’ve covered.
      Best Regards
      Martin

  17. Hey, I have a matching Pennsylvania Special Baritone that I’m looking to sell. Silver w/ pearls everywhere and gold wash bell. Does this interest you?

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