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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello,

This post is rather long, but if I would have anything to contribute to this community, it is the experience that I've gone through recently to acquire my 1954 Mark VI Alto. I thought I would share it with those who plan to get an early Mark VI someday. Hopefully, it’s useful to you in some way. I also would like to share how I feel about my horn the first time I saw it and maybe receive some advice on how to best care for it.

My name is Robert. I'm 41 years old. I take my three kids to music school every Saturday morning for their piano lessons. With nothing to do while waiting for them, I decided to take saxophone lessons (weekly 30 minute private) and have been doing it since April with a $53/month rental sax (Yamaha student model) from the same music school. After the first few lessons, my teacher told me I was overpowering the student horn a bit because I wasn’t a kid anymore. So I figured if there was a chance the rental was holding me back, I should switch to a professional one instead. Also I always love picking up a saxophone and practice whenever I could (a couple of times on some days), so I came to realize that I’d better get a saxophone of my own once and for all. My plan was to get just one of the best Altos I could buy, be happy with it, and see how far I we could take each other. For two months, I spent a lot of time researching online learning about strengths and weaknesses of any saxophone brand and model I came across. I came to a conclusion that for many reasons (sound quality, history, value, investment, etc.), I should get a 5-digit Selmer Mark VI, preferably from 1954.

I went through all saxophones available for online purchase from ebay, amazon, getasax, boston sax, worldwidesax, reverb, SOTW, etc. comparing years, conditions, and prices to gauge the values of all horns. I pretty much checked these websites a couple of times daily just to be sure I was among the first to see if new horns were listed for sales. I was doing this religiously for several weeks while asking for advice from my teacher, my kid’s teachers, the guy at the music school sales counter, professional player I came across, my music college professor friend, etc. until it became crystal clear that early Mark VI was the only choice I would pursue. Knowing the best thing to do was trying the horn before buying but not realizing I should start searching locally first, I started out with online bidding thinking it was the only way to find a 1954 horn. That led me to be involved with scammers twice on ebay.

The first time was soon after knowing I was ready to buy. I was still rather naive on the value of a Mark VI Alto and didn’t know exactly yet where the price should be for different conditions and vintages. When a seller offered a quick Buy It Now transaction for his not-so-pretty 1954 Mark VI Alto for $1,500, I fell for it in the beginning because other than the price, nothing looked suspicious. The seller claimed to be a retired pawnshop owner who had just moved to Europe but still had properties and items for sales in the US and he would ship the horn from his US warehouse. I got spooked and backed off when he asked me to wire the money to his European bank account, which I refused to do and offered Paypal payment instead. He kept sending emails requesting I wire transfer the money because Paypal was too much hassle for him. I refused, and that was the end of that. I saw this seller appeared with this kind of listings again once or twice but not recently. Maybe ebay has caught up with him and his practice. I don’t know for sure.

The second time I actually won a hard fought bidding war, again on ebay for a 1954 Mark VI Alto. Condition was typical of the age of the horn (not pretty). This was when I had already realized that it would be unlikely that I would pay less than five grands for a working 5-digit Mark VI Alto. I was happy to win at $5,800 because a couple other bidders really wanted to get that horn too. I quickly paid through Paypal. The next day ebay showed the horn had been shipped with USPS but no tracking info. I sent my concern to the seller via ebay message and no response. Then I started getting strange emails from somebody whose name appeared to be either Arabic or Eastern European language I wasn’t sure. He claimed somebody who had just hired him two weeks prior to be a financial assistant was scamming me for the money using his Paypal account. The next day, he showed proof that he consulted Paypal about this transaction, and then he sent me back the money the day after that. I tried to ask the seller who the person that sent me back the money was because they didn’t seem to be the same person, but communication with the him (the scammer) via ebay message was poor and ineffective, so at first I was really upset thinking that the seller did not get the winning bid so high as he expected, so he came up with another character and added a story to create confusion in order to send me back the money and cancel the transaction, so he could re-list the horn again on ebay.

That was how it looked because, sure enough, the same horn got listed on ebay again a few days after that, and potential buyers started bidding on it again. Except this time, it wasn’t being bid on as aggressively as before. Of course I reported abuse to ebay, but that took time until resolution. When I sent the seller a message asking why he was doing that to the horn I already won, he canceled his re-listing regardless of the fact that people already bid on it again and changed it to Buy It Now just for me. He sent an ebay message to apologize and asked me to buy it now and pay again. I still wanted the horn and was really tempted to pay for it again, but I did not out of spite and by then I already got spooked enough with such dishonesty (to me once and again to other bidders on the re-listing). Fortunately, as it turned out, I actually was scammed by someone who hacked ebay and paypal accounts of the guy who sent me back the money. I learned this to be true when ebay finally got involved several days after and notified me of what had happened.

So I lost all of my faith in ebay, subconsciously associated the term “1954 Mark VI” with the term “online scammers”, and started searching locally, which I should have done first. I live in one of the largest cities in the US, but it never crossed my mind that I would find a 1954 Mark VI here, and I still don’t understand why I thought that. Maybe because it’s not New York or Boston, which were cities where most of the interesting horns I saw online were located. Maybe I subconsciously thought that a 1954 horns, specifically, was too rare to find locally. I don’t know.

After looking through websites of a couple local musical instrument repair shops and stores, I actually made phone calls to inquire about a few 1960s and 1970s horns that appeared to be available for purchase just to gauge the local pricing. Some of the horns on the website were not there anymore, and some said they would call back the next day. They never did. Then I came across a Facebook page of a music school own by an Asian music teacher, who claimed to have ten Mark VIs in possession just 3 miles away from my house (I did not believe him at the time because of disappointments from other local stores).

I drove by this strip mall several times before, but didn’t know there was a small music school within it. We communicated via Facebook Messenger, but because I didn’t make an appointment with him earlier, he said he could meet me after work and could show me only two horns that he had with him from prior appointment with another potential buyer that day. After arriving at his school and talking with him for a little while, the man actually showed me a total of five Mark VI Altos and one Tenor that day. He claimed the rest of Mark VIs I wouldn’t get to see were all collector pieces and were priced way out of what non-collector would want to pay anyway. None of the ones I saw was 5-digit horn though. He said nearly all Mark VIs before 1960 (ones with short bow) had intonation issues, and there were no real mechanical or technical ways to permanently fix it. So he didn’t believe in or would deal them. He told me ones with medium bows were the best. He had a Master degree in Music Education and I had read something about this before, so I took his word for it at the time.

Because I didn’t plan to meet him and do any real saxophone shopping that day, I didn’t bring the mouthpiece that came with the rental sax with me to try those horns. So the guy let me try all the Mark VIs with a vintage short shank Soloist C* that just happened to be there with one of the other horns (other brands) he had displaying on the wall. I got to try several Mark VIs, and my day could not have gone better. I fell in love with a 1962 French engraved silver-plated Alto with SN: 102XXX and VF+ condition and almost became crazy enough to come home with it. I still have not found another horn with that specifications and conditions elsewhere to this day. I was able to get beautiful full tone from low Bb all the way to high F for the first time with it, which I had never been able to do with my rental sax without squeaking. At the time though, I got a little hesitated because he asked for $9,000, which was more than I had planned to spend on a saxophone, and if I could pay cash he would help me avoid paying sales tax. I could not come up with that kind of cash as the bank was closed already. My head started spinning because I really felt I could be happy with that beautiful silver-plated horn. But it wasn’t 5-digit, plus the left side of the body tube had a minor dent that had been repaired, which I knew would probably bother me later if I paid the asking price for the horn.

By this time, his students started arriving and I felt I had overstayed because I did not make a real appointment. So I asked if he would sell me the short shank soloist C*mouthpiece because I was looking for a vintage one anyway. He let me have it for $325+tax. There was no cover, but he let me have a vintage Selmer ligature that looks nearly brand new for free. So I felt good enough with the deal. No horn came home with me that day, but at least I got to try several real Mark VIs for the first time to see what the hype was about and came home with a mouthpiece that I had had my eye on. So not all was lost that day.

With the $9,000 price tag in my head, things just got a bit real. I came home and slept on this 102XXX silver-plated French engraved Mark VIs for several days. I talked to many people about it and compared it to another horn that is still available to this day from Samash website (a 1954 possible re-lacquer that is almost four thousand dollars cheaper). Everybody I talked to encouraged me to get this Silver-plated horn because, first and foremost, I had tried it and liked it. Secondly, they said asking price was not bad for the specs and conditions. My college professor friend, who owns two Mark VIs among other rare horns (he’s a collector), assured me of that. But man, I just started learning to play a saxophone a few months ago, and I did not plan to spend that kind of money.

I tossed and turned every night until the morning of June 4th, 2018, when this 1954 Alto with SN:57108 appeared on Reverb. The listing price was $8,500. With just “Good” listed as the condition (while other lesser horns were listed as “Very Good”, “Excellent”, “Mint”), photos that could be better, and a short inconclusive description of the horn, this horn did not stand out on the short list of available 1954-1959 horns on that website. I didn’t pay special attention the first time I saw it. But at the time I was looking at these things all day. So I looked at it again and started seeing that the condition of the horn in the photos were actually surreal comparing to other ones I had seen of the same vintage. Although I felt $8,500 was still too high for me, I inquired about it and asked if it was a re-lacquered horn. I did not get a response back the same day. That actually made me realized that I had fallen for this horn because I was more anxious to get the response than I should be. When the page indicated that other potential buyers started watching this horn, I got even more nervous. I found the response early next morning with additional photos that I had requested. I learned that this horn was on consignment at one of the largest musical stores in New Mexico, and I was actually in communication with the store owner himself. I was happy because that meant no more scammer! He told me that this horn belonged to the grandfather of this lady who entrusted him with this consignment. Her grandfather played the horn in the military base in the 1950s. Either it passed down to her then put on wall display for 30 years, or the other way around it wasn’t clear. Now I really wish I learned more about its history, but that was all the store owner could tell me.

With that story and the more I look at the photos, the more I became certain that this horn was all original. It did not bother me that there was no original case or mouthpiece (it came with an English mouthpiece). The only thing that bothered me prior to that was how some patent letters and numbers were stamped too lightly, which cautioned me for the possibility of a re-lacquer. Then out of my daily on-going online research, I saw a youtube video showing how Selmer saxophones were being made. A short part of it showed the stamping process of the logo, letters, and numbers. I saw in the clip with my own eyes that not all letters and numbers came out of the stamping with the same depth and clarity. That gave me such a piece of mind that I actually made an offer for the horn.

The seller and I each counter offered a couple of times and ended up with a deal that we were all happy with. $8000 shipped and insured was still more than I had planned to spend, but given the condition of the horn, something told me that it was a great value. Aside from that, I didn’t know if I would come across a horn with this specs in this condition again. The deal was made just one day after it got listed when there were less than 100 views on the horn (at least 30 of which were mine). I did not make payment right away because I wanted to consult my college professor friend first, which I did that night. Based on the available photos at the time, he told me it did not look like a re-lacquer and asked me to make sure of a few things such as the serial number on the neck, which the seller had assured me was there earlier already, and depth of engravings.

I made payment right after discussion with my friend and sent a message to the seller to request that the horn of this vintage be packed with the care it deserved. I actually told the seller that we might have a museum piece here. He ensured me that it would be packed carefully by his people. The horn got shipped Wednesday afternoon and was originally scheduled to be delivered on Friday June 8th by 8pm. However, I did not receive it until Monday June 11th because, for some reason, FedEx had it ground re-routed to the opposite direction of where it was supposed to come, which wasted a day. I had never seen anything like that with FedEx. My weekend would be ruined had I not been tracking it continuously and knew it arrived the local FedEx facility on Saturday and waiting to be delivered on Monday.

When I opened the box for the first time, I was appalled with how the case was loosely packed inside the cardboard box. Furthermore, the horn did not come with the original cap and it was shipped with nothing to protect the octave key. Although, there was no damage, I was very really disappointed about that because I made a specific request to pack this horn carefully. Reverb is still reminding me every time I log on to give feedback to the store for this transaction. I kept telling myself it was probably just one lousy employee who had a long day. So I don’t plan to leave a negative feedback because I like the store owner. Plus, I’ve made peace with it since I’m keeping the horn. I’m writing it down in words here just because I remember the disappointment and fear of what damage that might have happened that day. So when it’s your turn, be 100% certain the seller know how to ship a vintage horn (with cap, extra cushion between keys, etc.).

My feelings when I opened the case for the first time:

1. The passionate part of me felt like I found a soulmate again.
2. The silly part of me felt like I didn’t deserve this horn.
3. The responsible part of me felt like this horn belonged in the museum for the later generations to appreciate. Believe me when I say there were times when I thought about preserving this horn by putting it in my climate-controlled gun safe and just get a cheap Chinese horn to practice instead.

The original purchase plan was to buy the best I could, play it as often as possible, grow old with it and never worry about the conditions. Then again, I did not expect to get a horn like this. Come to think of it, this horn is just like my beautiful wife. They both make me so happy but also keep me worried about their safety all the time.

As for the condition of the horn I received that day, I will let the photos describe it. I’ve read enough of saxophone descriptions in the past few months that I don’t want to write them for fear of being dishonest to myself. All I want to say is I play this horn almost daily. I hope I can keep the conditions of this horn the same as the day I received it for as long as possible. I have been thinking about applying Renaissance Wax because I've used it effectively before on my other vintage items made from metal. However, I’m afraid that it would fill and leave dry white stains in the engravings. If you use Renaissance Wax effectively, please let me know. If you have any advice, other than getting the cleaning kit and the pad saver (because I have been using them already), I would also appreciate it a lot.

PS. 1. Too bad only 5 photos are allowed per post.
PS. 2. English is my second language. I appreciate your effort if you are reading this line.

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Quite a story and a lovely horn to boot. Enjoy it in good health.
I use a pro line car product - Meguiar's D115 on my lacquered horns. Gently cleans but leaves protection.
 

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Renaissance wax slows down the oxidation process on bare brass. Given your saxophone is fully lacquered, I can't see the point of applying wax. I would do nothing other than wipe it after each session to remove saliva from the back of the bell. The lacquer is there to do a better job than Renaissance is able to do. Plus as you play it more you will appreciate the patina created by lacquer loss on touch points and elsewhere.
 

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Wonderful story and a beautiful horn. Glad you found the one!! I know the feeling; I found mine quite recently...1933 Conn Silver 6M. Near mint shape. Had a 9 hour window in which to see, play, and buy this horn...and it all happened by complete chance. "Serendipity" and all that.
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Congratulations and I hope you get to enjoy her for a long, long time!

- Saxaholic
 

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Great story. Glad you found your dream Mark VI. Yours appears to have late SBA engraving so might be an early transitional model. Could you post a picture of the left hand pinky keys?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you for your input about the Renaissance wax. If I may ask a follow-up question, do you think the wax would help slow down or even prevent the lacquer loss? I would love nothing more than keeping the lacquer and not have any patina on touch points. I know that may be impossible if I keep playing the horn, but if it would slow down the loss somewhat, I would probably go for it. Thank You.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Renaissance wax slows down the oxidation process on bare brass. Given your saxophone is fully lacquered, I can't see the point of applying wax. I would do nothing other than wipe it after each session to remove saliva from the back of the bell. The lacquer is there to do a better job than Renaissance is able to do. Plus as you play it more you will appreciate the patina created by lacquer loss on touch points and elsewhere.
Thank you for your input about the Renaissance wax. If I may ask a follow-up question, do you think the wax would help slow down or even prevent the lacquer loss? I would love nothing more than keeping the lacquer and not have any patina on touch points. I know that may be impossible if I keep playing the horn, but if it would slow down the loss somewhat, I would probably go for it. Thank You.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Wonderful story and a beautiful horn. Glad you found the one!! I know the feeling; I found mine quite recently...1933 Conn Silver 6M. Near mint shape. Had a 9 hour window in which to see, play, and buy this horn...and it all happened by complete chance. "Serendipity" and all that.
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Congratulations and I hope you get to enjoy her for a long, long time!

- Saxaholic
Thank You! I can only imagine the rush you were going through with just 9 hours for the entire process. I have not learned much about pre-Mark VI horns. They feel very classic and the rarest of rare to me. I hope to get one as beautiful as yours someday.
 

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Great story. Glad you found your dream Mark VI. Yours appears to have late SBA engraving so might be an early transitional model. Could you post a picture of the left hand pinky keys?
I thought the engraving on the bow was rather different from other ones I had seen, but didn't know its relationship with the SBA. Now I know the engraving on my horn are late SBA engraving. Thank you for letting me know. It would be my pleasure to post the picture you requested.

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Another thing I hadn't seen before I found my horn was the use of cork on the octave key. Do you know if that is the SBA thing as well?

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That's a Mark VI. Engraving and other features often live on for a while with a new model, but your horn is an early Mark VI and not a SBA. And what a great story! Enjoy the horn.

The cork on the octave key is not normal, but hey, if it works it works. Usually folks put a plastic tube of some kind over that.
 

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That's a Mark VI. Engraving and other features often live on for a while with a new model, but your horn is an early Mark VI and not a SBA. And what a great story! Enjoy the horn.

The cork on the octave key is not normal, but hey, if it works it works. Usually folks put a plastic tube of some kind over that.
Thanks for your input Steve. To me, the cork on the octave key is the weakest wearable part on this horn and will someday need to be replaced first. I wonder if all early Mark VIs came from Selmer that way. Then maybe the cork get replaced with plastic tube when they go to the techs the first time.

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Yeah, you don't look for horns on Ebay unless you have real expertise with saxophones and know Ebay well enough to identify obvious scams (which you fell for twice). You also spent twice the money you needed to, but so long as a nice, soft low B can be had, then count your blessings.
 

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What a great story. I too went through a similar process for about 6 months looking and researching vintage horns. My teacher warned me against them mainly because I was a relatively new comer with about 3 years experience. My local store had a well used Selmer Ref 54 with a 12 month warranty. They also let me take the horn home and try it out for two weeks. That was it, purchased it and been really happy with it.
 

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Yeah, you don't look for horns on Ebay unless you have real expertise with saxophones and know Ebay well enough to identify obvious scams (which you fell for twice). You also spent twice the money you needed to, but so long as a nice, soft low B can be had, then count your blessings.
Thanks for your input Grumps. I started looking on ebay first because I felt I could learned a lot from it at my convenience. Photos were plentiful. Descriptions were more elaborated. Basically, a lot of pointers and important things for for novice buyers like me. But I now know what you mean about scammers on ebay. The first one I'd like to think I did not fall for. I was just seeing where that road would take me because as long as I didn't pay, there was no way I would get hurt. The second one though, I did fall for and was lucky enough to get the money back without having to cry for it. Not all was loss on ebay because a lot of lessons learned there for me. Other places were more safe, but they were not as dynamic and not as many available options.

I know what you mean about the money spent because I actually planned to spend only a little more than half of that. Having watched how nice horns disappeared so fast while uninteresting ones just stay there for months, I felt like I had to move fast once I realized I was just paying more for the conditions, which I've been very happy about. I can make money again, but I don't know if I would come across a 1954 horn with this condition again before would I give up the search and end up with a YAS-62 or a Custom Z, which I still like and may get someday just so I don't have to wear out my Mark VI so fast.

Low notes, to me, seem to depend a lot on my embouchure. High notes are easy on this horn. Low ones not so much. The first time I tried, they wobbled, but I knew that was me because my teacher could get beautiful full tones on the low notes easily on this horn. On good days, I have them too. But I'm still working with long tones to get more consistent with them. Thanks for the emphasis on this. It makes me want to practice more on low long tones :)
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
What a great story. I too went through a similar process for about 6 months looking and researching vintage horns. My teacher warned me against them mainly because I was a relatively new comer with about 3 years experience. My local store had a well used Selmer Ref 54 with a 12 month warranty. They also let me take the horn home and try it out for two weeks. That was it, purchased it and been really happy with it.
Thanks Joe! I had looked at Reference 54 before and loved it. If I were to get a brand new horn, that would probably be my choice. (I must have watched Jim from uk.co.sax played it on Youtube at least twenty times.) However, I loved it when my planned budget was not that high, so it was never a real option until I saw a used one with some dings and dents and lacquer loss on touch points for $4000 on Reverb (half price of a new one) and almost went with it. Except by that time, I had already got the Mark VI bug and was advised by a friend to go for the Mark VI and I trusted him. That $4000 horn got sold rather quickly, too.
 

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Thanks for your input Steve. To me, the cork on the octave key is the weakest wearable part on this horn and will someday need to be replaced first. I wonder if all early Mark VIs came from Selmer that way. Then maybe the cork get replaced with plastic tube when they go to the techs the first time.

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Here is a picture of how they are supposed to look.
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This is from the Stephen Howard's site; he's a well known English tech who posts here from time to time. I mention him because he wrote a book, the Haynes Manual of the Saxophone, which every saxophone player should own. (I am not shilling for him, even though he spells his first name correctly! - I just own the book and have found it useful.)

Edit: And no, they did not come from the factory that way. In the old days they used a rubbery kind of grey plastic tube, that was pressure fitted. Nowadays most folks use shrink tubing.
 

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Here is a picture of how they are supposed to look.
View attachment 212566

This is from the Stephen Howard's site; he's a well known English tech who posts here from time to time. I mention him because he wrote a book, the Haynes Manual of the Saxophone, which every saxophone player should own. (I am not shilling for him, even though he spells his first name correctly! - I just own the book and have found it useful.)

Edit: And no, they did not come from the factory that way. In the old days they used a rubbery kind of grey plastic tube, that was pressure fitted. Nowadays most folks use shrink tubing.
Thanks for the info. I will have to check out that book.

What a relief! That cork on the octave key has been making me worried. One careless pull of the rope attached to the cleaning cloth or one misaligned push of the pad saver into the body tube, I could see that cork just split open. If it's not original, I won't feel so bad if that ever happens. Thank You! :)
 

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Thank you for your input about the Renaissance wax. If I may ask a follow-up question, do you think the wax would help slow down or even prevent the lacquer loss? I would love nothing more than keeping the lacquer and not have any patina on touch points. I know that may be impossible if I keep playing the horn, but if it would slow down the loss somewhat, I would probably go for it. Thank You.
Sorry for the slow reply, it's been a while since I logged in.

I don't think use of the wax will make any difference to how the lacquer wears. Plus if you do put the wax on touch points, they will feel draggy. The wax adds friction when moving your fingers over the area to which it's been applied. Because of this, the added friction might mean that, counterintuitively, it speeds up lacquer wear.
 

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Congratulations on this great finding! My 58k Alto is a very sweet playing horn.

And no, they did not come from the factory that way. In the old days they used a rubbery kind of grey plastic tube, that was pressure fitted. Nowadays most folks use shrink tubing.
With due respect, I reckon that is not correct. At least not on the very early ones.
Here is a pristine, all-original, not-a-scratch Mark VI from 1955 with cork wrapped around the octave key.

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The one pictured in Stephen's website has evidently been well played, and likely several times overhauled by now.
 
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