An Englishman called Ben Davis was demobbed from the British Army in 1919, after the First World War, just when Dixieland jazz and dance music was becoming popular in the UK. being fascinated by the new sounds, Ben taught himself to play the saxaphone. He played with many of the big bands in the country, and finally formed his own.
Ben was a man of considerable drive and ambition,seeing further potential on the business side of the music Instustry and following a meeting with Henri Selmer in 1928, Ben established the Selmer Company in London, at No 12 Moor Street . The first premises were soon outgrown by 1933, when the business was moved to 114-116, Charing Cross Rd.in the Centre of London which was there head Office and Showroom until the 70's.The company's greatest period of expansion was from 1934 to the start of World War II in 1939. By then Selmer was the biggest company in the British musical instrument industry. After the war, Ben's brother Lew Davis, who was a professional trombonist, joined the company. They opened another shop in Charring Cross Road run by Lew Davis specializing in Brass and woodwind instruments.
The Selmer company remained and established its sucessful business at the Charring Cross Road address which was in the centre of London untill the early 70's.
Selmer London were major importers of Brass and wind instruments. Apart from being the exclusive UK Distributor for Selmer Paris , they had there own brand names, which were very successful .Such Student Lines as ,Console and Sterling Clarinets,Flutes and Oboes, Gold Seal Flutes ."Karl Meyer "and "Pennsylvania Student Saxophones" followed later by the "Super Pennsylvania " which was made by Yanagisawa in Japan and was marketed as a step up horn.
During the 60's Selmer went into manaufacturing amplification and importing famous names such as Hofner ,Gibson,Fender Guitars and distributing their own brands like the "Futurama" guitar made in the Czech Republic,all with great success. In the early 60's Selmer were the main agents for the US made Lowry organs.
In 1972 Selmer moved their operation to Woolpack Lane in Braintree Essex. I remember at the time the Selmer Mk6 production had ceased and my patrtner L:aurie Naiff and I bought the remaining stocks they had in their warehouse a total of 45 saxophones some in silver some in two tone, some F# keys,some had low A bells. When the Mark VII's eventually became available in London ,they were a hard to sell product. The main complaint was the the left hand little finger cluster, it seemed that the instrument was designed for a Gorrila ,compared with the comfortable Six. In 1974 I was at a trade show in Chicago and flew into New York for the Newport Jazz Festival, I got very friendly with the horn players in the Gillespie Band who were appearing at the Buddy Rich club,we met every night before the show for a drink, then I would have a meal and watch the the Band for the rest of the night. I mentioned that I had Mark VII alto's and Tenor's in my Take Five London store they were eager to see them ,so I flew them over for them to give them a try.They were not impressed ,in the end I sold them to Rod Baltimore on 48th Street. Rod thought they were great instruments.
At that time in Rod's store he had one of these Yanagisawa Soprano Saxophones , in London we had never heard of them. At the time they were very popular with the American pro players. I had a closer look at one and reconised it as the "Selmer Super Pennsylvania" that we were selling back in London as a step up instrument from the Selmer "Karl Meyer" and the Selmer "Pennsylvania "saxophones. The same sax was also turning up with different names from places like South Africa.
During this time (1974) the new Mk7 Saxophone range was being introduced into the UK , they were only producing Alto's and Tenor's which the Soprano market was left open. This was a major coup for Yanagisawa being able to market under their own name and put them their name on the map.
During this same period a very similar situation help Yamaha .The Selmer Mk7 Saxophones not being that easily accepted by the profession ( mainly for their Gorrila like fingering) left the market open in the UK in which Yamaha took advantage and got in with their model 62 thanks to the expertise of Bill Lewington the Yamaha importer at the time.
Selmer London was evetually sold to Norlin USA in the 80's
Ben Davis retired to the south of France and lived well into his late nineties . In the UK he left a great legacy and a hard act to follow. HENRI SELMER COMPANY UK