Here are a couple of pictures of an alto and tenor saxophone reed.
Some of the earliest reeds not only had the curved butt, they also a little nip off the end much like a reversed or rocket ship transom on a sailboat. Some were French filed with the amount of bark removed, and the shape of the removed bark differing. The alto shown above is filed and the tenor isn't. The tenor has the flat heel and the alto is curved. The tenor is made "handmade" in France and the alto is made in the U.S. You can see that the width and depth of the grooves also varied.
That's not too surprising, as they both vary considerably from the patent. The patent shows more longitudinal grooves (five) and the patentable claim is for the longitudinal grooves and for "the additional plurality of grooves of similar conformation extending angularly transversely on the curved surface of the reed, the last named grooves communicating with the longitudinal grooves and dividing the longitudinal ridges into ridges of shorter length." What? Anyway, the Chiron Vibrator reeds were not even produced with the special ridges that were patented. The transverse grooves would be very difficult to manufacture economically on a reed that (then) sold for twenty cents or less.
The Chiron Vibrator reed had a long success from the late 1920s, when it was patented, until the mid-1960s, when it disappeared. And I mean disappeared. It's easy to work back from when and where it disappeared from, but what happened right at the end is a mystery. At the end, the offices of H. Chiron and Company were at 1650 Broadway in N.Y. That's the same building as Alden Music, run by Don Kirshner. If you haven't heard of him, maybe you have heard of some of his contract song writers, Neil Sedaka, Carol King, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, etc. It was an important address. Maybe some of those people remember Hippolyte Marius Chiron and Vibrator reeds.
If you are hoping for me to tell you what happened, I can't. I was only able to work backwards. For instance, who was Mr. Frederic Parme, the co-owner of the patent? Turns out that Mr. Parme was on several of the patents filed by Mr. Chiron. A 1924 patent (same year as the reed) for a complex adjustable mouthpiece (which seems to be the one used as an example of the mouthpiece shown in the reed patent). The same year, Mr. Parme and Mr. Chiron filed a patent for a ligature that had a rubber insert to allow the reed to vibrate more. There is also a later U.S. patent applied for in 1925 that is just Mr. Chiron for a combination mouthpiece and ligature. In 1928, he got a patent for is for an underslung octave pip actuator. The latter application lists Mr. Chiron's residence as Paris, so he may have returned to France. The Vibrator packaging and advertising refers to H. Chiron Company as being in New York and Paris, but I could find nothing about a Paris location. Maybe that was just Mr. Chiron's residence.
Like many patent claims, it is often difficult to see what is new, non-obvious, and useful about the design. Those are the three elements required for a patent. Not so much for a patent to issue (you only have to claim that they exist in the application), but if the patent holder decides to try to defend the patent, those elements will have to be proven in court. So a lot of patents are granted, few become products, and not all can be successfully defended. If some body decides to put grooves on their reeds (vintage Isovibrant brand reeds come to mind) or to use an underslung octave mechanism (the vintage Conn 10M comes to mind), then Messrs. Chiron and Parme would likely have been advised to just walk away. The true value of a patent is often that you can stamp the product "patented" and impress the consumer. But back to our players, no pun intended.
When trying to find out who these men were, it turns out that there is plenty of information about Mr. Parme and little on Mr. Chiron. Mr. Parme was born in Avignon, France in 1872, where he studied music in the Avignon Conservatory before moving on to the Paris Conservatory and studying saxophone. Adolphe Sax was a professor at the Paris Conservatory, however he died in 1894, shortly after Mr. Parme arrived. Mr. Parme became good friends with Sax's son (also named Adolphe) while studying at the Paris Conservatory. Mr. Parme and Mr. Sax (also a musical instrument developer like his father) often discussed possible improvements to the saxophone. Mr. Parme then became a professor at the Conservatory in Versailles, where he won awards for piano and saxophone compositions.
He then came to the United States in 1911 and played with the New York Philharmonic under Gustav Mahler (who also died shortly after Mr. Parme arrived, which is a creepy trend). In 1914, Mr. Parme, still a French national, returned home to fight in WWI. Upon returning to the U.S., he joined the NY Symphony, playing saxophone, soprano clarinet, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet. He also became a professor at the Institute of Musical Art (now called Julliard). Also upon returning from the war, he saw that the saxophone had been adopted by jazz musicians. Here is a quote from Mr. Parme in a Julliard publication regarding the purpose of the saxophone:
Saxophones produce "the hideous groan heard everwhere in jazz bands." Nice.
It would appear that Mr. Parme's role in the patent process was to add an air of legitimacy to the patent claims. He had the resume, but I've never seen an advertisement where he endorsed Vibrator reeds. He was well known, having had a write-up in the New York Tribune for his playing of Debussy's Rhapsody for Orchestra and Saxophone (This is not Mr. Parme, but a great example of the sax as a classical woodwind. Plus, you can open it in a separate window for a dramatic accompaniment for the rest of the blog.)
I'm not convinced that Mr. Parme even read or looked at the Chiron patent applications. The drawing of the reed looks more like a popsicle stick than a reed. The applications repeatedly refer to woodwind reeds made of "bamboo." Surely Mr. Parme knew that woodwind reeds are made from the canes of arundo donax, not bamboo, with some of the best material coming from the Var region of France. Vibrator reeds were later labeled as coming from the Var. Referring to cane reeds as "bamboo" would not go uncorrected by an accomplished professor and internationally known woodwind virtuoso.
Despite Mr. Parme's insistence that the purpose of the saxophone was for classical music, the H. Chiron Company actively sought endorsements for Vibrator reeds from the popular and jazz music contingency of reed instrument players. Click on these to enlarge them.
H. Chiron also started another line of reeds that I had never heard of. In fact, at first every reference I could find for Deru "Speciale" reeds was to this single 1953 advertisement.
You can go to Ebay any day and see advertisements featuring different famous and semi-famous endorsers for Vibrator reeds. How did H. Chiron have so many endorsers for Vibrator reeds and then just disappear? And how did Mr. Chiron himself disappear? If he sold the rights to the patent, why was it always marketed by the H. Chiron Company?* I don't know, but I do know a little about where he came from and it is very intriguing.
The reed/ligature/mouthpiece patents were not his first, last, or only patents. There are some later U.K. patents having to deal with saxophone key arrangements and mouthpieces. And here's some historical trivia. When a patent application is made, it is common for the subsequent patent applications to reference earlier patents, sometimes to differentiate the new application from existing patents. It is possible to find out which applications reference an older patent like Chiron's underslung neck octave pip (later cited by Martin Band Instruments for their saxophones). Another patent application that referenced Mr. Chiron's patent for a ligature was the application of a Mr. Phillip Rovner for a ligature design. We all know Rovner ligatures. Small world.
But the majority of the subsequent references were to Mr. Chiron's patent for his very complex mouthpiece with all of its adjustments (and which I don't believe was ever produced). Oddly enough, those references were in patent applications for game calls, like duck, goose, elk, etc. Do you want to patent something that makes a weird squeaking honky animal-in-heat noise? You'll need to distinguish the H. Chiron mouthpiece patent.
Before we look at the older patents of Hippolyte Marius Chiron, let's look at that name. Hippolyte has two possible sources, both of which are from Greek mythology. The 9th labor of Hercules was to acquire the girdle of Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons (not Amazons.com). The Amazons were a society of warrior women who, in order to more effectively throw spears, would cut off one of their breasts. The girdle gave super powers to the queen, but as it turned out, Hercules was such a stud muffin that Hippolyte just gave him the girdle. It's a guy fantasy, but a cool name.
The other source of the name is from Hippolytus, a Greek god who refused the sexual advances of his stepmother, Phaedra. Fearing that Hippolytus would squeal, Phaedra told her husband that Hippolytus raped her. The father secretly cursed Hippolytus's horses, causing the horses to bolt and Hippolytus to die in a nasty chariot wreck (sort of like cutting the brake lines). Hippolytus translates basically to "unleasher of horses." Okay, now you can probably see that I'm just stalling because I've go no more info on Mr. Chiron. Correct, but first, Chiron in Greek mythology was a wise centaur who tutored Achilles and Hercules. So Hippolyte Chiron is a really cool name. So fantastic that my French friend insists that it must be an alias.
An even earlier 1916 patent was for a "safety boat." The safety aspect of the boat (actually a ship is depicted in the patent application) was that it had a sponson that ran around the entire waterline which provided extra floatation and "protection from collision and torpedoes." The Titanic sank in 1912 and the first real use of torpedoes started in WWI about 1914, so the patent seems to fit the requirement of "useful invention" under the patent laws. However, from looking at the patent I can tell that Mr. Chiron was not a naval architect.