Dry Drum Corps

Socialist DCThe apolitical nature of drum corps is taken for granted today, but that has not always been the case.  Consider such corps as the Socialist Drum Corps of Syracuse (another was located in Newark) and the New Departure corps of Bristol [CT].  Other corps had a distinct political identity even without a suggestive name, such as the GAR fife and drum corps.  Their music assisted their parent organization, which was formed originally as a Grant club, as they lobbied for a variety of veterans’ causes.

Another Grant club, the Boys in Blue, preceeded the GAR.

Another Grant club, the Boys in Blue, preceeded the GAR.

Perhaps the most benign of the politically oriented drum corps were the Father Mathew TAB corps.  “Father Mathew” was an Irish priest (Theobold Mathew, b. October 10, 1790, d. December 8, 1856) who advocated total abstinence from strong drink.

father mathewAbstinence, according to Father Mathew, was a matter of will, and he urged his followers to take “The Pledge,” which promised a lifetime of freedom from the evils of alcohol.  Ireland experienced the power of Father Mathew’s teachings when crime rates dropped and breweries and distilleries closed as more and more “total abstinence societies” were established.

Band of HopeIn 1849 Father Mathew brought his message to the United States, resulting in the growth of temperance societies nationwide and the eventual founding of the Knights of Father Mathew.  In 1895, the Knights had become affiliated with the Catholic Total Abstinence Union, and the old total abstinence societies were now temperance and benevolence societies.  As their name implies, the TABs performed many charitable works, but in Connecticut some TABs also sponsored drum corps, a wholesome activity for the abstinent juvenile.

At least 15 TAB corps were organized between 1886 and 1938 in 13 Connecticut towns.  They all participated at one time or another in the contests sponsored by the Connecticut Fifers and Drummers Association (founded 1885), in either the modern class or the fife, drum, and bugle class.  None of the TABs were known to play Ancient style, and none competed as Ancients.  Notable among them were St. Paul’s of Kensington, the Father Mathew corps of Hartford, and the Young Men’s Temperance and Benevolence Corps of New Britain.

TAB corps 064St. Paul’s was organized in 1909.  The corps was a frequent winner in CF&D contests.  Two offshoot corps, the St. Paul’s Juniors and the St. Paul’s Freshmen, were established in 1957 and 1959 respectively, and in 1956 St. Paul’s took the unusual step of admitting women to its senior corps.  The corps was still competing in 1960.  Its last member passed away in 2010 at the age of 93.

TAB corps 003

Taught by Jimmy Ryan, the “ace fifer” in the Father Mathew Cadets of Hartford. OLS later competed against the FMC in the local contest circuit.

Hartford’s Father Mathew Cadets won their first trophy in 1887, heralding 50-plus years of award-winning performances.  In 1928 Jimmy Ryan, “an ace fifer” with Father Mathew, was recruited to teach the fledgling Our Lady of Sorrows, whose cadets earned a fair number of trophies beginning in 1931.

YMTAB Hall NBJPGLittle is known about the Young Men’s Temperance and Benevolence Drum Corps of New Britain.  They maintained a stellar record of performances in CF&DA contests, spanning a 36-year period beginning in 1901 and continued beyond that date as a contributing member of the CF&DA.

Copyright, History of the Ancients Dot Org, December 2013.

Priceless treasure? or piece of trash?

you decide:

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Look through the grunge at the tone holes.

A closer view shows that these are Cloos-style tone holes.

A closer view shows that these are Cloos-style.

 

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Machined ferrule of nickel silver (don’t be fooled by the splits — these are not a burnished seam).

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Would be pretty hard getting this fife into playing condition…or even display condition…

I guess you know my decision, but I’d like to know yours.  Treasure or trash?

Photos courtesy of ebay seller, NQAC.  To see all photos plus the seller’s text, please visit http://www.ebay.com/itm/RARE-Colonial-Era-Wooden-Flute-Fife-NOT-Reproduction-Museum-Piece-/121203155223?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item1c38456117

Moodus Muster, 2013

The best muster EVER!!!!  Weather was wonderful, friends were fantastic, libations were liberal, music was marvelous, jollification was truly AMAZING!  For the first time in a long time I saw real muster etiquette — people calling out tunes rather than bullying their way through them, none of those let’s-practice-our-corps-medley-here-at-the-jam intrusions, lively tempo, and a true feeling of camaraderie that was much welcomed. That’s they way I remember jollifications!

The only regret I have is that there wasn’t MORE MOODUS!  Not that we didn’t beg, plead, and nag them, but I guess they kind of had a good excuse, being busy running the party and all. . .

The corps performances were outstanding — just enough corps to keep you enthralled for the entire afternoon and the standpieces really made you wish they would play maybe just one more tune:

This is the most Mooduses (Moodae? Moodi?) I have ever seen assembled in one place...you should've heard them!

Never saw so many Mooduses (Moodae? Moodi?) assembled in one place…you should’ve heard them!

Brown drums were in abundance.

Brown drums were in abundance.

"I don't wanna work, I just wanna bang on de drum all day..."

“I don’t wanna work, I just wanna bang on de drum all day…”

Don't know what was more awesome, the Irish medley that Westbrook played on stand or the 92? 95?-year-old Lee Zuidema belting it out on the fife. . .

Don’t know what was more awesome, the Irish medley that Westbrook played on stand or the 92? 95?-year-old Lee Zuidema belting it out on the fife. . .

Kentish Guards...reminding us that old standards never get old when they are well played...

Kentish Guards…reminding us that old standards never get old when they are well played…

It's the Adamsville Ancients!  No foolin'!

It’s the Adamsville Ancients! No foolin’!

The best thing about musters?  You can invite ALL your friends, no matter what they play...

The best thing about musters? You can invite ALL your friends, no matter what they play…

...because who could resist this face...

…because who could resist this face…

...or this one!

…or this one!

Olde Toga...who host a pretty nice muster of their own in Kinderhook, NY...

Olde Toga…who host a pretty nice muster of their own in Kinderhook, NY…

Warehouse Point Fifes and Drums...they get better and better every time I see them (and they were pretty darn good to begin with!)

Warehouse Point Fifes and Drums…they get better and better every time I see them (and they were pretty darn good to begin with!)

Deep River Juniors and Seniors making the ground shake...

Deep River Juniors and Seniors making the ground shake…

Sailing Masters of 1812...whose "Sailing Masters Quickstep" is an old Valley tune called "No Mistake." Which is exactly how they performed it.

Sailing Masters of 1812…whose “Sailing Masters Quickstep” is an old Valley tune called “No Mistake.” Which is exactly how they performed it.

Chester Drum Corps, 145 years old...sure beats (snicker) the Energizer Bunny!

Chester Drum Corps, 145 years old…sure beats (snicker) the Energizer Bunny!

They HAVE no last name, they're just June 'n Frenchy.   In fact, they've been June 'n Frenchy just about forever...

Address all mail to June ‘n Frenchy.  They have no last name, they’re just June ‘n Frenchy.

Stony Creek...still restricting 50% of their potential membership simply because of the location of the plumbing...maybe someone should tell them that inside plumbing is an improvement over the old outside stuff...

Stony Creek…still restricting 50% of their potential membership simply because of the location of the plumbing…maybe someone should tell them that inside plumbing is an improvement over the outside stuff…

Watering the kids...not a really bad job when you are with the Windsor kids!

Watering the kids…not a really bad job when you are with the Windsor kids!

Ameri-Clique...a/k/a The Swiss Chefs...or, to us old-timers, Young Dr. Kildare...

Ameri-Clique…a/k/a The Swiss Chefs…or, to us old-timers, Young Dr. Kildare…only kidding, folks!

Milford Volunteers...with more D'Amico's per square foot than any other place on earth...

Milford Volunteers…with more D’Amico’s per square inch than any other place on earth…

Another good reason to attend the Moodus Muster...the Higganum-Haddam Fifes and Drums...

Another good reason to attend the Moodus Muster…the Higganum-Haddam Fifes and Drums…

Leading CVFM in grand style -- General Newsense and Half-A-Mike!!!

Leading CVFM in grand style — General Newsense and Half-A-Mike!!!

"...the overall effect was less one of watching perfection than of watching folk musicians having a very good time playing well." (pp. 75-76)  Right, Dr. Jim?

“…the overall effect was less one of watching perfection than of watching folk musicians having a very good time playing well.” (pp. 75-76) Right, Dr. Jim?

Black River Ancients, the only drum corps whose friends have super powers...

Black River Ancients, the only drum corps whose friends have super powers…

MIA, through no fault of their own (had to change the batteries in the camera):

  • The Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps, who did their usual fine performance ending with the Rudimenter.
  • A contingent of Ancient Mariners, who didn’t march the parade but formed a pick-up corps for the stand…nice to see Neil-The-Lazy-Drummer in line, though, instead of goofing off in the color guard
  • The Colchester Continentals, who deserve special mention:  This corps  is comprised of ex-Marlborough Juniors, all grown up.   Every time I see them on the street, I am struck by how admirably (and easily!) they prove “the juniors are our future.”  You don’t have to do stick-wheels or play fancy tunes once a summer to be “our future.”  You don’t have to dominate the muster field with large numbers.  You don’t have to resurrect music from corps long gone.  You don’t even need a special T-shirt!.  All you have to do is continue doing what you’ve done every summer since you were nine to the best of your ability with a smile on your face and a tune in your fife (and drum), and then share it with others — THAT is our future!   Thanks, ex-kids!!!!

If I left anybody else out it’s only because I made the 14-hour round trip in one day and am working on two hours of sleep. . . most of it obtained while driving on the Thruway. . .

I think the best part of the day was when someone discovered their three-year-old was missing.  An emergency announcement, stopped the Mariners in mid-selection while everyone looked for the little girl.  The fact that a dense woods ringed the field made us all look that much harder, and within minutes the little girl was found and returned to her worried parents, and the standpiece picked up just where it had left off.  Way to go, Ancients!

P.S.  All that mustering wreaked havoc with local traffic, causing widespread delays:

It was only three cars, but the problem was one of them stalled.  Thankfully, the driver was prepared and got the thing going after just a few turns.

It was only three cars, but the problem was one of them stalled. Thankfully, the driver was prepared and got the thing going after just a few turns.

No cows were injured during the course of this muster.

No cows were injured during the course of this muster.

Did you say “$14,800″??? or am I on drugs?

Except as noted, all images courtesy of ebay seller amose123.  The images and the seller’s descriptions are available at the URL listed below and were accessed by the author on  07/24/13.   The images on this site will enlarge by double-clicking on them.

When is a fife worth $14,800?  Damned if I know.  But I do know when it ain’t.

The seller makes a good argument to support his asking price.  His description paraphrases (but does not acknowledge) a substantial passage from William Waterhouse, ed., The New Langwill Index (London, 1993), which is where just about anyone researching historical woodwinds begins to search:

“Thomas Stanesby Jr. was apprenticed to his father in 1706 and set up his own establishment over the Temple Exchange in Fleet Street near St Dunstan-in-the-West soon after being released from his indenture in 1713. In 1728 he received the Freedom of the Turner’s Company and in 1739 he was elected Master. In 1734 he inherited all his father’s tools and a seal ring. He eventually took two apprentices, William Sheridan 1737 and Caleb Gedney in 1741, who finished his apprenticeship in 1750 and inherited the tools of his Master upon his death in 1754. About 1732 Stanesby, sensing the impending eclipse of the recorder in professional music circles, issued A New System of the Flute a Bec or Common English Flute wherein he argued vigorously for the use of the ‘C Flute’ (tenor recorder in C) and presented a ‘full and perfect’ fingering chart. The demand for the transverse flute increased, however, and Stanesby made a considerable number of these. Halfpenny wrote that Stanesby signed himself ‘junior’ only up to 1732. He marked his instruments ‘STANESBY IUNIOR’ or ‘STANESBY LONDON’; the mark ‘MURAEUS’ is added to the only surviving bassoon, which is dated 1747 (it was possibly repaired by the maker of that name). Other surviving instruments include 38 flutes (of which 25 are ivory), two flutes d’amore, 16 recorders, five oboes and a bassoon.”

(from http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Original-Antique-Thomas-Stanesby-Junior-Jr-Flute-Fife-Revolutionary-War-/281139463742?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item417537c63e, accessed July 24, 2013.)

Quite convincing — until you consider a few facts beyond the scope of Langwill:

In the 18th century, the fife was a military signal instrument.  The London woodwind makers, whose specialty lay in flutes, clarinets, bassoons, oboes, and the like, made fifes as a sideline primarily to fulfill military contracts.  However, the British military had been using (and buying) oboes, not fifes, for the field music since at least 1685 and maybe even earlier (Raoul F. Camus, Military Music of the American Revolution, Chapel Hill, 1976).  This practice extended far beyond “the 1730s,” since the fife “was not restored till about the year 1745, when the Duke of Cumberland introduced it into the guards; it was not, however, adopted in the marching regiments til the year 1747,” this according to Francis Grose (Military Antiquities, London, 1788).  Even so, reinstitution of the fife into the field music was not widespread until a decade later, when the London publishers responded to the market demand for instruction books to aid the military fifer in his new-found craft.  What all this means is that any London woodwind maker, including both Stanesbys, Senior and Junior, would have wasted his time making fifes in “1732” or at any other time in “the 1730s,” simply because no one was interested in buying them.  And they would have to be unusually clairvoyant to make them in anticipation of a war that wouldn’t begin for another 40-plus years, as the seller’s title suggests.

Equally important is what the seller failed to note while reading Langwill; to wit, the wording on a trade card preserved in the British Library, which reads in part:

N.B.  Whereas Instruments are sold about the Town pretended to be made by Persons who have work’d under my Father or Me, which is an Imposition on the Publick, for my Father, or Self, never taught, or employ’d any other Person, in the finishing part of any Instrument whatsoever…”

Indeed, Stanesby’s fears of counterfeit instruments bearing his mark were well-founded, since spurious instruments survive to this day.  Two of these are cited in Langwill, but doubtless there are others — including this one, which could have been made as recently as, oh, I’d say yesterday, judging by the fact that it is plastic:

Image courtesy of Magic1Seller, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Stanesby-Junior-Soprano-Zen-on-Japan-Flute-Case-/221258509420?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item338408ec6c, accessed 07/24/13.

Note the “Stanesby Junior” mark on the head joint.  Image courtesy of Magic1Seller, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Stanesby-Junior-Soprano-Zen-on-Japan-Flute-Case-/221258509420?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item338408ec6c, accessed 07/24/13.

Or this one, each joint of which is marked STANESBY / JUNIOR but which the seller states is “new:”

Interested?  Yours for the small sum of $920.48!  Image courtesy of music_technology,  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Aulos-1716F-Baroque-Flute-Stanesby-Jr-AF3-/281121003074?pt=UK_Woodwind_Instruments&hash=item41741e1642

Interested? Yours for the small sum of $920.48! Image courtesy of music_technology, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Aulos-1716F-Baroque-Flute-Stanesby-Jr-AF3-/281121003074?pt=UK_Woodwind_Instruments&hash=item41741e1642, accessed July 24, 2013.

In any event, given all of the above, the fife in question might have caused the later Stanesbys much angst, but it never really bothered the original Mr. Stanesby Junior at all.  That’s because he was dead long before it was made.  I can say this because an examination of the images provided by the seller points to a fife made in the early part of the 19th century.

Let’s start with the ferrules.  The seller notes that “at some point in time someone scratched in some letters and numbers along with some anchor symbols into the brass ferrels on the ends.”  However, the letters and numbers that the seller would have us dismiss are “C” and “AD 1808.  The “C” most likely is an indicator of pitch, but more important are the four numbers, 1808, preceded by “AD” (Anno Domini). This is clear evidence of a date.  And it is entirely likely that this fife was indeed made in 1808 or shortly (very shortly) before.

Ferrule-2ferrule-1.jpg

Also, the seller calls our attention to a stylized anchor, which is built around a burnished seam.  The seam tells us a lot about how the ferrules were constructed.  At this time (the early 19th century), ferrules were made of thin brass sheets that were wrapped around the wooden body with the edges burnished (rubbed) to seal them in the required tubular shape.  They were further secured to their seating by use of a pincing tool, which indented them at regular intervals onto the fife body.   In these photos one of the pinces is visible.

The pince interrupts the scored line decoration.

The pince interrupts the scored line decoration just to the right of the crack.  The uniform depth and precision of these lines suggest they were machined, not hand-tooled, and is yet another indicator of an early-to-mid 19th century manufacture.

We now recognize the burnished seam as the anchor’s shank, around which the artist/owner incised the stock, a V-shaped crown, tipped flukes, and intertwining rode.

Ferrule-3

Another 19th century feature is the unequal lengths of the ferrules, which is visible in the total body views:

body-2

The fife body tells a similar story.  The fact that it appears to be of boxwood is not surprising, as boxwood was the hands-down favorite of British woodwind makers well into the 19th century.  The tone holes, though, are set in variable distances from each other.  While this could indicate an attempt to improve pitch, their placement favors finger positioning more than pitch improvement.  Besides, the “two groups of three” is a pattern found in fifes (and flutes) produced in the early-to-mid 19th century in both Britain and America.

Body-1

The tone holes appear to be slightly off-center, but this could be an illusionary defect produced by the camera.

In short, I could find nothing in the images or in the seller’s commentary that would convince me that this is a fife made in “1732” or at any time in “the 1730s.”  It might be that old had it been perhaps a sopranino flute and not a fife, but several features,including the brass ferrules (a flute might have rings but not ferrules), only reinforce its identity as a (military) fife.

So, is it worth $14,800?  To answer that question, I compared it to another fife made by a contemporary London maker, that being Valentine Metzler:

Metzler (t) Eisenbrandt (b)

Fife by Valentine Metzler, top. This and the Eisenbrandt fife, below, are more fully discussed in another entry on this blog, “A Tale of Two Fifes.”  Author’s Collection

As you can see it is uncannily similar to the super-high-priced Stanesby, right down to the machine-scored ferrules, and tells pretty much the same story.  However, it does this much more reliably since we have no indication that anyone faked (or is faking) Metzler fifes, legitimately or otherwise, and the maker’s mark thereon indicates a circumscribed production date between 1788 and 1815.  So, since I bought the Metzler for $10.00 (plus $3.00 insured shipping), my answer to the $14,800 question would have to be “no.”

Copyright 2013, History of the Ancients Dot Org

When is a fife worth $3000?

Well, given my oft-stated philosophy that “a fife (or anything else, for that matter) is worth whatever someone is willing to pay,” this fife is probably worth that much to someone, especially when you get this cool-looking piccolo with it:

Image

Image courtesy of eBay seller, kenlindsey382012 (see link, below).

And it comes with the name of a former Civil War era POW inscribed on it, too:

3000 Cloos fife-1

Image courtesy of eBay seller, kenlindsey382012 (see link, below).

The problem is, said Civil War era POW didn’t own or play this fife (or the accompanying piccolo) until long after the war was over, simply because Geo Cloos, Inc, which mark is impressed upon the fife (not the piccolo), couldn’t have made or sold it until long after the war was over:

  1. The machinery to make the ferrules was a postwar invention and Cloos didn’t own any until long after the war was over, and
  2. Cloos didn’t know a thing about either Crosby or “Crosby Model” fifes (and therefore couldn’t possibly have made any) until long after the war was over, and (most importantly)
  3. Cloos could not have produced a “Crosby Model” fife without risk of a lawsuit, unless he waited for Crosby to either close up shop or die, both of which were accomplished in short succession but not until long after the war was over.

This is not to say that Ben W. Ash didn’t own a Crosby Model fife (long after the war was over) and play it as often as he liked — he was only one of the thousands of veterans (and sons of veterans and grandsons, even) who did just that — and there has got to be some value to that, just not enough to prompt this old Swamp Yankee to part with that much money and own this lovely piece of Ancient History.

Actually, listings like these sadden rather than frustrate me.  The seller deserves commendation for finding the primary source documentation to support his theory on which “Ben W. Ash” might have owned this fife.   His problems arose when he presented his vague and unsupportable “history” of the Cloos musical instrument manufactory, none of which he made up and none of which is intentionally misleading — after all, he relied upon a trusted museum for that information.  Unfortunately, it is the Library of Congress, not the seller, who needs to do some homework.

For more information about this interesting set of woodwinds, see

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=251284700622&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:1123

And, for more information about the Cloos manufactory, see the entry “Everybody Loves a Cloos Fife” here on this blog.

 

P.S.  Since writing this back in July, I note that today (October 28) the fife is still for sale, with a more reasonable buy-it-now price of $550.   Let’s see what happens now!

Blood-Stained Bargain

I can’t even begin to comment on this seller’s description of this fife.  The Arthur Ott Shields collection is well known, but the “blood stains” are a stretch.

Blood-stained bargain-1

Blood-stained Bargain-5

Image courtesy ebay seller, Redheadronald (see URL, below).

Image courtesy ebay seller, Redheadronald (see URL, below).

Blood-stained Bargain-2

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Civil-war-rosewood-fife-/271217182356?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3f25cdc694

‘Sup with this fife?

It’s a question that gets asked a lot, most recently on May 13, 2013.  This time, it was fairly easy to answer:

On 5/13/2013 9:32 AM, [a well-known fife maker] wrote:
Hi

Can you identify this fife

This fife, owned by a Vermont gentleman who died in 1943, likely never saw war-time service but is a treasured family heirloom nonetheless.

This fife, owned by a Vermont gentleman who died in 1943, likely never saw war-time service but is a treasured family heirloom nonetheless.

My answer went something like this:
This is a common but fascinating instrument — common, because we see a lot of these anywhere from the 1920s up to the 1950s or even the ’60s, but fascinating because it has quite a story to tell.  Maybe a teensy tiny bit earlier than 1920, but not by much (maybe a year or two), because if you go much farther back you will see big differences in fife design and besides, there would be no machinery around to make this kind of thing much before the late ‘teens/early 20s, not to mention no market demand and thus no incentive for makers to buy fancy (and expensive) machines just to make this kind of fife.

The most prolific maker of this kind of fife was the Cloos company in Brooklyn, NY.  The variable tonehole sizes are a dead giveaway.  But your fife was likely not made by Cloos, since it does not have the mark one would expect to see (either a G with a superimposed C enclosed by things that look something like this:  <  and  >, or the word CLOOS in a sans serif font running obliquely up the instrument).  More than likely it was made by someone trying to capitalize on the market demand created by the Cloos products (another indication of that is, again, the toneholes…) OK, so you might convince me that it was *indeed* made by Cloos, but if so, he was working as a third-party jobber with someone else’s specifications (and thus was not marked as a Cloos product).  In any event, it remains an early-to-mid 20th century fife.

Lots of people liked these metal fifes.  At this time, the best flutes were made of metal, which was considered more resonant than wood (and required a lot less care and maintenance).  Plus, they were “sanitary,” which was a big concern in the 1920s-30s, when society started taking the studies of people like Pasteur, Lister, and Koch seriously.  The problem of reduced chimney height was recognized early on, which is why just about all the metal fifes one finds have some sort of lip plate, which at least doubles the chimney height, thus enabling the player to produce a more forceful sound with less effort.

The fact that it is made in two pieces reinforces my not-much-earlier-than-1920′s theory.  At that time there were so many fife and drum corps demanding really good instruments that makers took the hint and devised some improvements to their products.  Separating the head and foot of the fife into joints replicated what flute-makers were already doing, so that players could alter the sounding length and either sharpen or flatten the pitch.  Problem is, there is only a very tiny “window” of pulling out/pushing in before you messed up the individual pitches, thus making the fife out-of-tune with itself, so they also made these models in one single piece for the unabashed historical-types (like me), who relied upon rolling the fife in towards the lip to flatten (and out away from the lip to sharpen) the problem tones.

So, your great-uncle probably paid a bit extra to have the latest, greatest fife model that was available at the time — but not quite as much as he would have for a real Cloos…clever guy, your great uncle…

One way to tell an old fife from a new one -- if it's made of swirly acrylic, it can't be any earlier than 2010.  (Image courtesy of Pat Murray, 2011).

One way to tell an old fife from a new one — if it’s made of a colorful swirly acrylic, it can’t be any earlier than 2010. (Image courtesy of Pat Murray, 2011).

I’m guessing your fife is most likely a B-flat, assuming a standard half-inch bore size.  Thus, depending on cork placement, a fife with an overall length of 16 inches usually plays near or at B-flat.  You can test it with a piano…if you sound the lowest tone (all holes open, not covered by any fingers) you would match A-flat played on a piano.  (There is a much more sophisticated way of calculating sounding length, but this one works for me, given that I can’t see, measure, and play the instrument myself).  So, even though you end up with an instrument pitched in A-flat, it is considered a B-flat, due to the problem of pitch nomenclature for transposing woodwinds, something I find confusing (it’s an argument based on German vs. English culture).  I figure as long as A = 440, which it has since about 1938, the method I described above will determine if your instrument is pitched in what most people call B-flat but some people don’t <sigh>.

So, even though it probably was not played in a war or any of that kind of that awesome (and bloody–people forget these things were bloody and tragic!) stuff, it was probably played at a ton of July 4th and Memorial Day parades, not to mention the less dramatic but well-attended historical commemorative events sponsored by small communities and in those fabulous fife and drum corps that perpetuated the martial music of their fathers and grandfathers before them who marched anywhere and everywhere they had a chance to, including “exhibitions” and “field days,” where these corps each tried to outdo the other to impress judges and win prizes.

Good for salads and fried chicken, bad for fifes!  Never use it on one!  (Google images)

Good for salads and fried chicken, bad for fifes! Never use it on one! (Google images)

Lucky for you metal fifes require very little care.  Just keep it out of damp cellars and dust it off every once in a while and you will have a nearly indestructible relic of times gone by…if you must wash it, maybe yearly with some mild soap (like dish detergent) and warm water, then by all means do so, but let it stand upright to dry overnight (so you don’t keep the cork wet, which will disintegrate it).  Not that a cork is all that difficult to replace, but I don’t know if you live near someone who can properly place it for optimal tone and tuneability.  Besides, you probably want to keep it as original as possible, and that includes the cork.  So, if you like that cork, keep it out of dry attics, too, or wherever there are wide temperature and humidity fluctuations (like stuffed in a box somewhere in an unheated garage).

Then came the worst question of all:

On 5/13/2013 1:44 PM, [the fife owner] wrote:

 Thank you for your quick response and providing a wealth of information about the fife! 
 
Just curious, what would you expect the price/value of a fife like this to be?

My reply wasn’t so helpful, I’m afraid, but I would offer the same advice to anyone with an old fife:

How to solve the "how much is my old fife worth" question:  Restrict your ancestors to those who played in an all-drums/no-fifes drum corps, like this one from Rockville, CT (1878).  Author's Collection

How to solve the “how much is my old fife worth” question: Restrict your ancestors to those who played in an all-drums/no-fifes drum corps, like this one from Rockville, CT (1878). Author’s Collection

Gah, I hate that question, because in truth, the fife (and anything else, for that matter) is worth only what someone is willing to pay.  And that can vary according to time, place, and person.  Too many variables for me!  :-(

That said, I do think these are sleepers.  Right now the people most interested in fifes, new or old, are either reenactors or what we call “Ancient” fifers and drummers.  The reenactors are spread all over the place, but the Ancients are kinda clustered in the CT Valley Shore area.  In any event, it’s a small market that is mostly interested in antique wooden fifes that can somehow be related, wrongly or rightly, with one of America’s Great Wars; i.e., the Revolution and/or the Civil War.

Which, sadly, rules out the museum world, too.  They, too, want something with a glorious war-related provenance, and they generally want it for free.

And if your ancestor was a drummer, make sure he leaves you only part of his old post CW drum...like this one, which was made sometime in or after 1884. That way you can use it to goof around at the Kinderhook Muster (June 1, 2013). Modeled by John Buzzi, Kentish Guards. Author's Collection.

And if your ancestor was a drummer, make sure he leaves you only part of his old drum…like this one, which was made sometime during or after 1884. That way if you damage it while goofing around at the Kinderhook Muster (June 1, 2013), you can probably find another for  about $30 to $60.   But not on ebay!  where the minimum bid will likely be 10 times that much because its seller believes it’s a genuine Civil War drum whose heads evaporated during the heat of battle at Second Manassas or something like that…Modeled by John Buzzi, Kentish Guards. Author’s Collection.

The end result is that you might, on a good eBay day, get something like $50 or $75 for it, but IMHO that’s cookie crumbs compared to its value as a relic from the truly golden age of fifing and drumming (which is AFTER the Civil War, thank you very much) and can’t even begin to recompense you for the family history that is in that fife.  So, I would hang on to it, enjoy it as a tangible reminder of your past, learn to play it (and play some of the music that was once played on it, which either Ron or I can come up with for you), and in about 50 years, when the market wises up, then think of selling it.

An American Legion ladies' corps.  The Legion-sponsored competitions included a ladies' class. Google Images, accessed September 14, 2012.

An American Legion ladies’ corps. The Legion-sponsored competitions included a ladies’ class. Google Images, accessed September 14, 2012.

Or keep it for your kids, and your kids’ kids, etc.  Be sure to pass down the stories associated with it, too.  See if you can dig up some newspaper photos of Great-Uncle [what was his name?] with his fife and/or his fife and drum corps — and you will likely find some of those.  This was a great big thing back in the 1920-30s, and there are newspaper accounts of the field days and Memorial Day parades and things like that.  Start with the town he lived in, look in the local history files, old newspaper clippings, etc.   If he played this fife when it was fairly new, around the 1910s-20s-maybe even 30s,  I would start there and work your way up.  Was he a veteran of some kind?  If so, check out the American Legion activity in his area of Vermont– the Legion was quite active and sponsored tons of drum corps events like field days in their early years.  Build its history, and you will have something to be really proud of and, maybe in a few years, something salable as well.