The GD Fife — Cloos or Crosby?

Author’s collection

For some time fife collectors have been stymied by the “GD” found on some Crosby Model fifes.  Nobody knows who made these fifes, or why.

A quick Internet search reveals a single candidate for “GD,” a proposal made by Steve Dillon, a New Jersey collector, for one Granville Draper.  Draper was a musical instrument maker who worked with his brother Charles and then in the firm of Draper, Halliday & Cook in Boston from 1857 until 1865.  This connection with the music industry in the same city where Walter Crosby made fifes sounds plausible enough, until one realizes that Draper made brass instruments, not woodwinds, and that he would have had to leave his employ, learn a new skill set, and seek a new job (or else purchase his own machinery) in order to make and sell fifes, the market for which was far less profitable than the one for

trombones and other horns.  In fact, it’s a possibility that Dillon himself questions, but for different reasons (“Why would Crosby let Draper put his name on a fife? Is this a Crosby Model, made for Granville Draper by another fife maker? Or….is this a true Crosby fife, made by Crosby, and sold by Granville Draper?”)

All of Steve’s questions can be answered with one reply:   The “GD” fifes are not “a true Crosby fife.”  Instead, they are identical to the “Crosby Model” fife, so named, made, and popularized by Geo Cloos, Inc. of Brooklyn, NY, some many miles away from Boston and some many years after Granville Draper’s musical instrument-making had ceased.  Therefore, Crosby did not “let Draper put his name on a fife,” if indeed it was Draper and/or an agent acting on his behalf who was making and marking fifes, nor did Crosby himself make them.

The “Crosby Model” was a fife that Frederick Cloos claimed had been developed at the family business over which he presided following the death of his father and company founder, George Cloos (1910; an older brother, William, had died 6 years earlier).  For various reasons, the Clooses could not have made the Crosby Model much before 1880, and by that time Walter Crosby, too, was dead.  However, the Crosby Model was an instant hit with the burgeoning quasi-military drum corps market, and in 1921, some 40 years after the introduction of the Crosby Model, Fred Cloos bragged that it remained their “best seller,” so much so that their workshop at times had trouble keeping up with the demand.

The Cloos Crosby Model is clearly based on the earlier Walter Crosby design.  However, the two fifes differ in several ways, most notably (besides the obvious maker’s marks) in the tone holes and ferrules.  Both fifes feature a system of variably sized tone holes placed strategically along the body to enhance pitch, but Crosby’s pattern (seen, left, on the “wedding ring fife” from the Dayton C. Miller Collection at the Library of Congress) is not the same one utilized by Cloos.  Also, both fifes feature elongated ferrules that accommodate the tapered body design.  However, Crosby hand-rolled his ferrules from sheet metal whereas the Cloos ferrules were machine spun from metal tubing.   Comparing these with GD-marked fifes, one finds the distinctive construction features (even the sans serif font used in the maker’s mark) found on the Cloos Crosby Model and nothing that recalls Walter Crosby’s design.  This effectively rules Crosby out of the “GD” production process.

Note the variously sized tone holes, not limited to hole #2. Author’s Collection

This also sheds further doubt on the candidacy of Boston-based Draper as the maker of an obviously Brooklyn-based instrument.  There is nothing to indicate that Draper was ever employed by the Clooses in any capacity, either at their Brooklyn manufactory or at the short-lived Boston venture on Court Street (1884 only) run by Fred’s elder brother.  Yet these fifes were clearly made by someone with intimate knowledge of their construction.  Given their machined production, it is possible that “GD” could have acquired a Cloos Model fife and jigged his own machinery to reproduce it without the consent or support of Geo Cloos, Inc.  If so, he would have been one of any number of makers who surreptitiously made but blatantly sold inexpensive replicas in attempts to cash in on the flourishing Crosby Model market.  However, the GD fifes are too well-made to qualify as cheap knockoffs designed to make a quick buck, and “GD,” be it Draper or anyone else, would have been foolhardy to risk a lawsuit by “put[ting] his name” or initials on a rogue instrument.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know who “GD” was or why he made fifes – or if the maker was a “he” at all.  I’m wondering, though, if further research might identify “GD” as someone who worked for Fred Cloos during the height of Crosby Model fervor.  (Could it have been the old family friend, George Dietrich, who witnessed George’s will in 1910? or another friend yet unknown?)  Such an employee (or ex-employee) might have been prompted to continue making Crosby Model fifes on his own once the Brooklyn factory had ceased production, since the demand for these instruments continued well past the company’s demise in 1946.  True, Penzel Muller, successors to Geo Cloos, Inc., offered their own product for sale using the familiar Cloos/Crosby design and markings, but these fifes were of a lesser quality and never enjoyed the popularity of the original product.  It might be that “GD” was attempting to supply the mid-20th century drum corps market with a fife identical to the still-coveted Crosby Model.   However, one person’s endeavor would have been no match for the well-established Penzel Muller, Inc., which likely accounts for the few GD fifes that survive today amidst a much larger quantity of Penzel Muller instruments.

Copyright, History of the Ancients Dot Org 2012 all rights reserved

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