Buying Old Fifes: When You Don’t Get What You Pay For

On the Fife-O-Meter, this fife ranks an 8 out of 10, as far as Cloos fifes go. It appears to be flawless with no cracks, open grain, dents, or gouges. The ferrules are lovely — maybe a bit too lovely for an old fife, so I am taking a point away for the injudicious use of silver cleaner. The other point is lost because, at 15-1/2 inches total length, it likely plays in C and not the more desirous B-flat.



All photos courtesy of pahaskabooks.

All in all, a pretty nice fife.

On the Fake-O-Meter though, I give it a -10. It loses 5 points merely because it is a Cloos


and therefore couldn’t possibly have a Civil War provenance, despite what the seller says:


As readers of this blog already know, the machinery to make this kind of ferrule wasn’t available until after the war was over, which is precisely when Cloos bought one and set his sons to work spinning tapered ferrules. The other 5 points are deducted because of the tone-hole pattern which, according to all available evidence, was not designed until the Clooses had examined some fifes of Crosby’s make, and that didn’t occur until 1873 — at the earliest.

However, this fife has a unique feature that strains the Fake-O-Meter to almost the breaking point. It is the inscription, “8th Vermont Infantry.”


There are at least two people on this earth (me and a colleague in Maryland) who know that this mark (and others like them) is fake, but the fact that it appears on an obviously post-war fife should be enough to give a serious heads-up to the rest of the fife-collecting world. But because the seller believes it is a rare feature that confirms the impossible, causing him-or-her to raise the price to an outrageous sum, the fife loses 10 more points and actually falls below the range of the Fake-O-Meter.

Buy this fife if you like it. Buy it if you can afford it. Buy it if you want a C-pitched Cloos to round out your collection. Or buy it because it has shiny ferrules. But don’t buy it because it is a Genuine Civil War Cloos fife, because it isn’t.

See the listing here:


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