This Civil War Fife. . . Isn’t.

Question: When is a Civil War fife not a Civil War fife?

Answer:  When it was made in 1927. . . or 1938. . . or somewhere in between.

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This and all other photos courtesy of ebay seller, " cat8blt."

This and all other photos courtesy of ebay seller, ” cat8blt.”

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The seller gives an interesting provenance for this fife, which might convince some of its “Civil War” heritage.  He identifies it as “bought from Bannermans island. . . back in the 1950’s.”  Francis Bannerman (b. 1820, d. 1872) ran a ship chandlery near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but shortly after the close of the Civil War, he expanded his product to include military salvage.  However, it was his son, also named Francis (b. 1851, d. 1918) who built Bannerman’s into a multigenerational enterprise dealing in government military surplus and supplies — some of which were indeed from the Civil War but much of which were not.  So, yes, we can believe the seller’s claim that this fife was sold by Francis Bannerman (or, in 1950, by one of his sons), but that does not guarantee its “Civil War” origin.
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The seller’s claim of a mouthpiece made from “Goodyear rubber” is harder to accept.  Charles Goodyear, who developed and patented the vulcanization method that produced “hard rubber,” died in 1860.  The term “Goodyear rubber” was never in general use, the generic term being simply “hard rubber,” which was the term utilized by the Cloos company when describing these fifes in their catalogs.
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The most imposing and, therefore, convincing “evidence” of this fife originating during the Civil War is the engraving featured on its midsection, “US / 1864.”  Unfortunately, it is a bogus mark that did not originate with this fife.
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MEtal Cloose-1864-2
I don’t believe for a minute that the seller deceptively marked this fife.  But someone did!  We can’t fault the seller for believing what he is seeing, nor can we fault him for telling others about, but we can educate him as well as other buyers and sellers as to the spurious nature of this and similar marks found on other instruments (see Buying Old Fifes:  When You Don’t Get What You Pay For, November 11, 2014, on this blog).  This kind of fakery has been going on since the Bicentennial years, although this is the first time I have seen it on a metal fife.  Much more common are impressments found on wood fifes. But wood fifes are becoming quite expensive and harder to find; perhaps this explains the increasing number of forged dates we find on wood flutes and even flageolets — and now on metal fifes.
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It is important to note that this kind of fife is only now coming into its own as an “antique.” These lip-plated metal fifes are now reaching the age of 70 and 80 years, which means they are no longer just “old.”  They are acquiring a certain mystique, something that even Grandma and Grandpa don’t remember much of.   They are part of the “new antiques,” colloquially called “mid-century modern,” which probably accounts for their being rescued from attics and closets and offered for sale on ebay and other sites — which in turn attracts forgers as well as innocent buyers.
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