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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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!

‘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.

EVERYBODY LOVES A CLOOS FIFE

Who wouldn’t?  Sweet and clear in the high tones, every Cloos fife is surrounded by a mystical aura of heroic young men dressed in blue bidding loved ones farewell as they march off to a quite un-civil war, and all this to a sprightly tune that may indeed have been played upon the very fife now held in your hands…or so auction dealers would have us believe.  In truth, the Cloos legend is related only peripherally to a war, and it is not the American Civil War.  Its provenance, actually, is tied to the post-War development of civilian fife and drum corps.  These home-grown marching bands provided a market for Cloos fifes that outlasted the company’s sale in 1946 and eventual demise of the brand some 20 years later.

Revolution in the Street, 1848. From http://www2.washjeff.edu/german/culturalhistory
/revstreet.jpg,
accessed August 14, 2012.

It was the German Revolution of 1848, a grassroots effort to unify the German nation-states, that prompted a decade-long exodus of Forty-Eighters to other countries, including the United States.  It was around this time (1857) that George Cloos arrived in New York City to live with Gotthard Cloos, on Remsen Street, just south of and across the river from “Little Germany.”  Gotthard was a tailor, not a flute-maker, but he was evidently well acquainted with one by the name of William Bauer.  It was Bauer (apparently no relation to the Chicago manufacturer Julius Bauer) who sponsored both Gotthard and George for citizenship in 1860 (Bauer himself had been sponsored a few years earlier by another flute-maker, Charles G. Christman), thus beginning a friendship with George Cloos that would last a lifetime.  In 1870 the Cloos families were still on Remsen Street, but the Gotthard Clooses would soon remove to Buffalo and the George Clooses to a new home to the east in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  There George Cloos would live and work for the rest of his life.

The Clooses made woodwinds at the family home at 39 Stagg Street (lower left, Ward 16) until 1916, when son Fred would move the business to new quarters in Ridgewood.  Courtesy Brooklyn [NY] Historical Society, http://brooklynhistory.org/blog/tag/bedford-stuyvesant/, accessed November 23, 2012

George and Mary Cloos had 10 children, and all the surviving boys participated to some extent in the family business.  Both William (b. 1861) and Fred (b. 1867) were active by 1880, Herman (b. 1869) and Philip (b. 1873) not until 1892 and 1895 respectively.  Manufacturing took place at home at 39 Stagg Street and included clarinets, piccolos, and fifes in addition to the previously established flute line.  By 1897 they needed more employees than the family alone could provide, a number that in the next few years hovered between 8 and 9. Production continued at Stagg Street even after George Cloos’s death in 1910, but in 1916 the business, having been duly incorporated and now headed by son Fred, relocated to brand-new accommodations at 1659 Stephen Street in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn.  In 1919 Fred Cloos offered jobs to returning WWI soldiers, but even so, he soon reported that the factory could not keep up with orders for Crosby Model fifes, a product that “originated in the Cloos business” and was “one of their largest sellers.”

The downturn began in the 1930s.  The second-generation Cloos businessmen were aging out, and the market opportunities for a narrowly focused family business were dwindling.  With the Great Depression in full swing and the purchasing power of amateur marching bands in doubt, the Cloos name all but dropped from the trade journals, and in 1933 Fred G. Cloos, who had succeeded his father and grandfather, left the business for a career in insurance.  Meanwhile, the Clooses no longer jobbed exclusively to the trade and opened their factory doors to walk-in customers.  In 1946, the company ceased production; when purchased by Penzel & Mueller of Long Island City, the new owners promised that “the name ‘Cloos’ and the world famous ‘Crosby Model’ trade marks will [continue to] be used.”  They even named the elderly Fred Cloos an executive.  However, business was no longer brisk, and after a few years the new owners quietly closed up shop, depleting the stock early in 1969.

The history of Cloos fifes is not easily chronicled since business records have not been located and public records, city directories, newspapers, and trade journals tell an incomplete story.  When George Cloos (“Closs”) arrived in New York he was a joiner, but 3 years later he told census-takers he worked at flute-making.  He did not own a business at this time, so he must have been employed by any one of a number of woodwind makers flourishing in New York.  We might surmise that he worked for William Bauer who, according to tax records, operated a small musical instrument-making shop, but in any event, Cloos established his own flute-making business in 1862, or so his later advertising tells us.  In a 4-page catalog produced for the trade, we are told that “the Manufacture of Flutes and Piccolos” was entrusted to his eldest son, William; his second son, Frederick was in charge of the “clarionets.”  Although undated, this catalog was likely produced around 1902, the year that Cloos announced to readers of the Music Trade Review that his sons were now officially part of the company.

In 1928, in an effort to “increase interest in playing the fife,” the company announced the invention of the “Full Tone” mouthpiece made of “tasteless metal” and “guaranteed to play,” available with a plain finish or plated in silver or gold.  Mouthpieces were colloquially called “cheaters.” Despite the promise of a “full tone,” a fife played through a mouthpiece is not nearly as powerful and strong as one played directly through the embouchure. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Snap-on mouthpieces such as this one (top, left) were custom-made by local tinsmiths.  The Cloos “Full-Tone” (top, right) copied a late 19th c. manufactured standard but used no pewter in its construction.   The rosewood fife shows wear from a long use of a round mouthpiece like the Full-Tone. The mouthpiece on the cherry fife is secured with linen string, the brass screw having been lost.  Author’s Collection.  

Field music in company formation, unidentified, ca 1860-1865. Image Courtesy Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.33186/, accessed November 11, 2012.

So, when did Cloos begin large-scale fife-making; more specifically, when did he produce the Crosby Model?  The best answer, which is not very precise, is this: when it became profitable to do so.  That did not happen for some years after the Civil War had ended.  Prior to this, the market was quite limited, since fifes were of little use to anyone who was not a military musician.  A member of the flute family of woodwinds, fifes have a relatively short sounding length that results in high, shrill tones entirely unsuitable for indoor use; however, they pair nicely with the field drum, both of which are loud enough to be heard over the din of marching men.  Thus fifes and drums (“field music”) were used in the military camp to relay signals and on the march to establish and maintain cadence.

 By the time of the Civil War, fife-making was a casual sideline of professional woodwind makers who fashioned the instruments from dense tropical hardwoods using specialized machines.  However, these fifes functioned much the same as those turned from less exotic woods on foot-powered lathes nearly a hundred years earlier.  Makers had not bothered to improve the fife’s acoustics, as they

The brass-ferruled fife is a pre-Crosby Cloos, which could have been made any time before ca 1875 (or as late as the 1920-30s, when they were offered for sale just in time for the Washington Bicentennial). The other, with nickel silver ferrules, is a Firth & Pond, ca. 1846. Despite the outward differences and the nearly 30 years that separate them, both fifes have nearly identical sounding lengths and are straight-bore, even-holed instruments that did not incorporate any of the acoustical improvements found on parlor and concert flutes made during the times these fifes were produced. Author’s Collection.

had with other woodwinds, and why should they?  There was little civilian interest in purchasing fifes, and the military market, excluding the war years, remained small and undemanding, so much so that army specifications continued to call for old-style instruments, despite their limitations, as late as 1889.  Thus, makers had no incentive to spend time or money on improving fife design.

There is no evidence that Cloos made a significant number of fifes (and none of the Crosby Model) during his early career.  Neither his name nor his firm have been found on surviving government contracts, suggesting that he did not supply the army with fifes during the Civil War, although other New York makers did, including William Hall & Son and Firth & Pond.  Without these lucrative contracts, Cloos could not have supported himself and his growing family by wholesale fife production.  Existing records suggest he continued making flutes and a maybe few traditional-style fifes until 1873, when an expanded product line was reflected in his city directory listing; he now manufactured musical instruments, not just flutes.

Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, left, undated but shortly after they acquired their first uniforms (founded 1860, Moodus, CT) Author’s Collection.

By that time, however, things were changing rapidly.  The passage of time, which had romanticized the postwar image of the “boys in blue” as saviors of the union, plus the national pride inspired by the Centennial celebrations of 1876, spurred formation of amateur community bands (“corps”) comprised solely of fifes and drums.  This occurred alongside technological advancements in warfare that would soon render the military field music obsolete.  Now the civilian market for fifes outstripped even wartime military demand as more and more parades, ceremonies, and public commemorations included fife and drum corps in their line-up.

As fifers played in concert with and marched alongside other types of bands, though, they became acutely aware of the deficiencies inherent in the traditional fife, and they looked for an improved instrument with a truer pitch.  This is the market that likely prompted George Cloos not to just produce fifes (he was already doing that) but to produce better ones and more of them.  Certainly the profuse survival of Cloos/Crosby fifes and Fred Cloos’s assertions in the Music Trade Review confirm this supposition, even if direct documentation cannot.

Chas. T. Kirk Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps in 1938 (founded 1899, Brooklyn, NY) Author’s Collection.

Odell M. Chapman Continental Fife and Drum Corps, ca 1922 (founded 1918, Willimantic, CT, having split from the Thread City corps). Renowned drummer, Frank Fancher, was the lead musician.

The Crosby Model fife differed from its contemporaries in several ways, one of which was its ferrules.  Ferrules are the decorative metal bindings applied to either end of the fife to prevent the wooden body from splitting.  Initially ferrules were made from sheet metal, usually brass, rolled to a snug fit and finished with a burnished seam.  They were then punched with a special tool to prevent the ferrule from sliding off.  Sometime around 1840 “German silver,” an alloy of copper and nickel (and sometimes zinc) replaced the customary brass, and makers found that cutting ferrules from metal tubes was less expensive and more efficient than rolling them from sheets.  However, tubing could not be used to produce the long tapered ferrules that Cloos used on the Crosby Model—that is, not until machinery designed to produce seamless tapered metal tubes was available.  Cloos did not have these machines in 1870, but by 1880 he had acquired enough to keep himself and two young sons busy spinning tapered ferrules.

 The seam on this late 18th century ferrule, far right, is so finely burnished that it is almost invisible. However, it runs in line with the edge of the embouchure. Ferrule from head end of Eisenbrandt fife (middle, ca. 1812) showing tooled “pince” or “dimple” to prevent loss as the ferrule loosened over time.   Crosby Model ferrule (left, top) and pre-Crosby Cloos ferrule (left, bottom). Neither are seamed. The top ferrule was “spun” to achieve its conical shape; the brass ferrule is cylindrical and likely cut from metal tubing.  Author’s Collection.

Charles Nicholson, 1834. Courtesy Wiki Images, accessed September 14, 2012. This Nicholson flute, right, was made by Clementi, a London maker.

More important changes occurred in tone-hole design.  Cloos and his fellow woodwind makers knew that placing six relatively small, equal-sized tone holes in an equidistant pattern along a woodwind body would negatively affect certain pitches.  Accomplished players knew this, too, and compensated either by altering the force or direction of the airstream or rolling the instrument in or out as required.   While many makers at this time decided to adopt (or adapt) the Boehm system to improve their flutes and clarinets, no one bothered to improve fifes.  Neither did Cloos, whose early fifes feature the typical “even” tone holes.  However, when his thoughts turned to producing a better fife, he shunned both traditional tone holes and the Boehm system in favor of a Nicholson-style pattern.  Charles Nicholson (b. 1795, d. 1837) was the flautist whose playing in 1831 had charmed Theobold Boehm and inspired both to improve flute construction.  The simplest explanation of Nicholson’s varied tone-hole design is that it altered the sounding length of certain pitches, thus improving the off-tones produced by instruments made with even-sized holes.  He also enlarged the tone holes and the embouchure, which resulted in more powerful acoustics.  Cloos applied similar changes to his new-style fife, probably as early as 1880 but certainly by 1893, when Lyon and Healy offered Crosby Model fifes for sale, a mail-order bargain at $1.50 each.

The variably sized tone holes of the Nicholson flute. Neither Cloos nor Crosby copied the Nicholson design, but they were both influenced by it. Courtesy Terry McGee, McGee-Flutes Research Collection, http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/collection.html, accessed September 14, 2012.

Court Street, Boston, ca. 1850-55.  In 1861, Walter Crosby worked from #59, upstairs from Gilmore & Russell’s music shop located at 61 Court Street. The “Gilmore” in Gilmore & Russell was the famous band leader, Patrick S. Gilmore, who composed “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”  Courtesy Boston Public Library, Print Department, via Wiki Images, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a3/1855_CourtSt_Boston_BPL_08_02_003376-1_detail2.jpg. Accessed September 14, 2012.

Although Fred Cloos reported that the Crosby Model “originated in the Cloos business,” he failed to disclose that its prototype had been for sale all along in the Boston woodwind shop of its namesake, Walter Crosby (b. 1805, d. 1874).  In 1827 Crosby was a woodturner who made umbrellas and toys.  He partnered briefly with another turner, Henry Prentiss, in 1829 before both ventured into the woodwind market, Crosby in 1830 and Prentiss in 1834.  He did well, with real property worth $10,000 in 1870.  He is mentioned only once in Ayars’s study of Boston music industries (1937), but the citation is worth notice:  “Possibly the first flutes manufactured in Boston were made by the firm of Walter Crosby, which made the popular Crosby fifes used in the Civil War…”  Her statement is inaccurate (William Callender made flutes in Boston before Crosby was born), but she remains correct in that Walter Crosby did indeed make fifes.  Their war-time popularity is doubtful, since there are no extant contracts to indicate that these attracted the attention of any military quartermasters, but they did attract the attention of George Cloos via a series of somebody else’s short-lived business enterprises that eventually involved his eldest son.  This began in 1876, when George’s old mentor, William Bauer, traveled to Boston.  His son Henry had spent the previous year there making musical instruments, but together they formed a new business, William Bauer & Son, at 103 Court Street, just a short walk from the old Crosby shop at #59.  There the Bauers made, sold, and repaired musical instruments until 1878, when Henry returned to New York.  William worked alone until 1880 when another son, Emil, joined him.  This second father/son alliance ended with the elder Bauer’s death in 1882, leaving Emil to run a solo business, perhaps from his Ruggles Street home, and this in addition to his employment as a clerk for John C. Haynes.  However, 1883 found him again on Court Street, repairing instruments for the Envers brothers, and it was this shop that in 1885 became “William H. Cloos, Clarionets, Flutes, and Piccolos.”  Whether Emil partnered with Cloos or worked independently is not clear, but in any event, Ayars reports that Bauer sold out to August Damm in 1888, the same year that William Cloos returned to Brooklyn to supervise flute production at his father’s factory, which he did until his death in 1904.

What emerges from this convoluted story is that George Cloos, either through his son or his old friend William Bauer, clearly had the opportunity to examine Crosby fifes, perhaps as early as 1875 or ’76.  That the one was the prototype for the other is undeniable, even had Cloos not retained the Crosby name.  Both are made from dark hardwoods, and each features a Nicholson-type tone hole pattern that varies in size and placement.  Lloyd Ferrar, in a detailed physical study comparing the Crosby fife with the Crosby Model (Woodwind Quarterly, Issue 12, n.d.), identified a few structural vagaries, but these are inconspicuous, both visually and acoustically.  In fact, there are just two easily detectable features separating Cloos’s fife from Crosby’s (besides, of course, the makers’ marks):  One is the design of the tone holes and the other is the ferrules.

Walter Crosby fife. Image Courtesy Library of Congress, DCM 0944,
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.music.dcmflute.0944/default.html, accessed September 14, 2012.

John C. Haynes was one of the many retailers who included Cloos products in their inventory of musical goods for sale.

Walter Crosby used shorter, widely tapered ferrules that bear marks of handwork; ferrules on the Crosby Model are longer, also tapered but seamless, turned on the metal spinning machines the Clooses were using by 1880.  The result is a perfect combination of George Cloos, maker of fine woodwinds, and George Cloos, shrewd businessman.  As a maker, he recognized the performance capabilities of Crosby’s fife and salvaged it from obscurity with the Crosby Model.  As a businessman, he personalized the instrument and streamlined its production so that it could be readily prepared and sold with impunity once Crosby’s shop had closed for good, which it did after its owner’s death in 1874.  Still, Cloos must have realized his moral obligation to the originator, which might explain why he retained the Crosby name.  In any event, the Crosby Model became an instant best-seller as it satisfied the market demand for an improved, reliable instrument and was wholesaled to various dealers, including the John C. Haynes Company.

The 22nd NYSM in August 1892, activated to maintain order during the Switchmen’s Strike in Buffalo. Author’s Collection.

The success of the Crosby Model enabled the Cloos factory to ride the crest of a mighty wave of interest in fifing created by the burgeoning drum corps market.  Fife and drum use was no longer confined to the military, although field music continued to abound in the postwar New York State Militia.  These groups found companionship in the innumerable quasi-military civilian corps that sprang up in just about every city borough (especially the well-defined neighborhoods of Brooklyn) plus in the hundreds of youth corps sponsored by the Boy Scouts and the CYO (“Catholic Youth Organization”).  Beyond Brooklyn to the east, Connecticut had its own tradition of “ancient” style fifes and drums, which flourished alongside their more modern counterparts comprised variously of fifes, flutes, drums, and/or bugles.  The activity in New York and Connecticut, however, was just a microcosm of a nationwide trend that had begun with the commemorative G.A.R. corps founded by Civil War veterans and their progeny and continued with those spawned by the successive patriotic frenzies created by the Spanish American War, World War I, and the formation of the American Legion.

A GAR corps, right, leading the Memorial Day parade in Los Angeles in 1927. The right-most fifer (besides being out of step) is playing on a Crosby Model Cloos, as is the fellow next to him; the two fifers to the left are using short-ferruled fifes.   Image courtesy Los Angeles Times Photography, http://framework.latimes.com/2012/05/26/memorial-day-1911-1929/#/10, accessed September 14, 2012.

An American Legion ladies’ corps, left. Google Images, accessed September 14, 2012.

In fact, at the height of Legion fervor, William Ludwig published a pamphlet advising the best way to organize a drum corps, details of which were published in the Music Trade Review in 1926.

One of the many Ludwig publications directed towards the drum corps market. Author’s Collection.

Of course, no corps would be complete without its quota of Ludwig drums, and he was less than enthusiastic about fife sections, which he thought were best used as “a relief unit for the bugles.” Nonetheless he urged fifers to buy Crosby Models because they are “designed especially for corps work and [are] used by more corps than any other fife.”  By this time, he proclaimed, it had become “the old-timer’s standby.  It was no wonder, then, that Geo. Cloos, Inc. scrambled to fulfill orders.

It was this very focus on all-things-fife that ensured the demise of the Cloos factory.  In their efforts to become the #1 supplier of drum-corps fifes and accessories, the Clooses ignored the danger signals emitting from the otherwise thriving musical market of the 1920s.  Flutes were no longer the parlor instruments of choice; those who continued making music in the home preferred pianos.  Stringed instruments (guitars, mandolins, and banjos) now dominated the small goods trade, so much so that Emil Bauer bid good-bye to John Haynes to work in banjos.  Military wind bands continued to flourish; however, they had long since discarded woodwinds in favor of brasswinds.  In fact, the active passion for making music was fast succumbing to the passive fashion of listening to it as families nationwide rearranged their furniture to accommodate “talking machines” (gramophones and phonographs), radios, and “player pianos” that required no musical training to operate.

One could listen to fife and drum music, too, such as the “Uncle Sam Medley” played by the National Guard Fife and Drum Corps (1917) http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/mp3s/6000/6344/cusb-cyl6344d.mp3. Recorded on a Gold-Moulded cylinder, it would be played upon a machine such as this one pictured here, courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph_cylinder, accessed September 14, 2012. MP3 file courtesy of Cylinder Preservation and Digitalization Project, University of California, accessed September 14, 2012.

The once-proud home of Geo Cloos, Inc.

Some manufacturers responded by dropping their unprofitable woodwind lines and retooling for small strings or pianos.  The businesses of unlucky others failed or were subsumed by the large publishing houses, most notably that of Oliver Ditson.  The Cloos products were given another chance briefly around 1932 with the Washington’s Birthday Bicentennial and again when the company was acquisitioned by Penzel & Muller but to no avail.  The fife market, now much smaller and concentrated in metropolitan New York/New Jersey and the Valley Shore area of Connecticut, patronized local makers such as Ted Kurtze, T. D. O’Connor, and Henry “Ed” Ferrary or purchased a new kind of fife designed by the first of the revisionist makers, John McDonagh.  The old Crosby Models were retired to attics, basements, and inaccessible closet shelves, emerging decades later as misunderstood eBay offerings but to those in the know, relics of the truly golden years of fifing and drumming.

Copyright November 2012, History of the Ancients Dot Org.  All rights reserved.

Civil War Fifing: Making It Better

A Patent Fife by John Pfaff

By 1864, the Civil War was nearly over, but neither the Federals nor Confederates could know that for certain. Both governments continued to recruit soldiers, and in the North the merchant mass scrambled to secure lucrative military contracts for the necessary clothing, arms, and accouterments as well as for drums and fifes.  Some makers, such as New York’s Firth and Pond and Philadelphia’s William H. Horstmann Co., filled governmental orders with standard instruments, but others responded to the increased demand by developing and patenting improvements, especially in fife design.  One such maker was Philadelphia’s John Pfaff.

Pfaff was one of 7 sons of Johann Pfaff of Kaiserlautern.   In Germany, Johann and 3 of his sons made woodwinds, a practice that John continued upon his arrival in the United States in 1842.  He worked a year in Baltimore, but then the 26-year-old Pfaff established a shop in Philadelphia, where he stayed until his death in 1887.

Patent submission, the vertically blown flute, by John Pfaff (1857).

John Pfaff produced flutes mostly but also clarinets.  He was not content to just make them, he also improved them.  In 1857 he invented (and patented) a flute that could be played vertically, because

In playing the ordinary flute it is necessary to turn the head partially to one side, and to maintain the arms in an unnatural position, causing distortions and strains which have been found to affect the chests of players, and more especially of beginners.  The fingers and wrist too have to be stretched to an inconvenient extent.

Health issues aside, Pfaff further believed that the unusual playing position of his newly designed flute “actually improves [the tone of the flute] both as regards clearness and volume.”

Filed with the Patent Office, 1864.

Turning his attention to fifers, Pfaff found different problems.  He saw that while the fifer was playing and marching, the instrument was in danger of “slipping from its position in front of the mouth when the body of the performer is constantly moving.”  He sought to correct this by placing a “ridge or protuberance” on either side of the embouchure, allowing the fifer “to draw the fife up without hesitancy or doubt as to proper placement against his lips.”

Pfaff submitted his written arguments along with a detailed drawing of his plan to officials in Washington, which was sufficient to convince them to issue a patent on November 29, 1864.

While a flute of the 1857 design is not known to this writer, two examples of the 1864 fife are.  These were not found in any major museum collections, though; both of them, surprisingly, turned up on the online auction Ebay, one in December 2001 and the other in April 2004, and I bought both.

The fifes are quite interesting.  Both are pitched in B flat and are straight-bore instruments with a tapered body.  One fife has ferrules made from thin brass, the other has none.  The tone holes are grossly equal in size and spaced more or less equidistant along the body.  Both fifes are made of bird’s-eye maple, although the figure is more pronounced in the unferruled one.  The lack of ferrules, by the way, appears to be intentional, as there were no insets spun to receive them; however, there are decorative lines scored at either end of the body in imitation of the lines customarily engraved on ferrules.

The embouchure on each fife is guarded  bilaterally with the patent-protected ridges, which are sufficiently high to fulfill their purpose.

The Tanner fife, also an ebay purchase. The mouthpiece (“cheater”) is early but is not original.

Pfaff wasn’t the only maker who sought to improve the military fife.  On July 5, 1864, John W. Tanner filed for a patent to protect his “convertible fife.”

His design would enable the player to change the pitch of his instrument simply by substituting a second, differently-sized foot joint.

However, fellow New Yorker A.H. Stratton had already produced an instrument that accomplished this without the inconvenience of carrying two foot joints around.  His patent, filed on May 2, 1856, described a fife made with a double tube.  The outer tube contained 2 sets of tone holes, each set strategically placed along the body.  By adjusting the inner tube, the fifer could access either set of tone holes and thus play in the desired key at will without the trouble of changing foot joints.  While patient monitoring of Ebay did indeed result in one of the Tanner fifes, I am still looking for a Stratton patent model, so if you see one, post a note here and don’t bid on it!

Copyright 2006, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg.  All rights reserved.

A Tale of Two Fifes: The War of 1812

“Mr. Madison’s War.” From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_1812, accessed August 3, 2012.

To some Americans, it was a fiery necessity, the Second War for Independence.  To others, it was “Mr. Madison’s War,” a terrible inconvenience that disrupted profitable New England trade.  To the British, it was just another military headache; they were already fully involved in the Napoleonic Wars.  No matter who called it what, men from both sides of the Atlantic were summoned to fight this war, and once the regiments were assembled they marched off to it with music from  their own fifers and drummers.

Some American fifers – probably a large number of them – were equipped with fifes made by Heinrich Christian Eisenbrandt (b. 1790, Gottengen, d. 1860), a young German immigrant who at age 18 had fled his native Germany and the wars raging there.  He arrived in New Perth [DE] and shortly thereafter made his way to Philadelphia, where he taught flute-playing and also made woodwinds, a trade he had learned from his father in Gottengen.  Heinrich’s son, Henry, recalled how so many fifers ended up with Eisenbrandt fifes during the war:

. . . At this time (1811) America was preparing for war & Father immediately got work at good wages at making fifes.  He was a quick worker, but worked in the old German way & could only make 1/2 doz each day, whereas an American alongside of him made a doz.  Papa bored his from 2 sides; figuring this too slow, he studied out a plan to bore them from one.  Soon equaled the Americans & determined to succeed, surpassed [them] and made 2 doz a day. . .

Fife rather carelessly marked “H.E.,” likely Heinrich Eisenbrandt, Philadelphia, ca 1811. Author’s Collection.

It is not clear whether “Papa” and the “Americans working alongside him” were employed by any one of the Philadelphia instrument makers active at that time or in Eisenbrandt’s own shop, which he later claimed to have founded in 1811, but in any event, Eisenbrandt did not stay in Philadelphia very long.  His biographer tells us of a short stint in Baltimore and another in New York before returning to Germany in 1816. He worked in the family woodwind business before winning appointment as “court instrument maker in Hanover.”  However, in 1819 he was back in Baltimore and this time established a musical instrument business that would flourish for 130 years.

Metzler fife, London, 1788-1815 (top), Eisenbrandt fife, Philadelphia, ca 1811 (bottom). According to The New Langwill, Eisenbrandt was in Baltimore (at the battle of North Point) in 1812 and in New York in 1815. Author’s Collection.

The British side of the story is also dominated by a German whose woodwind-making enterprise lasted even longer than Eisenbrandt’s.  Valentine Metzler (b.?, Bingen am Rhein, d. 1833) began his career in London in 1788 and eventually opened a “music warehouse” as well.  When his son, George (b. 1797, d. 1867) joined the business in 1816, the name was changed to Metzler & Son.  It then became Metzler & Co. in 1833, upon the death of the elder Metzler.  In 1931 Metzler & Co. was assumed by J.B. Cramer, under whose name and leadership the company continued until about 1950.

Despite their German heritage, both Metzler and Eisenbrandt turned fifes that were characteristic of their adopted countries.  In fact, were it not for their brand marks, they would be nearly identical to any other contemporary British- and American-made fife respectively, less so in the case of Eisenbrandt, though, because the outstanding feature that distinguishes his work from any other is his use of rosewood.

Throughout the eighteenth century and extending well into the nineteenth, the tonewood of choice in both London and America was boxwood. Turkish boxwood was preferred, as it was thought that the dry climate might produce wood less susceptible to warping, but in truth, all boxwood, unless perfectly seasoned and used in extremely short pieces, tends to warp.  The dark, dense hardwoods did not, and by the 1820s-30s American makers had virtually abandoned the use of boxwood in favor of the tropical tonewoods.  However, British makers continued to use it (for fifes, at least) even as they produced flutes, clarinets, oboes, and other woodwinds from rosewood, cocus wood, cocobolo, and ebony.   Eisenbrandt was unique in his use of rosewood a full 10-15 years before its adoption by other woodwind makers.  In fact, according to Henry, his father’s skill in producing fine rosewood instruments guaranteed the success of his second Baltimore venture in 1819:

. . . he became famous for his work.  The Americans at that time knew nothing of polishing hard woods & he often received double the amount of his price when a piece of work was completed; this in fact had been the case frequently, from the very first, in Phila[delphia]. . .

Foot end of Metzler fife (left) compared to foot end of Eisenbrandt fife (right). The bores are well centered. Enlarging the image demonstrates loosened areas of the Metzler ferrule. Author’s Collection.

Otherwise, the straight, narrow bore and the thin-walled, tapered body with upper body swell found on Eisenbrandt fifes were typical of American fife design.  Eisenbrandt drilled the bore and turned his fife with care, probably on a foot-powered lathe.  The small, even tone holes are also typical of the time period.  Of note, though, is Eisenbrandt’s careful undercutting of only some of the tone holes.  Undercutting was a subtle way of enlarging the tone hole on the inside of the body without disturbing its appearance on the outside.  When left uncovered by the fifer’s finger (“open”), the widened tone hole would effectively shorten the sounding length of any pitch dependent upon that open hole, resulting in slightly sharper intonation.  By choosing which tone holes to undercut, Eisenbrandt improved specific pitches that, on other fifes, were noticeably flat.

Ferrule, foot end of Eisenbrandt fife. A pincer device was used to make two equidistant indentations that would prevent ferrule loss should it loosen from its seating. However, these ferrules are so well toleranced that they show no sign of loosening even now, 200 years later. Author’s Collection.

Certain other characteristics, however, show where Eisenbrandt cut corners in order to complete his 2 dozen fifes per day.  The brass ferrules are nicely fitted but without decoration.  He snipped them from seamless metal tubing, which took a lot less time than cutting up brass sheets, hand-rolling each ferrule to fit the fife, and then finishing with a burnished seam, which is what other makers did.  Both ferrules are the same size (3/4”), thus eliminating the necessity of turning different seating lengths at each end of the fife, even though it was standard practice at this time to apply a longer ferrule at the foot end.   On this particular instrument, his brand mark, a seriffed “H.E.,” missed the midline entirely and is only partially visible despite being double-struck.  Perhaps he excused his haste or inattention to such details, which did not affect either intonation or gross appearance, because it allowed him to tend more carefully to other characteristics that did, the overall result being a well-constructed instrument that exceeds the standards of its day.

Brand mark used by Valentine Metzler, 1788-1815. Author’s Collection.

The Valentine Metzler fife is a typical British instrument.  He, too, was a talented woodwind maker, but unlike Eisenbrandt, whose fifes equaled the quality of his other woodwinds, Metzler viewed fifes as a secondary product.  Rather than improve upon them, his fifes were simply “little flutes” that were hastily assembled from leftover pieces of boxwood.  They feature a thick-walled, straight body with a slightly conical bore.  In this particular fife, there is an obvious warp running up the middle portion of the body which, combined with a large knot in the upper lateral area, rendered this piece of wood unsuitable for use in flutes or other woodwinds.  Metzler, too, utilized small, even tone holes that were somewhat larger than Eisenbrandt’s but not as carefully placed.  They are smoothed but do not appear to be undercut, although the embouchure is (this improves volume, an important feature of the military fife).  The ferrules are made from sheet brass, each decorated with two sets of scored parallel lines.  Both are loose; while this can occur with age as the wood dries out, it can also result from a poorly rolled ferrule.  Metzler evidently doubted the integrity of these ferrules, as he pinced the upper ferrule twice (4 indentations) and the lower 3 times (6 indentations), thus doubly and triply ensuring that a loosened ferrule would not slip off (Eisenbrandt pinced his only once).  The foot ferrule measures a full inch, the head ferrule an 1/8” less.  The brand mark, “V METZLER / LONDON” is  inscribed within a customized banner and carefully placed low on the body in the midline.  It is this mark that verifies construction well within the period of the War of 1812, before the company became Metzler & Son and thus dropped the “V” from the maker’s mark.

While well constructed according to the standards of its day, the Metzler fife, with its inferior wood, loosened ferrules, and indifferently placed tone holes, reveals the London makers’ typical disdain for the fife as a true musical instrument worthy of their time and trouble; to them, fifes were simply military signal instruments whose small market held little profit potential.  Therefore, they conducted fife-making with only minimal professional investment, often using damaged wood pieces that would otherwise be discarded.  Things began to change, though, around mid-century with the development of the keyed fife, this in response to a larger and more profitable demand for a more flute-like fife from the “corps of ‘drums” market.  In America, where professional woodwind makers were joined by cabinetmakers and just about anybody else with a lathe in making fifes, the disdain was less intense but present nonetheless.  Here the military fife remained the flute’s poor relation until about 1880, when Geo Cloos, Inc of Brooklyn, NY introduced the Crosby Model fife.

The Metzler fife, left compared to an unmarked British fife, ca 1775-1800, possibly Longman & Broderip, London. Both instruments lack the quality of the flutes, clarinets, and other woodwinds produced by these makers. Author’s Collection.

The value of the Metzler and Eisenbrandt fifes lies not only in their presumed use during the War of 1812.  Their brand marks allow us to date them as definitive examples from this specific period with equally specific construction characteristics that can be compared to other, unmarked instruments so that these, too, might be dated with a fair degree of certainty.

Copyright, August 2012,  History of the Ancients Dot Org.  All rights reserved.

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, http://tinyurl.com/cltr4sl 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