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.

• • •

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

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

• • •
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.
• • •
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.
• • •
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.
 • • •
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.
• • •
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.
• • •
• • •
• • •
• • •
Copyright 2015  History of the Ancients Dot Com All rights reserved

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, 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,, accessed 07/24/13.

Note the “Stanesby Junior” mark on the head joint.  Image courtesy of Magic1Seller,, 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,

Interested? Yours for the small sum of $920.48! Image courtesy of music_technology,, 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.


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.


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


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.


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 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

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

Fun with ebay:

Soliciting thoughts on this fife, its price, its provenance. . . [picture is gone, dang!]


Yikes, it went for how much???  ($398.00) This is what the seller said:


I purchased this fife in about 1985 at an auction in Bucks County, Penna., where I worked as an auctioneer. The family, the Hellyers, were selling antiques of their father’s estate  in which this fife was included. With the fife came a note written by one of the Hellyers (I beleive the deceased Mr. Hellyer). I have included a photo of the note which reads as follows.”This fife was played in the 1812 Second War with Great Britain by Alexander Hellyer, when 16 years old. Father of Myron B. Hellyer who died at the age of 91 in 1924, and Granfather to S. Helen Wismer Hellyer.”

I have no reason to question the legitimacy of it. As I remember, the Hellyers were fine, reasonable people who were selling a variety of quality items.Mr. Hellyer, dec’d, owned a garage in Willow Grove, Pa.  I have done a cursory family search and have found Hellyers in England as well as Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Perhaps you may want to do a more complete search.

Condition: Seems to me to be in very nice condition. I see no cracks in the wood. One ferrel is missing and, judgeing by the patina, has been missing for generations.I’m not sure of the wood. Looks a lot like maple but, I have found out that many early American fifes were of boxwood.I will leave it to you to decide. Patina looks just right throughout.

The fife measures appr. 16 3/8 inches in length. About 7/8 inch diameter at the blow hole, and 5/8 inch at the ferrel.

I am a French Horn player, not a fluteist or historian, but I have every belief that this fife to be an authentic piece of American military history and was ,indeed ,used in the 2nd War of 1812. And, this being the Bicentennial of that war, makes the timing fitting. Perhaps a Civil War reinactor could use a genuinely old fife for performances this season!

I offer this fife at ABSOLUTE AUCTION, with NO RESERVE! Included is the hand written, pencil on paper, note as quoted above.Please contact me for any reason. I will respond to the best of my ability. Thank you for your interest.”