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Is this a Fife? Flute?

Discussion in 'The Flute Family: General Discussion' started by zombienerd, May 12, 2014.

  1. I purchased this little gem while abroad in Singapore 5-6 years ago, and promptly forgot about it. It looked old, which appealed to me, so I picked it up.

    I am a guitar player mostly, but have been wanting to learn a few other instruments.

    Having recently found this again while doing spring cleaning, I decided to hit the web and try to figure out exactly what it is, and perhaps how old it is.

    From my research, I am relatively sure it is a fife, and possibly dates to late 1800's, but I am no woodwind expert, and couldn't find much else about it.

    6 finger holes, plus one key. Marked "Made for Boosey & Hawkes London"

    15.5" long

  2. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    Hopefully one of the flute guyz will weigh in, but I will say it sure looks a *lot* like my vintage piccolo. But mine has more keys.

  3. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Show-off. :p

    I guess the size determines the type - piccolo = small, flute = long.

    I have a Yamaha fife in C that has no keys at all. But for wooden instruments, the fewer keys, the older the construction (or the concept behind it).

    Any idea what pitch it might be?
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    From another thread:

    I wrote an article for my neglected blog regarding the Claude Laurent flutes. One thing I learned is that the amount of keys doesn't necessarily indicate age. For example, some Laurent flutes had 7 keys as early as 1815, but there are 1844 horns that had only 4 keys. You also run into the Boehm system keywork -- you can read that as "an awful lot of keys" -- introduced in 1831, but not necessarily being widespread until much, much later.

    According to the Boosey & Hawkes PDF I posted, they started producing wind instruments in 1851 and started producing flutes in 1856. Of course, this instrument is "made for" B&H, so the earliest possible date could be around 1851.

    My opinion, which can be and often is wrong, is that this is a fife. Fifes in this style with the same "reduced" keywork were available up until at least 1940, according to this museum. (There is a lot more kewl reading HERE.) Check out this fife here, which looks very similar, especially with the "Made for Boosey & Hawkes" stamp ... and is only a few years old.

    I'm not conclusively saying it's a horn made in the past decade or so and worth all of $60 -- flutes and fifes are not my area of expertise (hey, kymarto!) and I'm just showing off maybe an hour of research -- but I would also start preparing for the horn not to have an extremely high value.
  5. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    It's too bad that my tech's friend/employee just moved back to Switzerland, since he's an antique flute specialist. He repairs, restores, and works on wooden flutes exclusively--that is what he trained in back home.

    David, my tech, has a number of these types of things sitting on his work bench. Some have 1 key, some have more. I have never heard any of them referred to as a fife, only as flutes... But hey, what do I know? I'm just a dumb sax player... :wink:
  6. Thanks for the input guys.

    Tictactux - I am not sure what it's pitch is. I am still not sure if I'm getting the proper sound out of it. My experience with woodwinds has been recorders and reed instruments so far, this is the first time I've tried to get a "flute" to make a sound. I'll pull out my tuner app later and see what it says for each note.

    Pete - Excellent links, thank you. I didn't pay much at all for the instrument ($15 if I remember correctly). It was collecting dust on the bottom shelf of a hole in the wall music shop in Singapore. My guess on the "old" age was purely based on looks. The cork band is very old, as is the "rubberish" substance on the underside of the key. I wasn't really expecting it to be worth much at all, it was more of a curiosity on the history of the piece, if I could find any. I like the stories attached to old things.

    Helen - If you wouldn't mind, the next time you talk to your tech, show him the pictures and ask if he has seen one before.

    All in all, I have a feeling it was a low-end instrument "mass produced" for the times, but not special enough to have its own page in history. However, I could be wrong.
  7. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    I can do better than that. I can send him the link, and ask him to look and see what he thinks. I'm going to David's shop next week to pick up my baritone, so if I haven't heard back from him by then, I'll ask him about the pics then.
  8. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    OK, so David couldn't see the pics. (Maybe because he's not a member?) In any event, I emailed him the photos, and this is what he had to say based on the photos and description you provided:

    YMMV of course, David is from Switzerland, and did his training in woodwind instrument manufacturing there. He's trained to take a block of wood, and make you clarinet, bassoon, English horn, flute, fife, or whatever else you want. He's also a machinist, so he will make the keys for the instrument as well.

    Since that skill is not so much in demand, he repairs instruments mostly. (Lucky for me!) He keeps all my babies in top playing condition, and I trust no one else to restore my vintage horns. He is highly in demand by many of Vancouver's top pros--including brass players, because he can make dents magically disappear from metal.
  9. Slightly off-topic, Helen, is David permanently back to Switzerland ? And if yes, is he active over here ? And if yes where ?

    Good techs, specialized in vintage instruments, are not so common here either.

  10. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Hi Jacques.

    David isn't in Switzerland, he's still very much here in Canada. It's his friend and colleague, who worked for him, who is also Swiss, who just moved back to Switzerland.
  11. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Many techs here are tied up with mainstream instrument repair, they look at your sorry excuse for a woodwind, frown, then raise an eyebrow and declare "sorry, Sir, we don't do these here."
    So I started on my own....

    Just in case, Helen, that said friend and colleague is bored back in Switzerland, have him join this Forum.
    Oh, and the Weltklang Solist Tenor is finished (sans the mpc cork as I have no idea whose beak is going to be shoved on)
  12. This looks to me like a Bb Fife. These were mostly used in military, cadet and school bands and the like. If yours is marked Boosey and Hawkes then it dates from 1930 or later, as that is when Hawkes & Co merged with Boosey to form Boosey and Hawkes. If it is marked Hawkes & Co it could date back to the 1800's. The B & H Bb Fife was highly regarded by bandsmen, and if yours is in good playable order then it might appeal to someone from a military historical organization. Be aware that there are fakes of these fifes, mainly coming from Pakistan. They have what appear to be authentic B & H markings but they all seem to share the same serial number or have none.
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