This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Mar 12, 2012

Dr. B. B. Bumstead's Musical Respirator !

I found a collector's item on Ebay : a bizarre white box printed in metallic red ink with these words « Dr. B. B. Bumstead's Humanatone Musical Respirator » and ornated with the drawing of a man playing the nose flute. In the box, a regular plastic humanatone and an user manual.

I was very intrigued, made some researches about the Dr. B. B. Bumstead and discovered it had been the stage name of Mr. Mark Osterman for years...
Mark Osterman and his wife France Scully, are internationally reknowned artists – or should I say "alchemists" – who produce incredible photographs on glass plates, made along a complex vintage process, and called ambrotypes. You can learn about their ambrotype process and see many samples on their website :

Before to be full time photographer, Mark Osterman used to be the showman Dr. Barnabus Barnabus Bumstead, and performed with K. T. Oakley (his wife France's stage name) and the (faux) indian Screaming Weasel, during 20 years touring across the USA. That was the "Dr. Bumstead's Celebrated Lenape Liquid Show" ! « The name Bumstead came from a patent medicine bottle well known by bottle collectors: Bumstead's Worm Syrup. The "BB" Bumstead is in reference to a dear man, now departed, who first taught me to play the ukulele and some of the greatest songs I ever knew. » « France was written into the show as K.T. Oakley, daughter of Annie Oakley, because when we met in 1990, she was bored with just watching the show over and over again. She has a very soft voice, but very funny body language; so her part evolved as all action....narrated by me. She also played fiddle, washboard, wash tub bass and did a solo on a 1" harmonica she used to sell at the end of the show. » « Regarding Screaming Weasel; ten different people played that part in the twenty years we performed. Most of them were teachers. Throughout the period we did the show I was a fine arts photography teacher at the George School, a private Quaker boarding and day school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The first "genuine Faux Indian" was my father, John Osterman. » The performance was a « medecine show », inspired by the original ones : « I did only primary research for my show...that's why it rang true, both visually and content. The best source is Billboard Magazine from the turn of the century to the mid-to-late thirties. There was a section called Pipes for Pitchmen in each issue. This was a "letterbox" for traveling pitchmen. There are all kinds of descriptions of shows written by those who performed them at that time, also references to larger articles whenever they bragged about the press they received » « I was hard core for history. Everything was done in the fashion of the appropriate period. The Model T version evolved into a early 1930s vintage show as we did use an early amp and spring suspended microphone. » During the show, Dr. Busmstead was used to laud the merits of different products which were sold to the public at the end. « The show was made up of many four minute routines, which could be plugged in at any time depending on the sense of the audience. In between the bits we would play popular music from the early thirties with the audience. In the beginning of the show we instructed four people to play instruments whenever we pointed at them. These instruments were a duck call, a car horn, a drum and a pair of cymbals. During the musical numbers (...) if they played well and in time, it was amazing; if they played poorly, it was very humorous. A win-win situation! » « The main product was called Lenape Liquid but we also sold tin Kazoos and Humanatone Nose Flutes as well. Our ballyhoo was an electrical galvanic battery with which we shocked the children. We could get a line of about twenty people to hold hands and shock them all...once we got them that close to the stage we established the first row. The others would fill in during the musical part of the program, then we would start the pitch. I played banjo, my assistant played wash tub base or tuba, and my wife, who also did Anne Oakley-style trick shooting, played washboard. »
From 1987 and until the last show in 1999, Dr. Bumstead sold Humanatones nose flutes, with the slogan "If you have a nose and a mouth and a working knowledge of how to use them, you can play the Humanatone." « In those days, Humanatone Nose Flutes were sold loose in a glass jar on the counters of music stores. If you didn't know what a Humanatone Nose Flute didn't buy one. I designed a box and set of instructions and sold them after demonstrating them in the show. We taught some kids how to play them as soon as we arrived at a location, and they would play them all day long, bringing new customers to the stage for every show. » « In between shows we would do 1920s-30s music from the comfort of the back stage through our old sound system. People thought they were old recordings. Then we would enlist kids to put together the selling stock for the next show...assembling boxes and filling them with Humanatone Nose Flutes. We would always give any kid who helped a free Humanatone Nose Flute...and they would play them all over the festival... which brought more sales. » « The key to selling them was playing them well during the performance and giving several away to children in the morning when we were setting up the stage and getting the show ready. Those kids would play them all over the fair grounds advertising the show. Ours came with written instructions and a moneyback guarantee..."tripple your money back..just bring the instrument unused to the place of purchase, one year after the purchase date." (...) We often broke the plastic ones on stage on purpose assuring the parents with children on a long trip home that the best feature of the Humanatone was that they actually were breakable! » For the whole detailed description of the show, and for many pictures of it, please check « The one illustrated is a white box with metallic foil stamped design and red instructions. I designed the box [that is a very young me on the cover] and wrote the instructions. I used white glazed and also natural brown cardboard for the boxes. The die stamping was in either metallic red foil or a red ink. I did the mechanicals for the instructions and originally printed them myself using an offset litho press. The first instructions were in red and black two runs through the press. The second run was just red ink. Toward the end of the show I got lazy and just made black copies using a Xerox machine. » Mark Osterman kindly accepted to answer some of our questions :
- What was the idea behind your "musical respirator" ?
- Yes, my show was a "medicine" show, so I wrote the sales pitch for the Humanatone as a musical respirator. :-)
- In what year did you begin with the Humanatone, and for how much time ?
- I think we first started selling them around 1987 and sold them until the last show which was in 1999.
- How many had you made with their boxes  ?
- We didn't make them. We bought the Humanatone from the manufacturer by the gross. [144 per box] At the height of our show we sold more Humanatone nose flutes and Kazoo trombones than any other retail store in the world. We sold countless numbers of both as well as our "medicine."
- How much did you sell them ?
- We sold them for $2..but we sold hundreds at a show. The box cost 20 cents and the nose flute about 30 cents. I printed the instructions at the school where I was working so that was not an expense.
- You performed during twenty years : from when to when ?
- I started the show around 1978-9 and the last show was 1999. I originally had a horse drawn wagon for the "high pitch." Then I built the Model T Ford with the fold out stage. I also had a "walk around" show [called a low pitch] with a sales box that opens up for display. Had three different versions of the sales box. One was specifically for the nose flute. And finally, I also had a 1933 Plymouth Rumble Seat Coupe. In this the rumble seat opened up and a folding podium popped up. I stood in the seat area facing the back of the car and performed from there. This selling platform was designed for selling either Humanatones or Kazoos depending on the canvas sign and the apparatus for hold the merchandise. I got this idea from a magazine from 1933 called Billboard. It is still published today for the entertainment industry. I saw an article about two men who sold nose flutes at the Chicago Worlds Fair from the back of a 1933 Plymouth! I had the very same type and year car and I was already selling nose flutes! I had no choice. :-) --- Links : Dr. The Bumstead's Celebrated Lenape Liquid Show - description The Dr. Bumstead's Celebrated Lenape Liquid Show - pictures, the official Mark Osterman & France Scully's website Mark Osterman on Facebook


  1. Worked my variety act at a date where the Doc was performing. I bought five of those nose flutes. Thanks for the memories.

    Bob Good

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  3. My family and I use to love watching you guys at theApple festival(not sure of the real name) in Pennsylvania. I was about 5 at the time man those were some of the best times!