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.

Aug 19, 2012

Huma... something.

It is very difficult not to confuse several early nose flute names, since many manufacturers chose on purpose very similar brands to market their product. Let's make a tour...


This is the name of the original tin nose flute produced by James J. Stivers and the Humanatone Co., N.Y.C. As stated by Stivers himself : « This trade-mark has been continuously used in my business since July 6th, 1903 ». The brand has since been used continuously until now, acquired by Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co. in 1947 to market the new plastic model, and later by Grover-Trophy Music Co.

But, as the Humanatone was soon (and still is) a best-seller, the name Humanatone has oftenly used as a generic name for ny nose flute. To add to the confusion, the tin design as the plastic model were both imitated — when not forged - by other makers.

Humanotone (Humantone, Human-a-tone,...)

As far as I know, this name has never been a nose flute brand. However, one can easily find it written here and there, as Humantone, Human-a-tone, Human-tone, Hum-a-tone.


The Humanaphone was British, and produced in the 1925. Its a tin nose flute, very similar to the Humanatone, but offered a celluloid version regarded as a "hygienic line".


This nose flute would have been produced in the USA as early as 1920. Harvey Jones, Louisville jug band musician, used to play one : « The Humanophone was purchased at Lyons & Healy music store at Wabash and Jackson, Chicago, soon after Jones arrived in 1920, and when he was looking for novelty instruments. Jones knows of no one else who ever captured the technique of the Humanophone. »
However, I have never seen a picture or an ad for the Humanophone.


But with those names (Humano- Humana- phone), problems arise : the name Humanophone has been used for other "instruments"!

Indeed, the Humanophone is an instrument invented by George Edward Ives (1845-1894), father of the famous Charles Ives, in New England, and made of a group of humans behind a curtain. Each of them sings a single note and only their heads appear, arrayed like a xylophone.

Logansport Journal (Indiana), Oct. 25, 1887 :

Ives Studies, edited by Philip Lambert, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997 :

But Humanophone was also for a phonograph brand and Humanaphone a theater play title.
And moreover, most of the newspapers confused this "o" and that "a", even using both spellings in the same article!

So, in some cases, thanks to the context and the publishing date, there is no confusion possible. In 1886, the "instrument" is the Ives' Humanophone choir, no doubt :

Harrisonburg Rockingham Register, Jul. 29, 1886 :

Or later, when the text clearly mentions Ives' instrument (because of the presence of several musicians):

Adams County Press, May 4, 1904 :
Ada Evening News, Nov. 3, 1939 :

Idem for the theater play "Humanaphone" :

Parnell Iowa County Advertiser, May 19, 1910 :

Idem (probably) for the phonograph :

Belleville Telescope, Jan. 23, 1903 :

But, most of the time, it is not possible to know which Humanaphone or Humanophone is mentioned. However, some late articles could possibly mention the nose flute...

Bar Harbor Record, Apr. 16, 1902 (with both spellings!):

Wills Point Chronicle, Nov. 11, 1909 :

The Clintonian, Nov. 18, 1915 :

Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 28, 1925 :

And sometimes, but rarely, we got it, for sure! (the date, the solo...) :

The Sioux City Journal, Apr. 11, 1922:

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Feb.7, 1935 :

The Twig, Raleigh, Apr. 27, 1943 :

Conclusion ?

Humanatone, despite the misspellings Humantone, Humanotone, Human-a-tone... has always been standing for ... 2 nose flutes : the Stivers' tin one, and the Gretsch's then Grover's plastic one.

Humanaphone was a British tin nose flute, marketed in the 1925's. It was also the name of an early century american theater play. The name has been oftenly misspelled into Humanophone.

Humanophone was an american tin nose flute, marketed at least from 1920. It was also the name of 1886 George Ives' choir instrument, and of a phonograph. The name has been oftenly misspelled into Humanaphone.

And it is a real mess in the newspapers archives :)


  1. Great research once more!

    Thank you for clearing up: I have been using all these names not really knowing which represented what. Obviously, similar names do work in misleading the public into buying spin-offs.

    Mind you: the Ives Humanophone isn't a new concept. I know of at least one African tribe , from a former French colony, that creates melodies using one person or even several persons for one fixed note. It is an interesting approach to polyphonic melody, polyrhytmic music really, similar to the Kora (West African harp)and the Kalimba ('thumb piano').

  2. Thank you a lot, Maikel!

    Yes, those Humablabla names are a real mess... very difficult not to confuse them ...