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.

Oct 13, 2012

Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part I

With the "Nose Flute Pioneers" series, enters a little cycle of research. I hope it won't be too arid for a blog, but I really think that the facts I found have to be published. The sources : Google patents, US Census and an access to newspaper archives. But also, depending on the topic, correspondence by e-mail with descendants. Let's better say : internet searching tools available for a Frenchie not able to access US real paper archives.


Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part I

The Stivers: The King of Fakirs

Writing an historic article about the Stivers family is not an easy task. For sure, as usual, there is not much info easily available and more than that, the name "Stivers" is not rare enough to be sure that this or that event is related to the "right one". Not so difficult regarding James Stivers, because there were very few of them, but horribly difficult for George Stivers, which have been legions! Even in the same area. And worst: in the same family, there were several "George W. Stivers" living at the same time. In fact, I found that it was the tradition in that family to name the first son by the name of its father, including the middle initial). So, there are generally 3 perfect homonyms to deal with in the same family, and when the age is not mentioned... Or when the middle initial is not, you may add other individuals to the list.
So, I hope I made not too many mistakes in what follows. I erased from my research any info "only possible".

So, my Story begins with... George W. Stivers. Let's call him « George W. I », because as I wrote, we have to deal with a « strain » of fathers and sons wearing the same name. And George I has a lot to do in the Humanatone story.

George Washington was born in May 1854. His first appearance in NYC directory dates of 1891. George is already married since 1873 with Frances, an English girl born Aug. 1856, with whom he'll have 11 children, with only 6 surviving in 1900. In 1891, they are the tenants of a billiard room (or store?), at 221 Bowery st., in Manhattan. They live not far, 46 Pike st., near the Manhattan bridge.

221 Bowery :

They have 6 children left : Ellen (Jun. 1874), George W. (Jan. 10, 1876) [let's call him George W. II already], Frances (Jan. 1880), James Joseph (Jul. 11, 1881), May (Mar. 1886), Kathryn (Apr. 1890).

The next year, the billiard activity moves to number 19 of the same street, then disappears from the addressbook... In 1896, George W. II marries Kathryn, and they have their first child, a girl called May (Apr. 1896). Geo II is clerk.

In 1898, George I has become « merchant ». This is the beginning of a long story. In fact, George Washington has opened a store at 15 Ann St. (and has moved his home to 93 Concord), with an annex at 108 Nassau, dedicated to selling « Novelties ».

Indeed, George Sr. was made to be a merchant. He immediately has a feeling for what will sell, and uses some very modern marketing techniques, calling for agents.

First a bit shy with a novelty that he manufactured (Aug 1899):

« How'd you like to be the iceman » was a huge musical success of 1899. The song was written by Helf and Moran (1898) and performed by Will F. Denny. You can hear it here:

What was the Stivers' novelty? Probably this one, of the same kind (of metallic crap) that the ones he will sell a few months later:

But then, George I has THE great idea. The admiral George W. Dewey (ohoh! what a common surname!:), hero of the Spanish-American war, is hugely honoured when he comes back home: « Returning to the United States in 1899, he received a hero's welcome. New York City's September 1899 welcome home celebration for Dewey was a two-day parade. » (wiki)

George recruits 500 (yes! five hundred) agents to sell the « hundreds of different » items.

The novelties are of that kind:

Oh, Stivers is not alone on the market! But he did it large! He is named "The King of Fakirs" or the "boss fakir". Fakirs? Well, the Urban Dictionary defines the term also as "One who fakes. One who creates fake images". OK, in this case, street vendors or performers (this makes us remember of Garrett J. Couchois, see this post, who was supposedly "caught" playing a Humanatone "as a fakir" one or two years later, but *before* the Stivers launched the Humanatone by Humanatone Co in 1903. Was he the "missing link", the one who taught the Stivers the existence of the nose flute? Possible, but not sure at all).

Yes, the success is HHHuge! :

According to Stivers' figures (1,250.000 items sold, most of them at ¢5, let's even say an average of ¢3), we could state without a large mistake, that the merchant made a turnover of $37.500... in 2 days! And probably a benefit of some $9.000. In 2012 money, that's the equivalent of $250.000! Wow!! The King of Fakirs!


George W. III was born on June 10, 1899, and in 1900, all the Stivers family (that is 11 persons), including the Georges I, II and III live together at 93 Concord St.
George W. III *may or may not* be George Walter Stivers (we'll retrieve this one later). In fact, there are TWO Georges W. Stivers born in NY in June 1899.

We learn that Ellen (widowed, 26) and James (18) are clerks, Frances II is cashier and that, most interesting, that George W II is « steel engraver ». There is no real doubt that they all work at their father's store. What's Jr's job? Engraving patterns to make medals? Certainly.

At this point, there is a deep mystery (or a mistake in the census?). Ellen, widowed, as Frances II, are noted has having had no children, and Kate, George II's wife, had only one. James is not noted as widowed. But there are 2 kids noted as belonging to the next generation. George III ("G. Son") and May ("G. Daughter"). So, which one is Geo.II's child? And who are/were the parents of the other? Is he/she an orphan of both father and mother? Or George II has had a former marriage and a child from a prior spouse? This is not conceivable since May was born in 1897, and George and Kathryn married in 1896 (this would be technically possible since May was born in January, but it would mean that George hadn't waited for his hypothetic first wife's corpse to get cold before marrying Kathryn. We can't believe that). So, either one grand child is a double-orphan, or there is mistake in the list, and both are from Geo.II and Kate.

The business continues, and Geo. W. I still recruits "fakirs" to sell his merchandise in the street and during fairs:

In 1901, Geo. W's job is registered as "notions". Which George is it? GW I or GW II ? And what are "notions"?? Ideas seller?

To be continued!


On the same topic :

- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: William G. Carter - Part III
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest W. Davis - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Ernest W. Davis - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Nelson Ronsheim
- Nose Flute Pioneers: Garrett J. Couchois
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part III
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part IV
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part V


About metal Humanatones, check :

- Humanatone - part I : the metallic era
- New Humanatone ads
- The Two metal Humanatones
- Another metal Humanatone
- Humanatone boxes
- Another Humanatone box
- Humanatone: A very early user manual
- The Magic (Nose) Flute: only questions... .
- A Humanatone and clones chronology
- A Humanatone in 1892 ?
- Humanatone: Early promotional demos
- Another Humanatone archive
- Huma... something
- Rectification: Humanatone appearance date
- Great paper from 1903
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part I
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part II
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part III
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part IV
- Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part V
- A Humanatone as a scientific tool
- Two other Humanatone Ads

And on later Humanatones :

- Humanatone - Part II : the Gretsch plastic era
- Humanatone - Part III : the Gretsch metal era


No comments:

Post a Comment