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 14, 2012

Nose Flute Pioneers: The Stivers - Part II

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 II

The Stivers: The Humanatone Era

[sequel of Part I]

1903 is the year of the appearance of James Joseph. He is 22 years old, his brother George, 27, and their father 49. It seems they have already made a good bunch of money with the G. W. Stivers & Co. and its wholesale novelties store at 15 Ann St. (+ annex 108 Nassau).
It seems that George I wants to spread his activities, and still in the novelties business, opens a stationery 1427 Bath ave, near the seashore and the golf (that's probably also the moment he buys an hotel...). And the Ann street store is more or less put in James J.'s hands who turns it towards... musical instruments.

James, still bachelor, now lives at 196 Bay 14th, let's say in a nice district.

In september, James J. is searching for a pianist, single and willing to travel: Indeed, the Stivers are launching the Humanatone! And skilled in business as they are, they know the New Musical Wonder will sell only from demos...

The store probably already propose Humanatone: remember that on the trademark file, J.J. Stivers wrote « This trade-mark has been continuously used in my business since July 6th, 1903 ». Indeed, in September, this article is published.
The very first box is probably this one, with no specific logo, but the store address printed on it, and the first instrument, the one with no patent numbers stamp, but the mention "The New Musical Wonder":

This nose flute stays a mystery... Who designed it? Did the Stivers do the improvement job themselves from another nose flute? Which one? Couchois' one? Another one? Did they bought the (already existing) brand Humanatone? Or what is not a brand but just a name? Who invented it? Many many questions. However, it may possibly be the sucessor of the Magic Nose Flute, which had a very similar shape, and was already available in the 1903 A.O & E.C. Howe (Chicago) catalog (which was printed in 1902...):

At the same time, James founds his society, the Humanatone Introducing Novelty Co., which will be registered in 1904. He will be president, and George W., that I suppose to be George II, vice-pres. There is third director, a certain John H. Dreyer (I was not able to find info about him). The main office is located 31 Park row, one block from the Ann and Nassau st. stores, South Manhattan.
The capital is $15,000, which would correspond to $400,000 nowadays... A real machine of war! Office near Broadway, famous name in novelties business, and a real sense of marketing. Ready, go!

The instrument is presented during or parallely to music hall performances:

1st of July, 1904, James Stivers files the trademark Humanatone (43264, reg. Aug. 30, 1904), with the denomination "Musical instrument". The logo is reduced to the name typed in uncials:

But the trademark is renewed April 18, 1905 (45056, reg. Aug. 1, 1905), under the new denomination ("A nasal wind musical instrument"), and above all with a new typo and real logo: the name Humanatone floating over a lion rampant, grabbing a tuplet of semiquavers, like playing an harp, which will from now on figure on the nose flute box.
Note that there are already differents "styles" (and prices) of Humanatones. I supposed they depend on the finish (nickel plated, painted, and so.)

Where the hell does this "lion rampant" comes from? Well, eveybody's allowed to choose a lion as an emblem of majesty, power, force... My opinion is it was a rebus! And was probably invented and designed by George II, the steel engraver.

« In early 20th century English slang, a stiver was any coin of little value. », dixit Encyclo. Remember that Kathryn, George II's wife, is English, and certainly was aware of that meaning. Quite ironic for a family having made big money with "medals of little value"...

The noun 'stiver' is also used in the famous poem by the famous Robert Browning, "The Pied Piper" of Hamelin" (1842) (funny no? a virtual link between the Pied Piper and the nose flute!:).

And what was a "stiver"? The Stiver was a dutch currency. And on the obverse of the coin of several stiverS (with an "s" at plural), you can see... a lion rampant:

A steel engraver like George II was had books of patterns, heraldry designs, and so on, and was certainly aware of that. Note how the tail of the lion forms the "S" of 'stiver' and how - even spruced up - this letter-shape was kept in the Stivers' logo (engravers have the perfect eye for that!). But look also how George added a pair or ears or horns, and a bifid tongue, giving the Humanatone lion a touch of demoniac look...!

Success grows slowly (the world is large!). The two companies (G.W. STivers & Co and Humanatone Introducing Noverlty Co. coexist, and the Stivers do not sell only nose flutes! They continue to be wholesaler for numerous novelties. James is specialized in music instruments, and it seems (it certainly be the case later) that Geo. II has become commercial and representative.

In 1907, a certain James Stivers is arrested for having stolen a diamond pin:

Is it "our" James? Well, the name "James Stivers" is rare, the stealer lives in the same district than James J. ... but it is difficult to imagine our businessman as a vulgar pickpocket, a 'fakir', no? However, the next year, there is no doubt it is really Kathryn Stivers, James' youngest sister (she's 17) who has to deal with Justice, with an angelic explanation:

What's interesting is that we learn that George-father is still the boss of G.W. Stivers & Co. and that he's the owner of the Stivers Hotel, Bath Beach.

1908 is the start of the boom. The Humanatone Co. puts on a spurt on the nose flute. It recruits several demonstrators, and organizes shows: please check this post.

The Humanatone begins to enter music catalogs, meaning it is now diffused everywhere in the country, and also abroad. Here in the J.W. Jenkins' sons Music Co., Missouri.

The company has another great commercial success with its Merry Widow Handkerchief. As done for the Dewey's celebration in 1899, the Stivers surf the « germistic effect »! An operetta, The Merry Widow, by Franz Lehar, was first performed in Vienna, in 1905 and became the biggest international success of its era. For its coming to America, many novelty companies have launched new items. The Stivers commercialize the Merry Widow Handkerchief, a mischievous... well, you'll understand by yourself:

1908 is also the year of another commercial hit for the Humanatone Co.: the Red Dwarf pen, produced by D. Wood & Co.

In 1909, the Humanatone is used by Lyon & Healy, Chicago, as a loss-leader:

Those early catalog entries show that the Humanatone was firstly regarded by Stivers as a musical instrument only, and not as a toy. The tremendous success will arrive when the nose flute is present in the novelties and toy catalogs.

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



  1. Once again, a great and seriously profound artcile about the history of the instrument. Great to see that the nose flute at the time actually was considered an instrument.

    Amazing that so much money was made by producing very low grade memorabilia and novelties... At least the profits made allowed the company to expand their business and produce the Humanatone.

    I think the authentic packages are fabulous, a reamainer of a bygone era. Where on earth did you find those?

    The design of the logo of the company is so typical of the time, in the sense that many references were made to 'the olden days', so as to convey reliability and a sort of tradition of the new brand.

    Highly interesting to see the logo draw from the old Dutch 'stuijver', as here is where the family name of the company owner comes from.

  2. I wonder if the lion is in fact a lion? It has the ears of a griffin or heraldric tiger (or tyger) and the mouth could pass as a tyger's as well. And the paws are more claw-like. On the other hand, heraldry can have extreme stylization and the stiver coin connection is very convincing

    1. Hello Silvercat. Sorry for the late answer, i the hospital. No griffin here : the griffin has wings and a beak!The tiger is defined in heraldry as half lion and half dog, and generally has stripes. No, I'm quite sure it is a lion. There are many samples of lions with such ears or claws. In fact, the ears are not an atribute of the lion (he may have or not). But, as you say, the fact it is a lion or not is secondary : what's important is the connexion with the heraldry of the dutch coin. You can check the Flanders coat of arms :

    2. Sorry, I'm a bit of a heraldry nerd. The Bengal tiger has stripes, the heraldric tyger doesn't. The tyger has a pointed nose and long ears -

      The male griffin doesn't have wings -

      But, absolutely I agree with you, it's certainly a lion, a very stylized one. I just was confused by the number of modern image results that trend toward somewhat more realistic (or just awful)

    3. Compare the degree of stylization of these lions to confirm it's a lion, especially the claw-like paws: