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 7, 2012

Rectification: Humanatone appearance date

The frequent reader of this blog will have often read this assertion: "The brand Humanatone exists only since 1903". It is true that the name Humanatone has oftenly been and still is used by some as a generic name for nose flutes. As people say "Aspirin" (a brand originally trademarked by Bayer AG) instead of "acetylsalicylic acid", or "Escalator" (trademarked by Otis) instead of "moving staircase", many people ared to saying "Humanatone" for "nose flute", even if the instrument comes from a foreign country.
So, when I read in a 1922 magazine (see this post) that « Art Jacobs, also a musical wonder, performed marvels (of discord) on a "Humanatone", which he purchased at the Chicago World's Fair in 1892. », I thought the journalist was using a brand name for the generic noun.

Indeed, James J. Stivers, founder of the Humanatone Co., wrote in the 1904 Humanatone trademark file: « As shown in the accompanying facsimile, my trade-mark consists of the word "Humanatone". This trade-mark has been continuously used in my business since July 6th, 1903."

More, the Chicago fair was opened to the public in 1893. So, I thought that the redactor, who wrote the paper in 1922, had made several mistakes, notably the one consisting of using the well-known (in 1922) brand for one of the first nose flute commercialized.

Stivers specified « in my business » and this detail might mean the brand was used before, in another business or by another industrialist.

Hypothesis? No. I just find 2 articles using the name Humanatone before 1903.

The first one, from the New York Times is dated Sep. 29, 1902, and announces a demonstration of the famous nose flute, to stand in John Wanamaker annex store, NYC.

Note that, interestingly, the NY Times specifies the Humanatone ambitus, and also mentions its invention « in upwards of 300 years », probably refering to the Guarani bird call.

But even more interesting, is this article from The Manitoba Morning Free Press (Winnipeg edition), dated of the 20th of December, 1894, that is, one year only after the Columbian World Chicago Fair.

So, the brand Humanatone was already existing in 1894. Was it also the name of the 1893 Chicago nose flute? We may think so.
However, I do not know how to understand the last sentence of the paragraph: « Its future appearance will be welcomed ». What does that it mean exactly?


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. With each and every detail uncovered, a clearer picture of history and the development of the nose flute can be drawn. This is yet another piece of great work!

    I find it astonishing to see that the announcement clearly champions the Humanatone and totally neglects the Nasalette. Could the Gretsch company have bought the Nasalette patent straight after the Columbian Fair and renamed it instantly, or possibly even straight after the patent was registered?

    I just love the way the nose flute is described: “remarkable” (twice), “a great invention”, compared to and put in the same category as “first class musical instruments” and most of all “in many respects the most wonderful musical instrument ever invented”.
    Also, requiring “an expert” to demonstrate, gives the nose flute so much more credibility.

    The “entirely new principle that has been invented in upwards of 300 years” makes it impossible to overlook! I couldn’t agree more, even though the announcement clearly is a sales pitch. Interesting to see is that it was published in the most prized news journal to date, obviously to attract most attention and gain maximum momentum.

    “Its future appearance will be welcomed” probably means that they would like it to be part of the standard set of instruments played on stage and recordings. As convinced as the distributor is about the righteousness of the nose flute and its place in the musical world, the company would definitely benefit from successful sales.

  2. Despite that I would love to see confirmed the link between the original Guarani bird call and the invention of the Nasalette, I do believe that “in upwards of 300 years” actually refers to the development of musical instruments in general.

    Indeed, I cannot think of any other instrument at the time or of an earlier age that was so totally new in its principle. The musical clockworks from the 16th-17th century, the Glass Harmonica and the Carillon à Musique, both from the 18th century, may belong to the same category. Instruments such as the Theremin, Ondes Martenot and one of my favourites, the Trautonium, were invented ‘only’ some 15 years later.

    The main reason why I think that the Guarani bird call is not referred to here, is because I believe that the nose flute principle is much older than that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was several thousands of years old. It is stated that playing a flute through the nose dates from 6,000 years back. The nose flute could have been a compact, easy to carry instrument given rise to by the limitations of the material it was made from, such as bone, stone or wood. On this blog we have seen how properly working nose flutes have been made from wood or even potato!

    The point that was made earlier by Uke Heidi, about William G. Carter probably not having any knowledge whatsoever of the Guarani bird call, is a very fair one. It remains ever so hard today to find any relevant new information about the nose flute, despite our modern technology!

    The compact nose flute makes a pretty good, interesting, handy and beautiful hanger. The Guarani people actually do carry it hanging around the neck, as that makes it very easy to use for calling and then shooting birds. The simpler it is, the better: the bird call, or nose flute, to me is an example of an object that people have developed in order to survive in their environment.

    Originally having such a relation with life and death, the compact nose flute might well have been the equivalent of the Chinese black ball inserted into the dead person’s mouth, or the European coin put over the eyelid or on the tongue the deceased person. In so many cultures across the globe, we see that the face of the deceased is covered with an object of some sort. To me, that represents the point of no return and a final goodbye: that quite literally is the moment when the very last of the person is seen.

    As nasal breath is considered to be ‘sacred’ in many Asian cultures and possibly other cultures as well, the nose flute may well have been used to cover the face and potentially keep the breath ‘contained’. The nose flute as we know it covers both the nose and the mouth. We also see that the dead are traditionally buried or burnt together with their favourite belongings, and with the items that could come in handy in the afterlife.

    I am not saying that this is exactly the situation with the nose flute, but it might be the case. I am open to debate!


  3. Dear Maikel,

    Gretsch bought th Humanatone patent much much later from the Humanatone Co. (James J. Stivers). But indeed, there is a possibility that Stivers bought the Nasalette patent rather soon. But is this case, why would have he founded the Humanatone Co. in 1903 only, 10 years after Chicago Fair ?? An dthe fact that the name Humanatone was already existing in 1894 but that STivers specified that he used the name since July 6, 1903, shows that he was not the first owner of the brand...

    Regarding the "upwards to 300 years", it's a journalist statement. What I mean is that in 1902, that is 10 years after Nasalette patent, and also after the Humanatone success, there had been enough time for journalists to get aware of ethnomusicologists publications. Once again, it doesn't mean at all that Carter was aware of Guarani, and sincerely, I cannot imagined a poor irish immigrant having not attended school to be aware of ethnomusicologists researches. I am more that sure there is no link at all between the Nasalette and the Guarani's tool. "300 years" is a rather stupid time. Remember that Randy Raine Reusch told that the Guarani bird call was existing before the arrival of europeans in America. So, the journalist should have written "upwards to 400 years".

    But yes, it is possible that Carter didn't "invent" the nose flute principle. He just patented it. But as long as I will find no trace at all (even a name or a description in a newspaper) of a nose flute or nose whistle with variable tonality before 1891... We can imagine everything. (Historic) research digests only facts. No dreams, no calculation, no hypothesis. Just facts with evidences. So, until nothing can prove there was a nose flute before Carter, Carter stays the inventor. That could be "unfair", but things work like that. Courts do not say truth and justice, but say the Law. You are guilty if the sentence is "guilty", even if you are really innocent (and reverse way). History is not the truth of how things happened, but what we can state and prove, until new facts prove the inverse. And faith have nothing to do with that. But if I find anything proving the existence of an earlier nose flute, be sure that I will share it, and will add [edits] to any post concerned.

  4. It would be very interesting to find out what the Humanatone originally represented in 1894. Could it have been a name for a spin-off or copy of the Nasalette, either already in use or to be used at a later stage?

    The year 1894 is straight after the Columbian Fair and I agree that waiting for 10 years doesn't sound right. Could Stivers possibly have worked on and off a different design in order to be able to put it on the market without infringing on the original patent?

    That could account for the Gretsch Humanatone looking so totally different, most notably in the nose cap department, that probably gave the Nasalette its name. The name Humanatone draws attention away from the nose and focuses more on the tone being produced by the human that tries it. After all, playing the nose flute is something that is hard to describe: it is a combination of blowing through both the nose and the mouth, whistling and voiceless singing

    What we see nowadays is that many 'golddiggers' claim all sorts of potentially profitable web domains in order to cash in on companies or entrepeneurs wanting or needing to use them. These 'golddiggers' keep a whole range of domains dormant as a kind of investment.

    In any case, the Humanatone did become the best-selling, most famous nose flute of the bunch!

  5. Oh yes... I really would like to see what was the nose flute present in Chicago. Yes, Stivers could have work on a "model" in order to get it perfect for production. But during 10 years ?? (regarding the patent, in 1903, it was still active, and anyway, its number was stamped on the first Humanatones, with Couchois' ones. So Carter's patent was bought (or paid for)).

    Contrarywise to domain names, there is no advantage of keeping a patent sleeping. The more you wait, the bigger the chance that a competitor find another "solution", maybe more efficient, and anyway, the 20 years duration fades away.