Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Spoon Flute

Barrel engraving
We recently caught up with Richard Powell, Verne Powell's grandson, at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Fair.  He shared an interview with us that his father, Edward Powell, gave in 1988.  The excerpt below is Edward's account of the development of Verne Powell's very first flute, "The Spoon Flute" -- along with a short recap of his path from Kansas to Boston.

This goes back to Fort Scott, Kansas, where I was a small boy, and my dad was a jeweler, had a jewelry store, and played a wooden piccolo in the town band.  Among his works of jewelry, he made himself a medal which is the source of humor when we bring up the subject.  But, he played the flute.  This is when they had already experimented with, more than experimented with, making silver flutes or flutes of other materials and precious metals in combinations in Europe -- in Germany and France.  But, in the United States, it was mostly old fashioned wooden flutes.  And the chief manufacturers at that time were in Boston.  The names of the companies who were excelling at it were, first of all, Bettoney.  Bettoney was a bigger name than Haynes, but this story has to tie up with the Haynes Company.  My father happened to be in Chicago on some business trip when he went to hear the Chicago Symphony.  There was somebody there like Barrere, old Georges Barrere, who was playing on a silver flute which made my dad, Verne Powell, "flip" (in the vernacular).  He could hardly wait to get home to his jewelry store and make a silver flute.  Now I was, say, 10 years old.  I was in and out of his jewelry store, and I loved to go in the back room there where he had a hand rolling mill, rolling out this silver.  He melted up old spoons and coins and jewelry and parts of watch cases.  Melted it up, and I remember rolling.  I even had a hand in turning the rolling mill to thin out this metal for him to make his silver flute, which of course had to be twisted around an arbor and hard soldered.  We could make a story out of that for anybody who technically wants to know more about getting the curvatures in there.  But I remember Sunday mornings, my dad sitting at home, with a little leather mallet, and hammering out the taper of the headjoint of a flute.  And so quite a laborious job to create the handmade flute, which he ended up engraving -- being a master engraver -- and inlaid the keys with little gold buttons.

The Haynes Company at that time was a second rate company, but George Haynes was the brains and talent of the Haynes family.  William S. Haynes was the businessman.  It came to Bill's attention that my dad had this handmade silver flute.  So, he wrote to my father to see if he would send the flute for examination.  And immediately following that, he made him an offer to bring the flute and the whole family, and whatever he could -- and sell his jewelry store.  Haynes and my dad got together on an agreement, and my dad was to go there as the foreman.  Then the whole family, all six of us (one brother and two sisters), piled in the drawing room of a Pullman and made it to Boston.

D# Cluster
G# Key
Trill Keys
Headjoint Engraving


  1. Thanks for sharing. As a descendant of Verne Powell, I love to read historical accounts of his work. And find it ironic that I now own an engraving business...looks like that talent passed down at least.
    Kim Lyons
    Great-granddaughter of Verne Powell
    Owner of An Etch Above

  2. Hello Kimberly! Thank you so much for the message. Great to hear from one of Mr. Powell's descendants. The engraving talent certainly does seem to run in your family!


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