Sunday, March 31, 2013

Verne Q. Powell, Jeweler

We've become quite familiar with Verne Q. Powell's legacy as a flute maker, but did you know that before he made flutes, he was a jeweler? You may be familiar with the story of Powell's "Spoon Flute," which was the very first flute he made -- and the first metal flute in the United States. Working as a jeweler in 1910, Powell "melted down 7 silver teaspoons and 3 silver watch cases to provide the silver for his first flute and melted down some gold coins to be inlays in the keys" (source:’s-“spoon-flute”-sees-light-day).

We've exhibited the Spoon Flute at the NFA convention but were completely surprised when we received a note from a resident of Fort Scott, Kansas who had a pair of earrings made by Powell when he was a jeweler in town.  Laura Nation contacted us earlier this month, sharing the story of the earrings, which she had received from her mother.  Her mother had been given the earrings by her mother, Laura's grandmother, who is the original owner of these earrings.  After some discussion, we discovered that there is a possibility that the earrings may have been in the family even longer, as her grandmother was born in 1906 -- and Powell left Fort Scott in 1916.  Laura was kind enough to share a bit of the history of her discovery with us.

Laura is the third generation of her family to grow up in Fort Scott, Kansas. Tracing the earrings back to her grandmother, she said that her grandparents were childhood friends, high school sweethearts, and then a married couple.  After they married, they lived a bit outside of Fort Scott and would take the train in to town to shop.  Fort Scott was bustling, and the railroad industry was booming.  She mentioned that her grandmother rarely wore jewelry, but she would wear some pieces for church and photographs.  We can understand as she told us that her grandmother cherished the earrings and did not want to lose them because they were so valuable.  From the condition of the earrings, Laura would guess that they are "10K or 14K to have stayed so bright."      

The earrings were indeed a very special present to Laura, and she wanted to learn more.  She told us,

I had never heard of Powell Jewelers, nor had my dad who is now 84 years old. I researched the Verne Q. Powell name on the internet and have found that Mr. Powell lived here and moved to Massachusetts after making the first metal flute in America right here in Fort Scott. I was very excited to learn this, and my husband and I feel that this is a lost part of Fort Scott history that others would love to know about.  I have continued to research Mr. Powell's story and I am amazed at the information I have found. From his humble beginnings here, to the fact that one of his flutes actually traveled into outer space! 

Through her research of Fort Scott's newspaper archives, she was able to find more information on the actual location of Powell's jewelry shop. The shop was located at 7 South Main Street in Fort Scott. Unfortunately, she found that the building was destroyed in a fire in 2005, along with several other historical buildings downtown.  It is truly remarkable that so much of the history has been preserved, and we are very grateful to Ms. Nation for sharing this with us.  When she read about the Powell family boarding a "Pullman" our previous blog post, "The Spoon Flute," she immediately noted the connection to Fort Scott.  She says "sometimes we forget our own history and the remarkable people who have lived in our own hometowns." Anxious to share the story with the current residents of Fort Scott,  she says, "we would like to see Mr. Powell's name, memory, craftsmanship and musical genius honored here someday in some way." We certainly agree and would also like to thank Laura for bringing this living piece of history to us at Verne Q. Powell Flutes.

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