American Memory | Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection

About the Collection

by Robert E. Sheldon and Carol Lynn Ward Bamford, Music Division Staff

  • A New Catalog
  • Dayton C. Miller's Collecting Philosophy
  • The Scope of the Collection
  • Insights from Many Sources
  • A New Catalog

    The new catalog we are now publishing online and, eventually, in print is essentially a second enlarged edition of The Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection: A Checklist of the Instruments, compiled by Laura E. Gilliam and William J. Lichtenwanger (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1961). It is offered partially to answer various inquiries about the collection's instrument holdings. Most researchers will need to use only portions of it for specialized areas, such as the work of one maker or a particular period, place, or ethnic topic. Moreover, we have observed that follow-up inquiries frequently progress to appointments for making personal observations and measurements rather than requests for whatever additional information might be contained in an illustrated museum catalog.

    This catalog has been compiled to revise and slightly expand information about the flutes and other wind instruments collected by Dayton C. Miller (DCM). New information and observations about many specimens have surfaced frequently since the 1961 checklist and more instruments have been accessioned in the spirit Dr. Miller would have endorsed had he lived to realize the plan of continuing as Honorary Curator of his collection at the Library. He died in 1941 just before the collection was moved from his home in Cleveland to Washington, D.C.

    We have corrected and updated terminology from the 1961 checklist, although we acknowledge that terminology is still subject to varying usage. In the case of certain instruments, especially non-Western, we assume that Dr. Miller sometimes took at face value the nomenclature or identification offered by sellers or donors. For a European example, several flageolets (vertical whistle flutes) of neither French nor English origin were accepted by Dr. Miller as Csakans, so-called, and in this catalog we continue to use that term. It may or may not be the most accurate term for the objects involved, but it was understood by Dr. Miller to be accurate or sufficient at the time.

    A few rather obvious identification errors have been addressed in this catalog, such as instrument DCM 0036, a late-nineteenth-century boxwood four-keyed flute of inexpensive quality which Dr. Miller obtained from a 1913 estate sale in Cleveland. When acquired, the instrument had a late-nineteenth-century brass cornet mute jammed over the end of its foot joint which was left in place and identified in Miller's ledger book as an "experimental brass bell." The mute is now DCM 1435 and becomes one of several non-woodwind-related items in the collection. Why the two objects were left joined together in the holdings of a knowledgeable collector is an entertaining mystery, but as a physicist and acoustician Dr. Miller had strong precedent for acquiring an interesting brasswind item which he might have thought to have some future value for acoustical research. Miller's vast library of music-related materials includes, for example, dozens of wind instrument patents from France, Germany, Belgium, the U.K., and the U.S.A., including most of the important American nineteenth-century brasswind patents granted to such American brass-band-movement manufacturing luminaries as Isaac Fiske, Henry Lennert, and Charles Gerard Conn.

    Dayton C. Miller's Collecting Philosophy

    It appears that Dr. Miller's philosophy of collecting was simple and practical. He considered no objects to be unimportant, and he realized that it was expedient to collect any and all objects immediately rather than to wait and later discover them to be unavailable. His was an ideal era for collecting (ca. 1890 until his death in 1941), for it offered little competition and almost comically affordable prices by current standards. The collection contains, for example, eighteen crystal flutes from the early-nineteenth-century Paris workshop of Claude Laurent, at least one of them, DCM 1063, actually being the work of J. D. Breton, an associate of Laurent who succeeded him ca. 1844. None of the eighteen was too expensive for Dr. Miller to acquire. On the relatively high end was DCM 0378, an instrument presented to President James Madison in 1813 that had once been exhibited at the U.S. National Museum (Smithsonian Institution) before 1903. The cost to Miller in 1923 was two hundred dollars, plus $3.30 for packing and shipping. If it were sold at auction today, a six-digit price might easily be expected. In addition to numerous other instruments, several of the crystal flutes were purchased from or through the prestigious London firm of Rudall Carte & Co. From Miller's correspondence, it is clear that he had established a warm and mutually respectful relationship with them and that the firm was only too happy to bring any available items of interest to his attention. In 1940, for example, Rudall Carte extended to Miller the courtesy of removing an 1815 Laurent glass flute (DCM 1400) from the firm's own exhibit cases and turning it over to him for a mere ten pounds sterling (about forty dollars at that time, according to Dr. Miller's ledger book).

    It also appears that Dr. Miller's attitude regarding quality was equally inclusive: he considered no object unimportant or uninteresting. The collection contains, for example, several Asian, Native American, and other specimens which, although in effect real instruments, appear to have been made for tourist and souvenir sales. Several others seem to be failed attempts at constructing replica instruments during the initial phases of the early-music (or period-instrument) movement. However, the quality of much of the collection is high and displays examples of pristine craftsmanship involving precious metals, ivory, jade, tortoise shell, and nearly every wood traditionally associated with woodwind instrument construction. Two of the better-quality examples (DCM 0008 and 0010) are flutes of Dr. Miller's own design that involved major elements of his own construction.

    The collection also includes numerous examples of advanced technical developments from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including five versions of Cornelius Ward's patent flute system (from late in the second quarter of the nineteenth century), which exceeds Theobald Boehm's venting ideals for the plan of open standing keys. It thus requires the lowest two or four keys to involve a novel but awkward cable system for manipulation by the left thumb. The collection has another splendid British contribution of skillful engineering to compete with Boehm's venting and large-bore-proportions theories: eight examples of the John Clinton "Equisonant" flute, of which the cylindrical-bore versions (DCM 0109 and 0128) incorporate large toneholes that exceed Boehm's in size and increase in diameter down the length of the tube, nearly sharing the full-bore diameter in the foot joint. Carrying the large, fully-vented-tonehole concept to its logical extreme is DCM 0252, a metal Boehm-system flute (British patent no. 2943) with large (nearly bore-diameter-width) rectangular-shaped toneholes and keys, made by Gautrot-Marquet, Paris, a firm once well known for good-quality saxophones and sarrusophones.

    The collection also includes other attempted innovations, such as an early-twentieth-century Nicholas Alberti patent piccolo which supposedly works as both a C and D-flat instrument. In addition to its instant-key-change slide, the body piece also has a double tube arrangement that shifts inner-tube round toneholes to either end of oblong toneholes on the outer tube (see DCM 0126). Carrying the same idea further and nearer to the absurd is DCM 1059, an 1862 patent Boehm-system metal clarinet which, like typical cornets with mechanisms for quick change between A and B-flat, also shifts instantly between those two pitches for theater and pit-orchestra use. Rotating the bell a number of degrees relocates a set of inner-tube toneholes to align with another complete set of toneholes and keywork on the outer tube.

    The Scope of the Collection

    At the time of his bequest, Miller's collection consisted of more than fourteen hundred instruments; three thousand books about music, including such rarities as the Luke Heron tutor, A Treatise on the German Flute (1771, Dublin and London); more than ten thousand pieces of sheet music, mostly but not exclusively flute-related; numerous patents; trade catalogs and correspondence from most of the wind-instrument manufacturers offering flutes during Miller's collecting years; flutists' portraits, photographs, autographs, and correspondence; news clippings and articles; graphics such as prints, etchings, and lithographs (mostly pictures of flutists and pipers); and more than sixty figurines including three bronzes and three finely carved ivory netsukes; plus other music-related ephemera. In view of all this, it may be fair to say that Miller gradually developed the largest private collection of diverse objects ever assembled pertaining (mostly) to one subject in the musical arts. The world of music is indebted to Dayton C. Miller for his work and for his decision to place his collection at the Library of Congress, the only institution at the time of his bequest willing to honor his condition that it remain intact.

    Like other special collections at the Library, the Miller Collection continues to grow whenever generous donors see fit to enrich it. A recent example is the receipt of a rare matched pair of professional model A and B-flat sterling-silver double-wall clarinets (DCM 1431a and 1431b), with original case, made by the highly respected Boston firm of William S. Haynes, whose flutes are well represented in the Miller Collection with eleven examples.

    Insights from Many Sources

    We are indebted to many professional instrument makers and other knowledgeable visitors who have made valuable observations and suggestions to improve information about probable maker identifications, dates, and provenance for many of the objects. In particular we are grateful for the contributions of makers Jean-François Beaudin, Robert Gilliam-Turner, Friedrich von Huene, Hammy Hamilton, Ardal Powell, and a long list of others who have left copies of their machine line drawings or other specifications developed while examining specimens in the collection.

    Researchers, collectors, performers, and antique instrument dealers have also given advice, among them Marianne Betz, Tony Bingham, Geoffrey Burgess, Jeffrey Cohan, Sandra Flesher, Stephen Hammer, Dr. Herbert Heyde, John Lagerquist, Mary Oleskiewicz, Frederick Oster, David Shorey, Peter Thalheimer, Nancy Toff, and Ludwig Boehm, whose great-great grandfather's work is represented in the collection by forty instruments (several being the only known examples) and numerous library materials from or about the innovative manufacturing establishment of Theobald Boehm.

    Various visitors who specialize in non-Western or Native American music and instruments have given assistance. They include members of the International Shakuhachi Society, Iris Brooks, and staff from the Library's own American Folklife Center. We wish to extend special thanks to Betty Austin Hensley for assistance in checking accuracy, current best nomenclature, and other information about the collection's ethnic flute specimens.

    Please note: About 90 instruments were not digitally scanned for this Web site. The instruments not represented online will be evident when one searches the Title Index which is organized by the Dayton C. Miller (DCM) numbers. However, complete descriptions for all the instruments in the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection can be found in a searchable PDF document made available here.

    American Memory | Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection