I fell into collecting figural bird whistles and ocarinas by accident. I blame Anita. What happened was this:
My first whistle was a Keel-Billed Toucan that I bought in Belize City for myself and two of mi compañeras en aventura to commemorate our first sight of the bird the day before, on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. I'd not bought one for Anita, as she only tolerates our birding, albeit graciously. (She rolls her eyes at us though.) I then felt guilty that I'd not got one for her, so found a cute toucan on the Montessori website. By then I'd discovered that the little Keel-Billed (exactly painted, just like the real thing) had a fingering hole, so I could make him warble. I bought TWO toucans -- ocarinas -- and found I could make a whole bunch more notes. THEN I bought a penguin ocarina, and discovered that I can actually PLAY these things.
Below you will find a description of my adventures into the world of vessel flutes, and a catalog of my nascient collection. They have charmed me, and lightened my heart: perhaps they will do the same for you.
NOTE: I intend to post a .wav of each piece's call, so you can hear the tone. Look for it in the coming weeks...
Acquired 9/23/2010, eBay
Burnished and incised clay, signed Simon Reyes
Alfareria Simon Reyes, San Bartolo Coyotepic, Oaxaca, Mexico
San Bartolo On The Hill of the Coyote is a Zapotec community famous for its black clay (barro negro). The village has been making pottery for 2,000 years. Since the 1950s, community potters have utilized a burnishing technique, which makes the fired clay black and shiny.
This whistle was made in the Simon Reyes studio, burnished, and fired underground in a brick-lined pit, a wood fire above it.
I like this whistle very much -- its design is lively and unique. The tail is diamond-shaped, like a Mourning Dove's, so the air flows diagonally through the mouthpiece to the fipple on the bottom opposite side. Because of this clever design, you naturally hold the bird sidewise, and use your right thumb on the fingering hole. This sidways position is unusual for a bird whistle.
I'm calling this bird a Rock Dove (aka pigeon) because of its anxious befuddled expression, so typical of the species. If you pop up the far right photo above, you'll see Señor Reyes' signature on the bird's back.
<< View of diagonally-placed mouthpiece and fipple. The voice is alto and breathy.
The Reyes family produces a variety of wonderfully alive pieces, including masks. I've seen other whistles by Señor Reyes, most notably an almost surreal woman-owl (I lost that auction!!) So keep an eye out for his pottery and that of his family -- the pieces can be very interesting.
Acquired 9/8/2010, eBay
? Japan, circa 1930-1960 ?
Again, a bit of cheating -- this is open at the each end of the cylinder. So not a vessel flute. It's lightweight in both size and voice: the sound is thin, windy and high, and you can see how small it is compared to a quarter. I'm guessing the country of origin and date: if anyone can tell me differently, or confirm, I'd appreciate it.
There's just something about the bird's eyes!!!
I found this on Fluitjespiet's site (see links, to the left). Its design is similar to that of my tin whistle above. I'm wondering if my bird had a looped thingy at one time? Fluitjespiet has no infomation about this bird, but it is both better made and in better condition than mine. The bird is attached to the tube more securely, is nicely stamped, and has tail feathers on its tail feathers!
Acquired 7/29/2010, eBay
Bamboo and wood, painted and stamped
China, circa 1950's
NOTE: we are researching country of origin, might be Japan.
The seller tells me that this was bought by her grandparents, Dr. Bernard Briggs and his wife Francis, in China. This colorful little bird has a shrill sound, and moves its tail, wings, beak and eyes when you blow through the mouthpiece (in a very robust manner).
Half the fun of this whistle is in the packaging -- it comes in a fragile cardboard box, stapled together, with instructions. (Stop back a bit later for translation.)
<translation will go here>
<<< The bird in his box.
A view of the fipple. The hole on the top of the mouthpiece moves the tail (with enough wind). Another hole in the part of the bird directly in front of the mouthpiece end catches air and moves the lower beak and wings. The eyes move, too: the eyes are pegs attached to the piece of wood which comprises the lower beak. >>>
<translation here> <translation here>
Acquired 8/13/2009, eBay
This tea kettle whistle came as pictured, on some sort of bottle -- maybe a perfume bottle. I like art made with found objects, and I like it that I found this on eBay. It means that not only did someone have the whimsical balls to stick the teapot whistle on the glass bottle, but someone also had the balls to sell the thing on eBay. And I had the balls to buy it and call it folk art.
The little bird has good detail, complete with nicely carved coverts, primaries, and tail feathers.
I've never tried placing the bird on a tea kettle, preferring the duo as folk art, but I have pulled the bird out from the glass and blown through the bottom. Sure enough, it sounds exactly like a kettle-whistle when the steam is up. I have this piece titled as a whistle, but according to my definition, this is properly classified as a noisemaker. In the title, I am bowing to convention.
9/13/2010 Update: Searching on 'bird whistle' in eBay, I came upon this screamingly ugly bird-cage teapot, with my exact Bakelite Tea Kettle Whistle on the spout!!! The seller tells me that she obtained it at a yard sale about 6 years ago, from an elderly couple. (ps I did not buy this kettle!!!) IMHO, the bird is more beautiful on its little glass bottle. >>>>>
Acquired 8/30/2009, eBay
Porcelain, glazed, hand painted eye, export mark: ARABIA Made in Finland 3-85
Helsinki, Finland -- Arabia of Finland
I love the whistles from Scandinavia and Finland. This is a bright little mid-century-modern Arabia of Finland rooster, with the most unusual fipple I've yet seen on a whistle. Notice that there's a very large gap between the mouthpiece end and the fipple edge -- this setup requires a deep breath and a hearty, sharp blow. If you do it right, you get a blast of noise in your ears: this whistle is loud! Finns are a very enthusiastic people.
The Arabia factory mark on this whistle is an export mark used between 1949 and 1964. (The link is to a complete list of marks.) I'm guessing that the bird is late 50's or early 60's. This style of bird was made in different colors -- this particular one must be a Rhode Island Red! It sits on our fireplace mantle.
Arabia was founded in 1873, and has been going strong ever since. Today it's part of the Iittalia group, and if you are in Helsinki, you must stop by the Arabia Center, home to the Iittala Arabia porcelain production and located in the beautifully restored Arabia Factory building just north of the center of Helsinki. The Arabia Center includes the Arabia Factory, shop, offices, Iittala showroom, Arabia Museum and also shops for Finlayson, Pentik, and Opa. (Address: Arabia Centre, Hämeentie 135 a, 00560 Helsinki) If you get there before I do, please bring me back a Moomin mug, the one featuring the Hattifatteners.
Acquired 7/2010, eBay
Stoneware, hand painted, marked "CJAZA POLAND" with the Boleslawiec B above a line bird drawing
Boleslawiec, Poland, circa 2009
You probably have seen Boleslawiec (pronounced bo-leh-swav-ee-ets) pottery. It's characterized by cobalt blue eye-like patterns which are inspired by peacock feathers. The town is in a clay region, and has been known for its stoneware (which fires white) since the 14th century. Archeological evidence exists of turned pottery in the region as early as the 7th century. The Silesian region had been German, becoming Polish after World War II. Most of the factories were destroyed or abandoned, and the German workers expelled, but a factory reopened as early as 1946.
The traditional 'peacock's eye' pattern -- Pfauenauge -- is seen on these wacky whistles. In fact, one IS a peacock!!
The fingering holes are on the front, at heart level -- both these whistles have a windy high voice. As is generally true with bird whistles, the tail is the mouthpiece. The peacock's fipple is at the top of the tail (as you can see in the far left photo), while the other bird (who looks like he is moulting, his feathers are so wild) has the fipple below the tail.
<<< The factory mark. It's a silhouette of the whistle itself, with the Boleslawiec 'B' in script above. CZAJA POLAND is on either side of the outline, completed by a circle. I tried to find 'Czaja' in a list of Polish pottery factories, but no go. There are approximately 40 in the city and general area.
Acquired summer 2010, gift Sharon Weintraub
Stoneware, glazed, stamped on bottom "Made in NEWFOUNDLAND CANADA"
Reed Weir, Newfoundland, Canada
There's a little antique mall near our house on Burrough Road. When Sharon came to visit, I took her there, and we found this little loon whistle, an amazing find. It's really really hard to find figural bird whistles.
This was an especially good find, one of Reed Weir's loon whistles. These are wonderful things, solid in the hand but not too heavy, with a good feel.
If you look closely at the photos, especially around the eye and the fingering hole on the back view photo, you can see the marks of the artist's fingers in the clay. I don't know if the marks exist because the piece is entirely hand built, made from a mold and smoothed by hand, or cast. Because I've seen other Reed Weir whistles, I am guessing that they're completely hand built. The glaze is a good matte black; the field marks freely painted. And it voices like a loon, both the tremolo (made with the fingering hole) and the haunting call.
<< Loon back view; note the fingering hole, and the mouthpiece on the tail.
Made in Newfoundland, Canada! >>
Other Reed Weir loon whistles --- I'd like more of these!! And a photo of Reed herself.
Reed is more known for her handbuilt sculpture than for the little loon whistles. Here are two that I especially like -- the woman with the bear is my favorite. If you're interested, here's a short biography.
Acquired 2010 eBay
Cast ceramic, glazed, maker's mark stamp, a raised GM
In my previous post, I noted that it's hard to find historical information about figural bird whistles. I don't know anything about this one, so if someone can help, please comment. I am guessing British or German, but really have no clue.
This is a water whistle: the large hole on the back doesn't work well as a fingering hole. The whistle has a very high breathy sound when blown without water; it's lower and more clear with water, depending on the water level (as in all water whistles).
The glaze is very dark blue, and you can see the wonderful detail. If you pop the photos up, you see that the feathers nearest the primaries (the greater coverts) have a veined marking like a leaf. And the bird has an eye stripe, with a clearly defined supercilium and ear coverts. The little legs and feet are clearly marked. I think this is a fanciful sparrow, though the tail is cocked like a Carolina Wren! I'm pretty sure that this was made in Europe, so it's not a Carolina Wren.
Note the maker's mark: a raised GM, with a dot after the G and before the M. If anyone has an idea what this is, please contact me.
Acquired 9/13/2009 eBay
Stoneware, glazed and incised
Tlaquepaque, Mexico (?)
Tlaquepaque is Nahuatl for 'place above clay land', so not surprisingly is known for its pottery and blown glass. The eBay description claimed that this cute little owl is from there, but I don't know. If so, it's not typical of those I've seen on the web. The clay does seem to be the right color though -- a chip on the beak, and the unglazed fipple, seem to match the clay found in Tlaquepaque. But this owl is hand built, with some care and humor.
The moss green glaze is similar to some vintage bird whistles from Guatemala that are in my collection. It's a nice smooth glaze which feels like soapstone. The owl's two legs and tail make a tripod; the mouthpiece is the tail and the fipple is underneath, at the center of the tripod. The fingering hole is in his chest, at heart level. You can see his cute expression, button eyes, hooky beak, and wonderfully incised feathers.
The whistle's voice isn't very owl-like, but you can fake it. And of course the warble produced by the fingering hole isn't owl-like at all. Still, this is a favorite in my collection. I keep it on my kitchen window sill above the sink, beside my Belikan Beer glass filled with feathers.
A note here: essentially there isn't any reference book for whistles. It's hard to verify origin and date of vintage/antique objects. I'm doing the best I can.