Walking-Stick Flute/Oboe

Georg Henrich Scherer (German, 1703–1778)

ca. 1750–57
Butzbach, Germany
Narwhal (narwhahl) tusk, ivory, gilt brass
L. 107.5 cm (42 5/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Amati Gifts, 2006
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This rare instrument, combining a transverse flute and an oboe in the form of a walking stick, is made of narwhal tusk, a precious material once valued higher than gold and believed to be from the horn of the mythological unicorn. Georg Henrich Scherer was the last and most important member of a well-known eighteenth-century family of German woodwind makers. Among his clients was Frederick the Great, who played and owned a small collection of flutes. The king pursued a scientific interest in testing the acoustical attributes of different materials, which may account in part for the use of narwhal tusk. This instrument is said to have been a gift from Frederick to his finance minister. Scherer made a similar instrument, now in the Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. Walking-stick instruments became fashionable in the first half of the nineteenth century, but were usually conceived as a single instrument, be it a recorder, a fiddle, or a flute.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Marking: gilt metal loop stamped with "SCHERER"

  • Provenance

    According to the information published in the Auction catalog (Sotheby's London, 10/8/05, lot 389), the instrument was owned by King Frederick the Great of Prussia and was given to his finance minister, Julius Friedrich Freiherr von der Horst. The instrument was handed down in the Horst family to the present time. Frederic was an accomplished flute player and composer, and owned about 22-28 flutes. When Frederic stopped playing around 1780, he presented friends and dignitaries with the instruments. It is not known if there is any written statement to support this provenance.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History