Walking–Stick Flute/Oboe, ca. 1750–57
Georg Henrich Scherer (German, 1703–1778)
Narwhal tusk, ivory, gilt brass; L. 42 1/4 in. (107.3 cm)
Purchase, Amati Gifts, 2006 (2006.86a–c)
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 more highly than gold and believed to be from the horn of the mythological unicorn. The upper part of the walking stick is fashioned as a transverse flute and the lower part as an oboe. To play the instrument as an oboe, a double reed must be inserted at the lower end and the one key repositioned.
Only two walking-stick instruments made of an undivided narwhal tusk are known to survive, this example and one at the Hessiche Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. Both instruments bear the stamp of Georg Henrich Scherer, the last and most important of a well-known eighteenth-century family of German woodwind makers. He noted many important individuals among his clientele, including the flute collector and player Frederick the Great. Indeed, although no documentary evidence exists, oral tradition holds that this instrument was a gift from Frederick to Friedrich von der Horst, his finance minister. It remained in the von der Horst family until auctioned in 2005.