The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Inside the Folger Archives: Uncle Henry’s Pipers

As we all adjust to social distancing and teleworking, I have been reflecting on similar disruptions at the Folger during World War II. And in that vein, I would like to share with Collation readers the story of Uncle Henry’s Pipers—a short-lived recorder quartet—as revealed by ephemera and correspondence in the Folger’s Institutional Archives.

The recorder was a popular instrument with minstrels and the upper class in the early modern world.1 It fell out of fashion in the 17th century, but saw a revival in the later 19th and early 20th centuries across Europe, and to a lesser extent America, as part of a broader revival of early music.2 In particular, the recorder became popular “amongst amateurs between the wars” and was mass produced in England and Germany.3 Edgar Hunt was a prominent figure in England’s early music revival and in 1934 he acquired “sole agency in England for factory-made recorders from the German firm Herwig” which had “so-called English fingering” and brought “recorders within the reach of the general public.”4

Giles E. Dawson of the Folger Shakespeare Library was one such member of the general public. In 1938, he purchased a “Herwige [sic] pearwood soprano” from Schott’s in London, having “always wanted to play something and had been told by musical well-wishers that the recorder was the thing for [him].”5 In the summer of 1941, Dawson met Miss Irmgard Lehrer, a professional recorder player and the first president the American Recorder Society of New York,6 whose “kindly interest” in his recorder-playing skills “filled [him] with enthusiasm.”7 The timing for this enthusiasm was excellent, for the 1941-1942 academic year brought William Henry Bond and Charlton Joseph Kadio Hinman to the Folger as its Fellows. Bond was “a real musician” who “had been playing recorders for a long time,”8 while Dawson was a self-described “dub” (one who is inexperienced or unskillful at anything; a duffer, fool9). Still, they quickly made plans to play together; Dawson with his “Lehrer alto” and Bond with “a Koch tenor.”10 Their little group expanded when they “converted Kadi Hinman…who got a fine Lehrer soprano” and “the last member to join up was Ray Hummel” a Cataloger on the Folger staff who used Dawson’s old “Herwiga [sic] soprano.”11

Charlton Hinman’s rosewood recorder shown separated into its 3 component parts and in a custom carrier. It was donated to the Folger by his wife Myra in October 1977. Photo by Sara Schliep.

Bond, Hinman, Dawson, and Hummel had “a standing engagement for one evening every week—with which nothing [was] allowed to interfere” and many days they practiced “a few minutes after lunch…in the third-floor storeroom of the library, from which the fruity tones of [their] pieces filter[ed] down the elevator shaft to lose themselves in the Elizabethan reading room.”12 We learn more about this musical group in a September 3, 1993 letter written by Bond to then-Director Werner Gundersheimer:

Recently I ran across the publication in which Giles Dawson reported [about the Folger Recorder Quartet], and now I enclose a xerox for your archives. I should add to his account that we did indeed have one semi-public performance, for which Hinman and I printed a program on the little clamshell press that was in the bindery. The victims were the rest of the Folger staff, assembled for the tea that was a daily ritual; does it still take place? Everyone, including such readers as could be pried away from their books, assembled at about 3:30, and I am afraid that most of them did little or no work afterward.

The program was a small, simple bifold listing the songs to be played at the recital on the front cover. The inside of this copy is autographed by all four members of the quartet, and the back cover includes a colophon, which in addition to listing Bond and Hinman as printers mentions a “Hinds” who was an assistant in the Bindery before the war. (Click to enlarge.)

The program included “Four traditional German tunes,” “Six Elizabethan songs,” and “Two Trios by Mozart”, these last two being an “encore” followed by the “Applause” they anticipated receiving from their audience. Shortly after Bond’s first letter and donation, he wrote again, this time sending along a copy of the handbill advertising the “Concert Extra Ordinary!!”

Copies of this handbill were printed in the Folger’s bindery on blue tissue paper and circulated among the staff.

The handbill advertises Bond, Dawson, Hummel, and Hinman under the band name Uncle Henry’s Pipers. The date of the performance is not listed on the handbill or the program, but it is mentioned in a letter from Director Joseph Quincy Adams to Amherst College President Stanley King dated April 24, 1942:

There has been an upsurge of interest in Elizabethan music this year by members of the staff…Dr. Dawson, Dr. Hummel, and our two fellows, Dr. Hinman and Dr. Bond, have enthusiastically practiced on recorders. On Wednesday they gave us a recital in which they played not a few early songs from the Folger collection of music. The occasion was delightful, and I tried to persuade them to repeat it for our audience the following evening—but, with too much modesty, they declined the opportunity.

Checking an April 1942 calendar tells us that Uncle Henry’s Pipers performed on Wednesday, April 22 and declined to play again on Thursday, April 23, the night of the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday celebration. Dawson’s contemporary remarks about the group and Bond’s reflective descriptions both exhibit the “modesty” Adams describes. Another letter from Bond in 2002 confirms the group’s casual approach:

As you can see from the snapshot taken just behind the library, we did not take ourselves very seriously although we tried to produce the best music of which we were capable. Not long after our fledgling concert, all four of us were serving in the Naval Reserve for the duration of the war…

Pictured are Hummel, Dawson, Hinman, and Bond with their recorders behind the Folger. It is taken from the xerox Bond donated to the Folger in 1993 as no physical copy of the photo is known to exist at this time. Photo by Sara Schliep.

Bond’s comments, however, also ground the levity of Uncle Henry’s Pipers in the reality of a world at war. It was during the year of his fellowship at the Folger that Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. officially entered World War II. It was also that year that the Folger prepared for and moved part of its collection off-site to prevent loss in the event that Washington, D.C. was bombed. As Bond wrote in 1993,

I might add, apropos of Folger history, that both Hinman and I participated in packing the collection for shipment to Amherst after Pearl Harbor, and I also accompanied Jim McManaway on the train that took a second shipment to Amherst in early 1942. It happened that Arthur Houghton’s personal collection went along for storage for the duration, and I went too because I had spent the previous two summers cataloguing Arthur’s books, and had brought them in my car from Queenstown, Md. to Washington when Arthur joined the armed services. Of course Hinman, Dawson, Ray Hummel, and I all eventually found our way into the Navy in Communications Intelligence. We then no longer had time to play the recorder very often.

Indeed, it was Hinman and Bond who recruited Dawson (and probably Hummel, too, though our records are thus far silent on the matter) for the Navy. In the Spring of 1942, Dawson “noticed that they were spending a good deal of their time in Bond’s [office] with the door closed.”13 One day, Dawson knocked and after being admitted they confided “that they were taking a correspondence course in cryptanalysis to fit them for special naval service. They also said that they had been told they might discreetly spread the word with the object of attracting other candidates.”14 Dawson’s memoir reports a succinct and immediate response: “They attracted me. I applied and soon received the first of ten lessons in cryptanalysis. Long after Hinman and Bond had vanished into the Navy, I finished the fifth lesson, upon which (as I had been told by my friends that I would be) I was authorized to apply for a commission.”15

Correspondence between President King and Director Adams dated May 16, 1942 suggests that Hinman was the first of the quartet to depart:

You have handled the problem of the Folger Library’s fellow (Hinman) exactly as we have handled similar problems at Amherst. Where a man who is on temporary appointment enters the forces, we stop the clock for him for the time he is absent. On his return from the forces he takes up where he left off, his stipend begins again, and he finishes the term of his formal appointment.

We see both the Folger and Amherst College grappling with the sudden loss of staff being called into service, but commendably making commitments to re-employ even its temporary employees upon their return. Departures from the Folger continued into the fall, as Adams tells Arthur Houghton in a letter dated October 10, 1942:

Things here move smoothly, though we are rather short on staff. Dr. Dawson has just volunteered, and goes shortly as a first lieutenant to get further training at Harvard. Dr. Hummel, of our cataloguing staff, has been commissioned as a lieutenant, and is now in training at Cornell. Dr. Hinman, one of our Fellows, is a lieutenant in the Navy, and Bond will soon be serving in a civilian capacity with the Navy Department here. We have also lost our binder, and several members of the maintenance staff. But the rest of us try to keep the fires burning.

Unfortunately, as Bond reported in 1993, Uncle Henry’s Pipers “never again had an opportunity to play together.”

What I appreciate most about the recorder quartet and their singular performance is their ability to not only find joy, distraction, and comfort in music at time of world-wide uncertainty but to also share it with others, even if in a private setting. None of its members were untouched by then-current global events, but they expressed their humor and humanity through music and through the fellowship characteristic of the Folger staff and its researchers. We are fortunate to have their story preserved in our Institutional Archives.

Coda

Following the war, Dawson returned to the Folger staff becoming Curator of Books and Manuscripts—a title he held until his retirement in 1967. Hummel returned as well, though he took a position as Head Cataloger at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1946. Hinman returned, again as a Fellow, in 1946 and used his new knowledge and some borrowed naval equipment to develop the Collator which made him famous amongst Shakespearean scholars. Bond returned to his alma mater as an assistant at the Houghton Library, soon after becoming its first Curator of Manuscripts and then its head Librarian until his retirement in 1982.

  1. Brown, Howard Mayer, “The Recorder in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder, ed. John Mansfield Thomas and Anthony Rowland-Jones (New York: Cambridge University Press, 20.
  2. Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2020. Recorder Home Page: History: Modern period. Last accessed 3 April 2020. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/history/
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Giles E. Dawson, “Washington: Folger Recorder Quartet,” American Recorder Review, Summer 1942.
  6. Martha Bixler, The American Recorder Society and Me…A Memoir, (Garland, TX: Peacock Press, 2016).
  7. Giles E. Dawson, “Washington: Folger Recorder Quartet,” American Recorder Review, Summer 1942.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “dub, n.6”. OED Online. March 2020. Oxford University Press.
  10. Giles E. Dawson, “Washington: Folger Recorder Quartet,” American Recorder Review, Summer 1942.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Giles E. Dawson, History of the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1932-1968, typescript manuscript, Folger Shakespeare Library, 52-53.
  14. Ibid, 53.
  15. Ibid, 53.

2 Comments


  • Just one possible qualification. You say it was a popular instrument among the early modern upper classes. But it’s my understanding that, much as they may have enjoyed hearing the recorder, it was considered infra dig for them to play any wind instrument.

  • Thanks for your question, Richard. I am by no means an expert on early modern music, but that assertion is my interpretation based on the work of Howard Mayer Brown’s chapter in the Cambridge Companion to the Recorder (1995). His work cites Edmund Bowles’ anthologies of 15th century pictures, noting 7 examples in which “the recorder is played either by well-born ladies and gentlemen or else by the sorts of minstrels who specialized in soft instruments and were hired either as household musicians to the nobility or as free-lance musicians.” Brown also cites the inventories of King Henry VIII of England and the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand who both possessed sets of recorders most likely to be played in consort.

    Brown also cites several 16th century treatises that include “technical information about the form and playing technique” of the recorder. One of these is currently in Basel and was “probably written out for the fifteen-year-old Bonifacius Amerbach about 1510.” Another treatise was written in Basel and published in 1511 by the composer Sebastian Virdung. A third was published in Wittenberg in 1529 by the German schoolmaster Martin Agricola and the fourth Brown mentions was written in 1535 by Sylvestro di Ganassi, who was a member of the official wind band of the Venetian state.

    Brown cites later treatises as well, but with less detail. Brown concludes saying that it was in the fifteenth century that “the recorder first begins to appear as an instrument appropriate both for members of the upper classes and also for those minstrels specializing in soft instruments who entertained them.” All of that is to say that, yes, evidence of upper class individuals playing the instrument is scarce, though there are depictions of it and on the continent there are examples of training manuals for young, educated men.


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