Verne Q. Powell
Verne Q. Powell (b. 7 Apr 1879 Danville, Indiana; d Feb 3, 1968 Needham, Massachusetts) started playing flute as a young boy in Kansas. His family were all musicians, but their trade was silversmithing. Verne was always encouraged to enjoy music, but he was trained by his family in jewelry making and engraving. In 1910, Verne visited Chicago to attend a recital by renowned flutist Georges Barrère. Barrère was performing on a silver flute, something Verne had never heard before. Verne was impressed with the sound, and set out to make a silver flute for himself.
Verne melted down various bits of silver (including a "handful of silver half-dollars," 7 spoons and 3 watch cases) to create the parts of the now famous "spoon flute." Upon completing the instrument Verne began performing on it regularly. In a short time, William S. Haynes, owner of the Wm. S. Haynes Flute Company of Boston, Massachusetts, heard of Powell's instrument and asked to see it. Upon review, he offered Verne a job at his shop.
In 1916, Verne Powell joined the Wm. S. Haynes Company to make wooden flutes and piccolos. By 1926, Powell was the shop foreman at Haynes and was running much of the business. Later that year, he left Haynes to make his own flutes. In 1927, Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc. was incorporated at 295 Huntington Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts.
Powell Flutes Company
In 1961, Powell sold his company to four employees. He retired in early 1962, at age 82. The group of four ran the company until 1984 when two employees, Jim Phelan and Rob Viola, became the owners. In 1986 Steven Wasser bought the shares belonging to Mr. Viola and gained controlling ownership. Jim Phelan left the company in 1989 to pursue other interests and Mr. Wasser became the full owner.
The company moved from Boston to Arlington in 1970, to Waltham in 1989, and then Maynard in 1999. As of 2013, Steven Wasser is still the owner and President of Verne Q. Powell Flutes, Inc. The company shop is now located in Maynard, Massachusetts, where it employs approximately 50 staff.
Famous customers and famous flutes
A platinum flute with sterling silver mechanism was commissioned for the 1939 World's Fair, in New York. This flute was owned and played by the famous flutist William Kincaid until shortly before his death in 1967. In 1986 this flute was auctioned by Christie's for $170,000 plus $17,000 for the auction house fee - the highest price ever paid for a flute. The same flute was again put up for auction at Christie's in 2009 and sold for $37,500. [www.christies.com]
In 2002, Verne Q. Powell Flutes Inc. created a division called Sonaré Winds. Sonaré flutes are intermediate level instruments which feature a body and handmade Powell headjoint (both made at the Powell shop). The scale, headjoint and soul of the Sonaré flute have the Powell sound, without the high cost of a handmade Powell instrument.
In 2005, Sonaré Winds created a line of trumpets with partner Cliff Blackburn, which are made in Elkhart, Indiana by the E.K. Blessing Co. but have a leadpipe and mouthpiece made by Cliff Blackburn.