A Verne Q. Powell flute, serial no. 365, currently holds the title of “most expensive flute in the world”. This ultra-precious Powell instrument is a .010” wall platinum model with Sterling silver keys, an in-line G key, a B foot with French open-hole keys. It was painstakingly engraved by Verne Powell with the trylon & perishere logo of the 1939 Worlds Fair.
The flute was originally made for the New York Fair, where it was displayed behind glass and secured around the clock by armed guards. After the fair, it was purchased by renown flutist William Kincaid.
William Kincaid had many credits to his name including teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, playing in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra for 39 years, as well as time with the New York City Symphony Orchestra. Kincaid is considered one of the most influential teachers and players in the U.S., and is considered by many to have been the patriarch of American flutists.
Kincaid used Powell #365 until just before he passed away at the age of 71, in 1967. Shortly before his death, he handed down the flute to one of his star pupils, Elaine Shaffer.
Ms. Shaffer was another musical trailblazer. After holding the second flute position in the Kansas City Philharmonic (1947-1948), she landed in the principal chair at Houston (1948-1953) at a time when women were just beginning to get orchestral positions. After leaving Houston, she began a distinguished solo and chamber career (another impressive first for a woman).
In 1986, Powell #365 was sold to Stuart Pivar at a Christie’s Auction for $187,000. A noted art collector, sometimes musician, and now controversial author (Lifecodes), Pivar competed for the flute with an investment banker, who wanted to buy it for his 12-year-old daughter.
Reportely, Andy Warhol sat next to Pivar at the auction. The two had become close friends and shopping companions after co-founding the New York Academy of Art. Warhol’s diary entry that year for Oct. 18 recorded the moment: “Stuart kept his paddle up and I could feel his whole body next to me shaking. When the hammer came down, Stuart was just in shock. Just in shock. He then consumed two double martinis and four hot chocolates.”
Powell #365 currently resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art In New York City where it is on loan and on display in their Musical Instrument Collection.