Woodwind = $?
November 4, 2005 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I have a flute. I don't play flute. I'd like to sell the flute. How do you sell a flute?

I inherited a flute from my great-great-aunt. (I'm the only one in the family with any musical ability, so they gave it to me. But since I studied piano, it's not very useful.) It's old - 1929 - and in quite good condition. I took it in to have it cleaned up, and I was told it might be worth as much as $2,000.

However, I haven't been able to find a method of selling it. There aren't any local music stores that deal with "antique" instruments. I listed it on Usedflutes.com, but I didn't get any serious offers - just scammers. I contacted a couple places online that sell instruments through consignment, but they didn't think they could find a buyer. Similar instruments on eBay are not getting bids.

So. . . anyone know how to sell a flute?
posted by ToasT to Work & Money (10 answers total)
I was going to suggest music stores, but it sounds like you wouldn't be able to get the proper value for it.

Perhaps contact the music department at your local university to see if any of their students are looking to upgrade?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:38 PM on November 4, 2005

Well, I was going to offer to buy it, but I totally can't throw down for that kind of quality :-)

I would suggest bringing it along with you next time you make a trip to a big city, but that isn't much of an immediate solution...

Why don't you try emailing faculty at local universities, or even more recognized conservatories? Maybe they'd have some ideas, or would even have need of such an instrument.

Similarly, are there any local or semi-local symphonies about? Finding the people who would use such an instrument might be a better way to find an intermediary than looking for an intermediary from the get-go...
posted by hototogisu at 1:46 PM on November 4, 2005

Well, what kind of flute is it? Silver, wood, some other metal? Open- or closed-hole? What maker? Was it a student or a pro instrument?

I'd be surprised if it would be of interest to your garden variety music student; unlike strings, there isn't a whole lot of benefit to playing an older flute, and technology has progressed a long way in 80 years, and the modern concert flute design only dates from the mid-1970s.

Of course, if it's a wooden flute that's a bit of a different story, but it's still all over the map. There's also the problem of pitch -- A440 was really only standardized in North America in the 1920s, and even later than that in Europe. If your modern flute is not A440 it won't be very useful for a flautist.

My gut feeling is that unless it is an outstanding instrument in terms of both playability and historical relevance that $2000 is quite high, especially since it came from someone other than an appraiser.
posted by mendel at 1:54 PM on November 4, 2005

You could call a professional flautist or flute instructor at a university and ask them for advice.
posted by kdern at 1:58 PM on November 4, 2005

Response by poster: For the record, it's a solid silver Haynes closed-hole offset G.
posted by ToasT at 2:05 PM on November 4, 2005

Maybe $2000 isn't out of line, given a quick googling.
posted by found missing at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2005

Sothebys. Christies.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:36 PM on November 4, 2005

My mom has a solid silver Haynes from the 50's that's worth between $3-5,000. From what I understand, the older Hayne's are not only worth more because they're antiques, but they are more better crafted than the newer Haynes and have a superior sound. Her's is really nice.

If you live near a major metropolitan area, I'd drop a line to a flautist in their best symphony or to the flute instructor at the best music school in the area (to reiterate the advice above.) You should take the flute to a serious repairman who does flutes, and a professional flautist can tell you who that person is. It's likely that there will be one best repairperson in the city that they all use. This person will make sure that all the tiny screws are adjusted properly and not too tight (it matters) and fix any problems with it. Anyone who is serious about buying it and plans to use it will want to play it first, so it's important that it's ready to sound and work its best.

On a personal note, I sold an oboe for $900 and upgraded to one worth about $3,000. These were fair prices. I found both the buyer and the oboe that I bought through my instructor who was a professional musician. She knew students and other professional oboists - including the one who sold me the upgrade. If the professionals don't know anyone interested in buying, I'm sure they could recommend a trade journal or website where you might advertise it.

Good luck!
posted by sophie at 3:57 PM on November 4, 2005

Ok, you might indeed have something there -- there were at least three Hayneses making flutes in Boston in 1920, of various quality. William S. is the famous one; his brother George worked in his shop, and his son William W.'s flutes don't seem to have had the same sort of legacy. You can see William S.'s hallmark at the top of this page and compare it to what's on your flute, and if it's his, date it from here. That'll at least take care of any misconceptions or inconsistencies, at which point you can start trying to figure out what it's worth. I wish I could help you more with that specifically but wooden flutes are more my thing.

As for selling, there's basically two ways to do it: Find a vintage flute shop somewhere in the country willing to buy it or take it on consignment, or advertise the hell out of it yourself. The advantage to the former is that it goes somewhere where people looking for it go, and either you'll be offered a price or you'll be able to work with the consigment seller to set a realistic price; the advantage of the latter is that you cut out the middleman.

If you're selling to a shop or on consigment, look towards big artsy cities. Boston and NYC would be good bets (and I see that the Flute Center of New York does consignment sales, and there's a bunch of consignment dealers in sideblown's commercial links list. I also recall hearing good things about The Flute Exchange in, of all places, Boulder.) Most consignment places and flute buyers will happily give you a ballpark price even if you're not sure you're going to go with them, so that might be a good way to get a price estimate for selling it yourself.

As for selling it yourself, it's going to take some work for the reasons I mentioned above: whatever your flute is worth, a player could get a new instrument that's much more useful for playing at their local music store. So you need to connect with collectors, and collectors are provincial sorts, so you need to find where they hang out. This means you'll be posting on a bunch of forums and very 1995-looking websites instead of eBay and Craigslist and dealing with a bunch of email inquiries.

A good place to start is FluteNET (see what I mean about 1995?) They have their own classifieds, probably the closest thing to an Internet flute clearinghouse there is, and a page of advice on selling (and buying) flutes that might be helpful once you've got ads up. From there just run down the list of results for obvious Google searches -- "flute classifieds", "vintage flutes for sale", and so on, and post an ad on those that already have a couple dozen ads. (Anything smaller and you can assume no-one's reading them). For starters, while looking up other things I found myself at Sideblown's and the Flute Society of Kentucky's. In my experience the sort of sites you want tend to have a whole bunch of text descriptions of instruments on one page, rather than a bunch of database-powered categories and single-page ads.

I'd recommend getting a new GMail account to use in the ads, so you don't have to worry about taking all your ads down when you're done -- just don't look at that account again. Using your own email address will mean you'll be getting inquiries six years from now.

Personally, I'd go the consignment route if you don't need the cash quickly. Selling an instrument like that is a pain. I see interesting but not amazing wooden flutes on the classifieds I read occasionally that have been up there for months.

Of course there's something to be said for holding on to something like that for the grandson or great-niece who shows an interest.
posted by mendel at 4:07 PM on November 4, 2005

If you live where you can show the flute to a professional performer or teacher at a uni, they would probably advise you on value (at least a range), and may have a student who would be interested in making the purchase.

Also, I second mendel's flutenet.com recommendation... I bought and sold through them back in the days of snail mail. (!)

I always liked to see date and serial number as well as the name of the maker in an ad.
posted by jaruwaan at 8:52 AM on November 5, 2005

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