When I first saw this German tin whistle on eBay in December 2012, I was immediately intrigued. I had never seen anything quite like it before. Its condition was remarkable, despite its obvious age. Although we see lots of reproduction tin toys today, this one was authentic. What gives it away? Well for one thing, the D.R.G.M. marking (Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster, in other words copyright) on the bass drum. (See photo below.)
The seller wrote the following about this interesting, saxophone-shaped tin whistle:
1915 Distler German Tin Black One Man Band Tin Toy Saxophone Drummer w/Cymbals! Excellent condition and very rare musical tin toy with pull string; the man moves his hands to hit the drum and play the cymbals. Toy works and has very bright lithography. It measures 6 inches tall.
The name Distler gave me something to work with. It didn’t take me long before I happened across the website of Avner Strauss. Strauss’ website, Whistle Museum: A website dedicated to whistles, research and collecting whistles, has a page dedicated to Classic German Action Penny Toy Whistles By Distler, Levy and more…
On this German whistle page is a photo of exactly the same type of saxophone-shaped whistle—only not in as good condition as the one from eBay. Strauss identifies the whistle as circa 1920s.
This is what Strauss writes about the Distler company:
Johann Distler founded his toy company in 1900 , Nuremberg Germany, the company closed at 1962 .
Famous for its tin toys . His action penny toy whistles are all very scarce and rare, they have wonderful colours.
His trademark were; J.D. with a thistle. later the letters J.D. and later a globe with J.D.N.
Prior to WWI he concentrated on small tin penny-toys and later on larger ones.
It is also worth noting that according to Strauss, these whistles worked like a harmonica. When a person blew into the whistle, a brass reed vibrated to produce the sound.
As the eBay dealer already noted, the string on this whistle does 2 things: the man’s left hand hits the bass drum…
… while the his right hand opens and closes the cymbals.
I’m not sure who wrote the description of this particular whistle on Struass’ Whistlemuseum.com website, but it is full of typos. Rather than write [sic] behind almost every second word, I’ve opted instead to edit it (for spelling only). I hope Mr. Strauss doesn’t mind:
[This] is a Black Americana figure playing saxophone, drum and cymbal, a triple action, tricky one with a thread coming out the bottom (Not seen here) [it is on this photo of the eBay whistle] which makes the other hand hit the drum while the other hits the Hi-Hat cymbal.
It has a short reed pipe and it is marked D.R.G.M. standing for Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster. Signifying a second grade patent valid for three years or sometimes six years. 1920’s