By BARBARA BRYANT
Two string fiddles; an ivory clarinet; a Chinese stone whistle, possibly dating back to around 1100 B.C.; flutes made of gold, jade, glass, even Plexiglas; three violins; two violas; and a cello made by Antonio Stradivari. These are just a few of the 1,800 instruments in the Music Division's valuable collection at the Library.
Since its acquisition of Thomas Jefferson's personal library in 1815, the Library of Congress has collected a wealth of diverse music and related material ranging from books and sheet music to patents for new musical inventions, concert programs and trade catalogs. In 1925, thanks to the generosity of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a pianist, composer and philanthropist, the Library's Music Division expanded its role by build ing the Coolidge Auditorium, sponsoring performances and commissioning new compositions from major composers of the time.
About 10 years later, another patron, Gertrude Clark Whittall, offered her five Stradivari stringed instruments to the Library, along with early 19th century bows by Francois Tourte. She also funded the construction in 1939 of the Whittall Pavilion at LC's Jefferson Building. Her financial support further helped the Music Division to sponsor concerts and other performances. For many years, the Budapest Quartet frequently came to perform on her Stradivari instruments, as has the Juilliard String Quartet since 1962.
But the impact of Mrs. Whittall's patronage didn't end there. As Robert Sheldon, the instrument collection's curator, explained in a 1991 article in The Flutist's Quarterly, her generosity paved the way for other donations.
"In 1938 Mrs. Robert Somers Brookings of Washington, D.C., presented the Library with her husband's fine violin, the "Brookings"  by Nicolo Amati, requesting only that it be 'for useful service at the Library,' " Mr. Sheldon explained. In 1952 the great Austrian violinist, composer and collector Fritz Kreisler offered the Library his collection of manuscripts and two of his instruments, including a half-size violin he used as a child and the famous "Kreisler" violin made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu in 1733. Last October, Mr. Sheldon took that instrument to Vienna for the third Fritz Kreisler International Violin Competition. Three of 61 contestants performed several of Kreisler's well known compositions on the instrument.
The eight stringed instruments in the division's collections by Cremona, Italy's Guarneri, Amati and Stradivari were made in the 17th and 18th centuries. The H. Blakiston Wilkins collection of six stringed instruments was given to the Library in 1937 and includes viols, violas d'amore and a quinton (roughly speaking, a five-stringed violin); these instruments were also made in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Dayton C. Miller Collection features nearly 1,650 flutes and other wind instruments, 10,000 pieces of music, 3,000 books and artworks including prints and engravings, three bronzes and 60 figurines depicting musical scenes and performers. A respected physicist and professor at the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland (now Case Western Reserve University), Miller (1866- 1941) amassed what Mr. Sheldon described as "probably the largest private collection ... devoted to one subject in the musical arts." Miller's records show that he frequently paid less than $10 for some of his most valuable flutes, which are worth thousands of dollars today.
"Vintage instruments weren't valued as highly during the half century he devoted to active collecting as they are now," Mr. Sheldon explained. "A lot of owners didn't know what they had."
In 1960 King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand gave the Library what is referred to as the "Thai Collection" of 10 ornately crafted Siamese-style folk instruments. The collection includes two small hand drums, a pair of finger cymbals, two vertical flutes, a three-string zither and two pairs of two-string fiddles, which are designed to be played vertically. The King is an avid amateur saxophonist and composer in the American popular music style, and the Library holds several examples of his works.
The Library's musical instruments vault also houses another collection of about 100 brasswind and woodwind instruments dating from ca. 1760 to ca. 1955. Included are special examples, such as an early American clarinet by Anthony in Philadelphia; an early English cornet by Metzler of London, ca. 1835; a three-keyed serpent (a serpentine-shaped forerunner of the tuba) by Francis Pretty of London, ca. 1830; a cor d'orchestre (orchestral horn) by D. Jahn of Paris, ca. 1825, its bell lavishly decorated in red and gold; and the earliest known keyed bugle, presented to Edward Kendall by the Boston Brass Band, which he founded in 1835.
Before coming to the Library in 1987 Mr. Sheldon was a museum specialist for 23 years in the Smithsonian Institution's Division of Musical Instuments, where he treated and played some of its period instruments. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, he has performed with many organizations, such as Aston Magna, Concert Royal, the Ensemble for Early Music, the Amadeus Winds and the Theater Chamber Players of the Kennedy Center. Mr. Sheldon has also recorded for the Library of Congress, Mercury, Erato, Decca, Nonesuch and New World labels.
As curator of the Music Division's instrument collections, he continues to perform those conservation treatments that can be accomplished in the temporary instruments vault in the basement level of the Madison Building. Although the collection will be moved back to the Jefferson in about three years, Mr. Sheldon seems to enjoy the obscurity and close confines of his current location. Security is tight and for good reason. "This one box has over 10 million dollars' worth of maple in it," he explained, pointing to the case in which four Stradivari instruments are kept. Other unique and closely guarded items include 17 glass flutes, one of which was presented to James Madison in 1813 and may have been a gift from Lafayette, an 18th century ebony flute and its ornately painted porcelain case once owned by flutist and composer Frederick the Great of Prussia and later (in 1930) by Dayton Miller, and a mahogany inlaid violin case, ca. 1870, which belonged to "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria and once housed his Stradivari violin.
There are many unusual items too, such as the dancing master's fiddle, or "pochette," dated 1685, used by traveling dance instructors to play basic tunes for their students; a series of viols that sport carved heads, one of them blindfolded; multi- and single-piece walking stick flutes; and several flutes for one-handed performers.
"A few one-handed flutes were made toward the end of World War I on the assumption that there might be a market for them when wounded soldier flutists returned home," Mr. Sheldon explained. "One hopes the manufacturers didn't sell as many as they thought they might."
But a flute made of Plexiglas?
"Woodwind instrument makers experimented with all sorts of materials, trying to come up with those that might sound good without warping or cracking the way wood and ivory do, and weren't as expensive as gold or silver," Mr. Sheldon responded. "Glass flutes worked quite well as long as they weren't dropped, but most were bought by wealthy amateurs. In the late 1930s a German manufacturer started experimenting with Plexiglass, which worked quite well for flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, but he results were destined to be successful. For one thing,conductors didn't want to see unusual equipment in their orchestras. Various orchestras have developed traditions regarding style and, therefore, equipment, all of which is factored into the performer's success -- or lack thereof -- on the audition stage."
The collection offers visitors an intriguing survey of music history and culture; each instrument reflects the styles and attitudes of its period. "In past centuries, people took their music very seriously; it was an important part of their everyday lives," Mr. Sheldon said. "I've been told that around 1900, for example, American households had more pianos than bathtubs."
The items include Dayton Miller's collection of folk flutes and whistles, plus flutistic bric-a-brac and assorted kitsch that he picked up during his many travels.
Tours of the collection are by appointment. Mr. Sheldon welcomes visitors and often works evenings to accommodate international visitors, many of whom are accredited violin makers who come to admire and measure the instruments.
"About half of our violin making visitors are from the Orient, especially Japan," Mr. Sheldon said. "They're fascinated with any Western music and take it very seriously. Tokyo has about four major symphony orchestras and the world's only full-time professional contracted concert band not associated with a military or police service."
Mr. Sheldon has played host to many other well-known performers and experts such as Andre Previn and the Irish flutist James Galway, but most of the visiting craftspersons and performers are well known in the specialized early-music world of period instruments and playing styles.
"So far during my tenure here, [flutist] Jean-Pierre Rampal hasn't appeared in our storage vault, but his distinguished, well-known craftsman son has joined the ranks of our visiting professional violin makers," Mr. Sheldon recalled.
The casual visitor will no doubt welcome the collection's move back to the Jefferson Building, where it will occupy a larger space in the northwest corner of the ground floor, adjacent to the Coolidge Auditorium and Whittall Pavilion. The new location will include a laboratory, a curator's office surrounded by a study area, a storage vault and public exhibit areas, which will display about 50 percent of the instruments. The Cremonese stringed instruments will once again be featured in the Whittall Pavilion.
For Mr. Sheldon, his "work" is more pleasure: "The Music Division's extensive museum element is very unusual within the library community, and I enjoy working with collections that contain some of the world's most important holdings."
(To examine the musical instrument collection, write or call Robert Sheldon at the Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540; telephone (202) 707-9083.)