Artifact of the Month

Ocarina
Donated by Gordon McNeil

1940s Gretsch ocarina

An ocarina is a type of flute with four to twelve finger holes and a projecting mouthpiece. It is an ancient musical instrument, with a history dating back 12,000 years. The word "ocarina" comes from an Italian dialect and means "little goose." Historically ocarinas have been made out of clay or ceramic, but bone, wood, glass, metal, and plastic have been used as well.

This 1940s-era "American Broadkaster" bakelite plastic ocarina (key of G) belonged to David McNeil, who grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was made by Gretsch Manufacturing Company.

During World War II, thousands of Gretsch ocarinas like this one (as well as ukeleles and harmonicas) were issued by the Red Cross to soldiers as morale boosters called "entertainment kits." Each kit included an instruction booklet that assured the soldier, "Music is fun," and "Anyone! Everyone can play ocarina the Army method!" Here's a pdf of the instruction booklet.

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