Rudall Carte’s Comments on
Clinton’s “Extreme” Holes



When Theobald Boehm first brought his new cylinder flute to England in 1847, it was pretty much like the metal cylinder bore flute we know today, but for one very important feature.  It had very small holes, which were more or less uniform in size, resulting in a rather “stuffy” performance by later standards.  Probably for this reason, it failed to excite John Clinton, who had expected Boehm to develop a flute based on the German maker’s 1832 ring-key wooden conical-bored instrument but featuring some improvements which Clinton had proposed to Boehm during a visit to Munich in August of 1845.  On the basis of subsequent events, it seem likely that these improvements included a return to something akin to the old 8-key fingering.

Clinton had been hoping to market this improved flute in London, but was greatly disappointed to find that the new model was neither wooden nor conical, as he had expected, but metal and cylindrical.  He must have noted the rather constricted tone resulting from the small holes, especially at the low end, and apparently found fault with low D in particular. In addition, he did not like its metal construction, its cylinder bore, its fingering difficulties or its mechanical complexity and associated cost. He obviously saw these combined factors as representing a significant sales impediment, particularly from the standpoint of a new manufacturer seeking entry into a highly competitive market. 

Accordingly, Clinton passed up the chance to market the new model, and that opportunity passed to Rudall & Rose under circumstances which we have documented in the Suppression of Boehm’s 1847 “Essay”. They purchased the exclusive right to manufacture the new design in England and patented it in that country on Boehm’s behalf, thus protecting their exclusive interest in the design in England for a period of 14 years (until late 1861). Boehm simultaneously patented it himself both in his native Germany and in France, where the new model was manufactured by the respected Parisian firm of Clair Godfroy aine, with which Louis Lot was associated at the time.

Almost immediately after Rudall & Rose commenced manufacture of this instrument in England, a modest but nonetheless significant increase was applied to the sizes of the holes.  But this increase was not applied uniformly – the holes near the foot were increased somewhat more than those further up the tube.  At this stage, we do not know why, or by whom, this change was originated, but both Boehm (by his own later assertion) and Rudall & Rose were certainly using this approach by 1851.  Hopefully further information will soon emerge regarding the origins of this modification.   

Over the next 10 or so years, Rudall & Rose successively became Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. and then Rudall, Carte & Co, as Richard Carte was admitted to the company and both Rudall and Rose subsequently left it. The company continued to market both the Boehm flute and Carte’s 1851 and subsequently 1867 Patent derivatives of that model, using the modestly increased hole sizes for both.  The sales figures for the Carte Patent models significantly exceeded those for the standard Boehm models, during this period at least.

Beginning in 1855, Clinton finally achieved his ambition of starting his own manufacturing business and thus became a direct competitor to Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. (as they were at that time).  At the outset, the metal cylinder flute remained under the protection of the patent held by Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co., so Clinton was not free to exploit that design even if he had wished to do so. However, he had his own ideas regarding the ideal approach to the design of the flute and focused initially on a series of wooden conical-bored old-fingered variants under the general designation of his “Equisonant” series.

The patent held by Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. expired in late 1861. By that time, although there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he did not continue to personally favor the wooden conical bore, Clinton appears to have seen the writing on the wall and sensed the commercial tide running ever more strongly in favor of the metal cylinder bore.  Accordingly, since he was now free to do so, Clinton turned his attention to the cylinder flute with a view towards improving its performance in terms of his own personal sensibilities.

In approaching the metal cylinder-bored flute for the first time, Clinton applied a modified form of his “Equisonant” mechanism (which yielded the old fingering for the most part) to the new bore.  He substantially increased the size of the holes and significantly increased the gradation between them, compared to the holes in use by other cylinder flute makers.  Thus, while the upper holes were only moderately enlarged, the low holes became much larger, more or less to the maximum size practicably achievable on a standard 19 mm bore. This arrangement subsequently became known as Clinton’s “graduated hole” system.

Of course, holes having a degree of graduation had been tried before.  Boehm claimed in writing in 1862 that he had made all of his flutes along these lines for 6 years but had dropped the idea on account of its cost.  The modestly increased-size holes used by Rudall & Rose as of 1851 also exhibited a degree of graduation – apparently for them cost was not a problem!  But neither of these parties had gone anything like as far as Clinton along these lines, and neither of them had patented the idea. 

Clinton carried the idea to its logical limits on a systematic basis.  He made at least one such flute as a standard Boehm model , possibly to demonstrate or even test his ideas on that design, but the remainder located so far were made using his own system of fingering. No doubt pleased with the resulting improvement in performance, Clinton promptly patented the arrangement (as he was quite free to do since no-one had done so previously), exhibited his patented “graduated hole” flutes at the 1862 London Exhibition and walked off with a prize medal. 

Two years later, Richard S. Rockstro came out with the initial rendition of his own version of the Boehm cylinder flute.  Like Clinton, he increased the size of the holes quite substantially over the standard Rudall Carte offering, but unlike Clinton he made them uniformly large rather than graduating them from treble up to bass as Clinton had done.  In fact, this may not have been a matter of choice - the patent held by Clinton prevented Rockstro from adopting the “graduated” hole approach even if he had wanted to do so.  Regardless, Rudall Carte must have seen advantages in Rockstro’s approach, as they soon began to offer various versions of the Rockstro model to special order alongside their standard Boehm and 1851 models, finally adding it to their official catalogue in 1877.

In 1864 at the age of only 54 years, Clinton died suddenly and unexpectedly of complications following a foot amputation.  His company effectively died with him after only nine years in existence, and hence the line of development that he had initiated in 1862 also came to a premature end, at least as far as Britain was concerned. His innovative “graduated hole” flutes thus enjoyed a production life of less than two years.  

The Rudall Carte Catalog

Rudall, Carte & Co. (as they eventually became) were in the habit of publishing and periodically updating a quite detailed illustrated catalogue of all of their products.  This contained some general information in the form of an introductory General Remarks section followed by illustrations and specific comments, specifications  and prices relating to the various models on offer.

At some time after 1864, the Rudall Carte catalogue began to mention Clinton, their deceased  competitor, in the introductory “General Remarks” section.  Exactly when this started is unclear to us at this stage, for want of early examples of the catalogue, but the wording employed implies strongly that it must have been relatively soon after Clinton’s death. It would not seem to make much sense to begin to mention him well after his death, as few readers would then have remembered him, his company or the flutes which they made.  A further indication is the inclusion of a comment which reads:

Ebonite, a preparation of india-rubber, which has been used for some years in the manufacture of Flutes, is in some respects very similar to the Cocuswood”.

The term “for some years” as opposed to “for many years” suggests that ebonite had not been in use for all that long at the time of writing of the original text.  Since ebonite first came into use in around 1851 (flutes of the then-new material were exhibited in London during that year), this is fully consistent with our impression that the original text was written not that long after 1864. Hopefully the matter of when this reference first appeared will be resolved soon, now that we have raised it.

If our supposition regarding the timing is correct, as seems highly likely, then it would be beyond dispute that the text in question must have been written by Richard Carte or at least authorized and approved by him. Carte remained in personal charge at the company until 1883 and must therefore either have written or at least approved all of the Company’s promotional literature prior to that date. For Carte’s successors (who can scarcely have known or even remembered Clinton) to begin referring to Clinton after that date, when Clinton had been dead for almost 20 years and Clinton’s old rival Carte was also out of the picture, seems to us to make no sense whatsoever.  

Now it has to be said that it is unusual to mention a competitor in your catalogue - indeed, the present authors are unable to recall any other case.  It is perhaps even more unusual to mention a dead competitor who is hence a competitor no longer, and unheard of to mention him in negative terms (Grandmother always warned us not to speak ill of the dead!).  Finally, to continue to mention him under the designation of “the late Mr. Clinton” for at least 70 years after his death is truly extraordinary, given that the term “late” in this context generally implies a relatively recent decease.   We should note that no other names appear in the General Remarks with the exception of a brief mention of the original predecessor firm of Rudall & Rose.

What does the Catalogue actually say??

OK, let’s take a look at the text in question, taken from the “General Remarks” section of the 1934 Rudall Carte & Co. Ltd “List of Concert Flutes and Piccolos”, October 1934 (70 years after Clinton’s untimely demise).  In order to see it in context, we include all of the text dealing with holes (the entirety can be seen at GENERAL REMARKS from the Rudall Carte catalog):

“There have been several theories put forward on the subject of the size of the holes, but it is now generally recognised by the Musical Profession, as the result of practical experience, that they should not be too large. One idea was that, as by opening a hole the tube is, practically speaking, temporarily cut off at that point, the hole should be made as large as possible, so as to produce the effect of cutting off thoroughly. Experience has shown, however, that this is undesirable, as the tone becomes wild and unmanageable. Another theory was that the instrument was in effect a set of open diapason Pandean Pipes [panpipes] combined in one tube, and that the holes should therefore become smaller the nearer they are to the embouchure. It was lost sight of, however, that as the bore remained the same, the Pandean Pipe theory must fall to the ground. To carry this out it would be necessary to have a separate Flute with a different bore for each note.

When these Flutes were first introduced they were made with what are called the small holes; since then the large and medium size have been introduced. When the medium holes are used, it is found desirable to increase the size of the three lowest holes, but in order to preserve the balance they are not made too large. The late Mr. Clinton carried the size of these holes to an extreme [our emphasis], but they have not become popular. Practical experience must, after all, be the sure guide in these matters, and this has undoubtedly shown that, though the increase made in the size of the holes was a great stride in Flute-making, it does not do to carry it too far; there may, perhaps, be a gain of loudness close at hand, but there is, undoubtedly, a loss of quality and carrying power”.

The Issue of Hole Sizes

All right, let’s take a closer look at this issue of hole sizes, focusing on the justification for use of the word “extreme” in describing the holes employed by Clinton as well as the statements to the effect that his approach was a failure.

There is only one mention of hole sizes in the main body of the catalogue, in the section on the Rockstro’s Model:

“The largest holes were first adapted on this model.” [our emphases]

Well, if these holes were the “largest”, where does that leave Clinton’s “extreme” holes??  Let’s take a look at some measured hole sizes, taken from real live flutes of the time.

You'll see I've expressed them as a proportion of the bore diameter, rather than an absolute size.  Since the bore diameter for all the cylindrical flutes in 19mm, you can easily convert those to mm if you prefer.  My reason though is to remind us that more important than plain diameter is the ratio of hole diameter to bore, sometimes called venting.  A well-vented flute plays easily, a poorly vented flute plays stuffily.  Large variations in venting between adjacent notes show up as dramatic changes in response.  The most notable abrupt changes in the table above occur in the earlier flutes between the C# 4 hole and the termination of the bore at C4.

In aqua, we see Boehm’s prototype 1847 flute, with very small holes, and a very dramatic change as we hit the open end of the tube.  The C#4 note itself probably picks up enough venting support from the far end of the tube to be OK, but by the time we get to the D, we'd expect the flute to be a pretty stuffy player.

In pink we see how the very small holes were quickly increased either by Boehm or Rudall & Rose (probably Boehm, based on his own later writings).  Still a big jump between C#4 and C4 though.  We think that we can safely assume these to be the “small” sized holes mentioned in the catalogue.  Note also these holes are mildly graduated (mild at least in comparison to Clinton's!). 

In brown, we see the “largest” holes of Mr Rockstro’s model, and below that in yellow we see the “extreme” sized holes used by the late Mr Clinton.  Whoops, did we say the “extreme” holes were below, and hence smaller, than the “largest”?  Well, for goodness sake, so they are!

(Now, if you want to get really pedantic, you could point out that three of Clinton’s holes do slightly exceed Rockstro’s, but only by a factor of 3%, whereas his smallest hole is 21% smaller.  Rockstro’s holes are larger on average by 8%.)

Rockstro’s flute model was made intermittently to special order beginning in 1864 and appeared in the Rudall Carte catalogue from 1877 onwards, but they conveniently overlooked that when they chose to deride poor dead Clinton.  If excessively large holes give a tone that is “wild and unmanageable”, with an undoubted “loss of quality and carrying power”, then purchasers of their Rockstro model would have much more to worry about than Clinton’s potential customers!  In effect, in attempting to imply the failure of Clinton’s “extreme” holes they were roundly criticizing their own product!  It is truly remarkable that they could not see this for themselves.  Or that no-one else picked them up.

The lilac trace shows what is presumably the “medium” size, and was taken from a later (1904) Radcliff flute from the Duncan collection.  It’s probable that this arrangement only came into use following Clinton’s 1862 patent and his success at the Exhibition.

In navy blue we see the venting regime of a Siccama, the only conical flute shown here, included to remind us that a strongly graduated venting regime had been the norm before the introduction of the cylindrical bore.  So it wasn't so much outlandish that Clinton introduced it, it was more surprising that Boehm and those immediately following hadn't!

Rockstro’s arrangement (the brown trace) was claimed by Rockstro himself to date from 1864, two years after the 1862 Exhibition, although the fully developed commercial version of his design only appeared in 1877. So the probability is that both Rudall Carte’s medium and Rockstro’s large holes were inspired by Clinton’s so-called “extreme” holes, and the derision in the catalogue is just a smokescreen to cover the fact that they had been influenced by their arch-rival Clinton.

Why would Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. need a smokescreen?  Remember the 1862 Clinton patent?  They couldn’t adopt Clinton’s graduated hole regime or anything that looked much like it for 14 years after 1862 without his acquiescence or that of his heirs and assigns (his wife and sons survived for many years). But it must have become apparent at the 1862 Exhibition that he was onto a good thing.  Louis Lot of Paris (the “Stradivarius of the Flute”), who had his own stand at the Exhibition, certainly thought so – he enthusiastically adopted his own variant of Clinton’s arrangement and thus laid the groundwork for the development of the “French” model of the Boehm flute which evolved directly into the model played today.

Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. could not have known that Clinton would die so conveniently soon and thus eliminate himself as a competitor. So what to do?  Answer - adopt something better than what you had, but not too similar to the protected scheme, and then deride the source from which you snitched the basic idea.  Seems like a good plan – it’s certainly worked till now.

The unqualified comment that the “largest” holes were first adopted on the Rockstro model is worth noting at this point also.  While it is true that on average Clinton’s “extreme” holes were somewhat smaller than Rockstro’s “largest” holes, 5 of Clinton’s 12 holes were either of similar size or slightly larger.  As written, the statement in the catalogue is clearly false and falls into our Category 2 as an outright lie given that Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. must surely have seen Clinton’s “extreme” hole flute at the 1862 Exhibition (at which they also won a Prize Medal for their flutes). Perhaps they meant that “largest” holes to be used by Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. were first adopted with that model, but then that’s not what the text says, is it??    

We have already noted that the French maker Louis Lot (who had by this time parted company with Godfroy and was out on his own) also attended the 1862 Exhibition and appears subsequently to have adopted an arrangement with graduation slope and average sizes just a bit smaller than those used by Clinton, but graduated in tiers to make manufacture somewhat easier.  This does not alter the fact that he chose in effect to run with Clinton’s concept and develop it further, as Clinton might have done himself had he lived and as Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co. might have done had they been free to do so.   

Oh, and speaking of France, elsewhere in the General Remarks and again in the main body of the catalogue there is a claim that Rudall & Rose had patented the Boehm flute in 1847 “in England and France”. Whoops, not true – Boehm himself had held the French patent.  Another seemingly inexplicable Category 2 lie!

Graduation of the holes

Now it doesn’t just stop there.  Remember this bit?

Another theory was that the instrument was in effect a set of open diapason Pandean Pipes [panpipes] combined in one tube, and that the holes should therefore become smaller the nearer they are to the embouchure.  It was lost sight of, however, that as the bore remained the same, the Pandean Pipe theory must fall to the ground.

That’s actually another dig at Clinton which appears aimed at discrediting an analogy that he drew in his “Treatise”, published in 1850, as well as directly discrediting his later “graduated hole” system.  Richard Carte poked fun at this concept in his “Sketch”, published a few months after Clinton’s “Treatise”.  But look again at the pink Carte 1851 “small” holes trace.  Don’t the holes get smaller as you approach the embouchure? Good grief – so they do!!  The very thing that the text has just finished deriding!!  So once again, as with the large uniform holes of the Rockstro model, Rudall Carte were actually deriding themselves in their effort to discredit Clinton. Or fooling themselves. Or trying to fool the public. Or all of the above.


When the medium holes are used, it is found desirable to increase the size of the three lowest holes, but in order to preserve the balance they are not made too large.

Um, isn’t an irrevocable result of making the holes at the bottom end bigger, that the holes as you approach the embouchure end have to be smaller than them?  More self derision.  More weasel words. 

The test of time

Now, to help us appreciate all this better, we’ve included a green trace representing modern practice, using figures provided by Trevor Wye, published among Larry Krantz’s comprehensive web pages.  It’s quite clear that the general slope of both the Modern Practice and Clinton’s Yellow trace are generally very similar.  So history vindicates Clinton – making the holes at the embouchure end significantly smaller has been proved to be a good thing, despite what the Rudall Carte catalogue says. 


So what to make of all this?  It’s clear that Rudall Carte took the opportunity to put the boot into the now defunct Mr. Clinton on two topics, the size of holes and the graduation of the holes. It’s equally clear that they got it wrong on both counts – their Rockstro model had bigger holes on average than Clinton’s, and at least some of their other models also had bigger holes near the foot than at the embouchure end. 

It seems likely that the purpose of deriding Clinton in their catalogue was as a smokescreen to cover the fact that, like Lot, they realized that he had been on the right track with his large graduated holes but were not prepared to acknowledge it, possibly for reasons of pride or perhaps because of the Patent which prevented them from following Lot’s lead in adopting and further refining the system. This fact may point towards the reason why Lot rapidly moved ahead from this time onwards to become the world’s premier flute-maker and why the French products evolved far more rapidly than those of Rudall Carte into the modern Boehm flute as we know it today. Oddly enough, Clinton’s 1862 Patent may have held back the development of the cylinder flute in England for no other reason than the fact that he and his heirs were the sole parties entitled to use the graduated hole concept in England (until 1876, anyway) but he himself died before he was able to pursue the matter further, as Lot did very energetically and effectively in France.

So it’s clear that the comments published in the Rudall Carte catalogue in relation to Clinton represent a very poorly thought-out attempt to discredit Clinton and belittle his contribution to the development of the modern flute. In fact, for the most part those comments simply backfire upon Rudall, Carte & Co.! 


But of course the fascinating question remains - whodunnit?  As we have surmised above, it seems most probable that it was initiated soon after Clinton’s death, and that seems to suggest that it was during the reign of Richard Carte as head of the company. Clinton died in 1864, and Richard remained in charge of Rudall Carte until handing over to his son Henry in 1883, some 19 years later.  If the remarks about Clinton and his approach date from before 1883, they may reasonably be attributed to Richard Carte.

Richard also had the motive – having fallen out with Clinton back around 1845 and been involved in public disagreements since.

He also had the memory – that stuff about the pan pipes first came up 14 years before Clinton’s death (although the “Sketch” in which it was featured was republished from time to time).  His post-1883 successors would hardly have been in a position to recall that discussion………..

And it could be argued that Richard had the “form” – his ability to lie on demand for commercial reasons appearing to be very well substantiated through our other investigations.

So our money’s currently on Richard, but we should know more in that regard when we can find the earliest edition of the catalog with Clinton mentioned in it.  And the other bit of outstanding work is to find out when Rudall Carte first began to make flutes with the medium-sized holes.  Any information out there??!?

Boehm's last word?

As a closing remark, we may recall that in a letter written in 1878 to a correspondent in Manchester, Boehm himself referred to having perused a copy of Rudall, Carte & Co’s then-current catalogue and had found that there was “a great deal of nonsense and humbug in it”!!  One wonders if he had picked up on the very clear internal contradictions discussed above …………

Adrian Duncan, Terry McGee


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  Created Nov 2006