Firth Pond and Co - New York Makers
This glimpse into the lives and works of New York flute makers Firth, Pond & Co started for me with a collaboration with US Irish flute player Grey Larsen. You may wish to catch up with that story first.
Firth, Pond & Co?
There were a lot of flute makers in the young American nation, some of the most famous being tied together at times as Firth, Hall and Pond. It's hard to keep track of the intertwining fortunes of John Firth, Sylvanus Pond and William Hall; here's an attempt:
So Hall & Son and Firth & Son both bought out by Ditson! Now in case the name Ditson doesn't ring any bells, one of its employees (at age 15 in 1845) was a John Haynes. John was later to take over the company and forge a new empire in flutemaking in his own name that continues to this day.
And William Hall?
We've looked at a William Hall flute separately ...
Now, about this flute ...
Above: The Firth, Pond & Co
original in cocus
The flute we're looking at dates from between 1847 and 1863. Unfortunately, the company didn't apply serial numbers, so we have no way of estimating just when the flute was made.
Well, I mentioned small holes, and, sure enough, they are pretty tiny! To put some numbers on it, let's fall back on the old standby, hole 5. This is the hole that varies most on 8-key style flutes. Starting at the big end of town ...
So, despite its late date (Boehm had brought out his cylindrical flute by then), this flute seems to have more in common with first generation London-made 8-keys of some 50 years earlier. Or could it be derived from a French or German tradition? Let's see what we can infer ...
Let's look at some of the characteristics of the flute and see how they relate to the different old-world styles. Shading indicates the best matches ...
On the face of the evidence, it seems likely that the Firth, Pond & Co most follows the English tradition, although we are unaware at this time as to what (if any) particular instrument it might emulate. It's quite possible that the makers surveyed the field and selected features from more than one of the flute-making traditions represented in the new land.
The bore, seen in extremely exaggerated form below, is in general reminiscent of short foot flutes in general, and perhaps French flutes in particular. We see the cylindrical head (with stopper face, embouchure hole and tuning slide effect) in aqua, left hand section in navy, right hand in hot pink and foot in yellow. Note the typical flaring from around E to the end of the foot. Note also the kinks and bends in the left hand section.
One of the reasons for success of the short foot flute is evident above. Notice that the bore at its minimum is almost 12mm in diameter, whereas many English C-footed flutes descend to under 10.5mm. It's probably here that we see the basis of Quantz's criticism of the extended foot.
This venting chart shows the placement of the finger holes and the ratio of finger hole diameter to bore diameter at the same point.
We see the inevitable clustering of holes into where they can be reached by the fingers of the two hands, plus the usual gap to the foot notes. The much larger diameters of the foot notes acts to offset their distance. The makers have also managed to locate G# much closer to halfway between A and G than is common.
Does the tuning of the flute have anything to tell us? I tested the intonation at three pitches, with the slide fully compressed (449 Hz), at modern pitch (440Hz at 6mm extension) and at 12mm extension. Perhaps the first thing to note is the pitch fully compressed. Most English flutes would have soared to around 460Hz - this flute doesn't even reach British High Pitch at 452-455.
At zero extension (449Hz) we see noticeable tilt in both octaves. Further, the middle foot notes D5 and Eb5 are flat compared to their neighbours.
At 6mm extension, 440 Hz, the tilt is gone, although a flattening is visible below G4 (G in the bottom octave).
At 12mm, we're starting to see significant sharpening of the second octave compared to the lower. The flute seems happiest in the circa 440Hz region.
The flattening below G4 is an unusual feature - perhaps Firth & Pond's version of the English flat foot. It just starts a little higher up, but is much much milder in quantity.
We do expect small hole flutes to be quieter than large hole flutes, but as can be seen from this comparison, this flute is quite capable of holding its own with its larger sisters.
For comparison with other flutes, here's some significant dimensions:
So, all in all, quite an unusual flute. I've added it to my range of models as I feel it has something special that will delight some players.
Thanks to flute owner and player, Grey Larsen, for his assistance in coming to grips with the Firth, Pond & Co.