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:

Year William Hall John Firth Sylvanus Pond
1789   born, Yorkshire UK  
1792     born, MA
1796 born, Sparta    
1810   comes to US  
  Worked for maker Meachum (?) in Albany    
1812 1812 war  
  Worked for maker E. Riley in New York.  Married a daughter Worked for maker E. Riley in New York.  Also married a daughter  
1820 Musical Instrument maker    
1821 Firth & Hall  
1828     with Meacham
1832     Joined F & H
1833 Firth Hall & Pond
1847/48 Hall & Son Firth Pond & Co
1850 Turning to piano making   retires, succeeded
by son William
1863   Firth Son & Co ?
1864   dies, NY  
1867   Bought by Ditson  
1870 Son withdraws    
1871     dies Brooklyn
1874 dies, NY    
1875 Bought by Ditson    

Ditson?

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
Below: A keyless prototype copy in gidgee

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 ...

Flute type Size of Hole 5
Pratten's Perfected (1852 ->) 11mm
Large Rudall & Rose (1821 ->) 10-11 mm
Medium Rudall & Rose (1821 ->) 9-10mm
Small Rudall & Rose (1821 ->) 8mm
William Henry Potter (1806-37) 7.5mm
Rudall, Willis Fecit (1821) 7.4mm
Firth, Pond & Co (1847-63) 7.25mm
Typical French and German flutes ~ 6mm

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 ...

Derivation

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 ...

Issue Firth, Pond & Co Early English French German
No of keys (short foot) 6 4 5 4
5th hole 7.25mm ~ 7.5mm ~ 6mm ~ 6mm
Mounts Block Block Post Post
Metal Silver Silver Nickel Silver Nickel Silver
G# key Straight Straight Over the top Angled
C key Straight Straight  Bump to 
avoid G#
Shaped
Thickness Thin Thin Thin Fat
Head Lined Lined Part lined Lined
Key cups English style      
Key touches English style      

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

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.

Venting

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.

Intonation

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.

Loudness

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. 


  

Vital Statistics

For comparison with other flutes, here's some significant dimensions:

Overall Length (not including cap) 595.5
Sounding Length, minimum 523.5
Sounding Length, at A=440 Hz 538.5
Cylindrical Length, minimum 127.5
Cylindrical Length, at A=440Hz 142.5
Conical Length 396
Upper C to end 296
Upper C# to E 96.5
E to End Length 113.5
Head bore 18.9
Top of Cone bore 17.8
Minimum Bore diameter 12.05
Minimum Bore (from top of cone) 319
End of cone bore 13.75
Cone average slope (to minimum) -55.5
Cone average slope (after minimum) 45.3
Proportional reduction at top of cone 94%
Proportional reduction at minimum 64%
Proportional reduction at end 73%
Embouchure hole Length 11.65
Embouchure hole Across 10.3
Depth of embouchure chimney 4.825
Size of B hole 7.3
Size of F# hole 7.25
Outside Diameter at Embouchure 28.55
Outside Diameter at Hole 1 25.8
Outside Diameter at end of RH section 23.2
Spacing LH1 - LH2 35
Spacing LH2 - LH3 37
Spacing RH1 - RH2 31
Spacing RH2 - RH3 35.5

Conclusion

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.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to flute owner and player, Grey Larsen, for his assistance in coming to grips with the Firth, Pond & Co.

To the ACT Government, its Cultural Council, 
and the administrative staff of artsACT 
for supporting this project at short notice.

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