Keith, Prowse & Co - the other perfected 8-key

When we think of third-generation 8-key designs, we naturally think of Pratten's Perfected, and maybe Hawkes & Son.  But Keith, Prowse and Co?  Who were they?

Let's just pause first to clarify our terms.  By first generation, I mean the first 8-key designs that were essentially four or six key flutes with a few more keys.  Names like Potter, Monzani, Clementi.  By second generation, I mean the "Improved" era flutes started by Nicholson and carried on by the likes of Rudall & Rose.  Third generation or Perfected era flutes came in reaction to Boehm's 1847 cylinder flute design - they were the last gasp of the 19th century conical flute.  This is our period of interest here.

Who were Keith, Prowse and Co?

According to the New Langwill Index, Keith, Prowse & Co was a company of music sellers, publishers, musical instrument makers and dealers, flourishing in London from around 1830 to a surprisingly late 1950.  The first thing to note is the comma - it wasn't a Mr. Keith Prowse, but a partnership between Robert William Keith (1767-1846) and William Prowse (1801-1886).

The next thing to note is that there is no apparent link between William Prowse and Thomas Prowse - the chap in Hanway St who made Nicholson's Improved flutes for Clementi to sell.

The Langwill entry is rather confusing, but seems to suggest two periods in which the company bore this name at the 48 Cheapside address.  The one that interests us is probably the latter, 1865 to 1905.

Interestingly, the company still exists, indeed flourishes, but only as a ticketing agency, and not selling flutes.  According to their website , the business of Keith Prowse was formed in 1780 in the city of London.  Robert Keith and William Prowse were musical instrument makers, music sellers and publishers. the earliest reference to selling tickets was in an article in the 'Morning Chronicle' in 1786, which refers to "The New System of Ticket Agents". The Keith Prowse business of selling tickets can be firmly traced back to as early as 1815. See Keith Prowse for their more recent history.

A flute by Keith, Prowse & Co

The flute below is owned by well-known American Irish-flute player, Frank Claudy.  I caught up with Frank and the flute in the little town of East Durham, NY, during Irish Week, on my 2002 Self-Indulgent Flute-maker's Tour.  Frank was one of the tutors for the summer school.

Keith Prowse & Co 8-key.  
Cocus, block-mounted nickel silver keys with card-backed pads.

The Flute certainly has the hallmarks of a third-generation design:

  • cocus

  • nickel silver

  • big holes

  • big bore

  • shorter than 2nd generation instruments

  • single-piece body

  • wide low keycups

  • card-backed pads

How's the Intonation?

Very good.  Now remembering I'm on the road and checking out this flute with a portable tuning meter in the Catskill Mountains in 90 degree heat, don't expect a full analysis.  But here's the short story:

Especially notable is the lack of flat foot syndrome.  If anything the lowest note seems to be trending sharp, perhaps suggesting (in conjunction with the slightly flat top-of-tube notes) that the intended pitch was a smidge higher than A440.  Anyway, the kind of flute you can pick up and not have to struggle with the intonation.

How does it compare with other Third-Generation designs?

Let's compare basic dimensions with the other two well-known 3rd Generation designs:

Parameter/ Maker Pratten's Perfected Hawkes 
& Son
Keith, Prowse & Co
Emb. to top of cone 141 141 138
Embouchure Along 12.35 12.8 12.4
Embouchure Across 10.8 11 10.55
Body Length 319.5 316 317
Top of cone to hole 1 84 80 87
Top of cone to hole 2 120 117 118
Top of cone to hole 3 155 151 152
Top of cone to hole 4 212.5 209 210.5
Top of cone to hole 5 244 240 241
Top of cone to hole 6 280 277 279
Diameter Hole 1 7.6 8.5 8
Diameter Hole 2 9.4 9.8 9.5
Diameter Hole 3 8.3 8.3 8.1
Diameter Hole 4 9.8 9.8 9.4
Diameter Hole 5 10.7 11.2 10.9
Diameter Hole 6 6.7 7.2 6.9
Foot Length 132 133 132

Not a lot in it, eh?  Enough difference to suggest that none of them appears to be a direct copy of another, more that they represent three ways to achieve the same overall result.


Keith, Prowse and Co flutes, like Prattens and Hawkes, are certainly not common.  This is not surprising, given that they date from well after the release of the Boehm cylindrical flute and so were part of the conical backlash.  To set their comparative rarity in context, on my 24 days in 14 major collections, I saw 17 Nicholson's Improved and 33 assorted Rudall instruments, three Pratten's, but only two Hawkes and one Keith Prowse.


Flutes by Keith, Prowse & Co deserve to be better known.  Perhaps it is their relative rarity, and perhaps some confusion between them and flutes by Thomas Prowse that have kept them from the limelight.  Perhaps too a little less romance in the more business-like appearance of the later flutes compared to the elegance of the 2nd generation "Improved era" flutes such as those by Rudall & Rose.

Were there others?

The realisation that Keith, Prowse & Co fit best into the third-generation category begs the question - are there other makers we should include in this era?  Any suggestions?


Thanks to Frank Claudy for the opportunity to interview his flute, and for some good fun at East Durham.  Thanks also to English player, Tom Addison, for permission to measure his Hawkes. 

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