Development of C. Nicholson's Improved



You don't have to look at too many C. Nicholson's Improved flutes to realise that there wasn't just one model.  Large and small holed instruments bearing the name seem to have co-existed under the same name, despite their remarkably different properties.  Later instruments also appear technically different to earlier ones.  This was a very exciting period of development of the 8-key flute and that alone makes it worth examining.

A classic Clementi & Co C.Nicholson's Improved (No 315), showing:

  • big holes

  • the distinctive head and barrel combing, 

  • the indent for LH1 and 

  • the flattened area around the RH finger holes

A clearly different Clementi & Co C.Nicholson's Improved (No 1403), showing:

  • fairly small holes

  • no indents or flattened areas

  • saltspoons rather than pewter plugs on the two lowest keys

To understand what was going on back then, we need first to gather as much information from extent instruments as we can.  Here's a start:

Serial No: 315 1403 3904
Owner Migoya McGee McGee
Measurer McGee McGee McGee
Measured Calipers Calipers Calipers
Company Clementi Clementi Prowse
Address Not Given Not Given Hanway St
Timber Cocus Cocus Cocus
Length 157 157 161
Emb to bot. 92.5 88 100
Emb along 11.4 11.3 12.3
Emb across 10.4 9.9 10.3
Decorative Combing? Yes Yes No
Length 65.5 65 63.7
Decorative Combing? Yes Yes No
L upper tenon 26.6 26.6 27
L middle 159.5 163 159
Top to C# 86 88 86
Top to B 121 123.5 122
Top to A 155 158 156
C# diam 7 6.9 7.2
B diam 9.4 7.7 10
A diam 7.7 6.3 7.6
L w/o tenon 112 120.4 111.4
Top to G: 32 31.5 31
Top to F#: 62 64 61
Top to E: 97 100 97
G diam 8.9 6.9 9
F# diam 10.3 7.9 10.5
E diam 6.2 5.6 6.3
Overall length: 153 157.5 149
Top to D hole 78 78 76.3
Top to C# hole 112.5 115 110.5
Total No. Keys 7 8
Long F key? Retrofitted No Yes
Key material Silver Silver Silver
Body Key type Saltspoon Saltspoon Saltspoon
D# Key Type Saltspoon Saltspoon Saltspoon
C & C# Key Type Pewter Plug Saltspoon Pewter Plugs
Mounts Blocks Blocks Blocks
Lip plate No Yes (retro) Yes
Indent for LH1 Yes No No
Indent for R Th. Yes No No
Sharkskin? No No No
Flat at RH holes Yes No Yes

Points of Interest

Even with just this much information, a few points stand out:

  • 3904 has a lot in common with 315 and can probably safely be regarded as a development of it

  • 3904's head is considerably longer than 315's.  We might have expected later flutes to be set higher, not lower.

  • 3904's foot is shorter than 315's, helping to reduce flat foot syndrome

  • 1403's holes are much smaller than the other two.  They are still a little larger than other "non-improved" flutes of the period.

  • 1403 is also considerably longer in the body, offset by an embouchure set lower on the head

  • The decorative combing is gone on 3904

  • Neither flattening or indents appear on the small hole instrument

  • Only the flattening appears on 3904

  • The C and C# keys on 1403 are salt-spoons - very unusual.

Can you help?

If you have access to a C. Nicholson's Improved, I invite you to send information about it for inclusion in this study.  I'll assemble and present the information as it comes to hand.


Thanks to:

Terry Briley, US fluteplayer
Richard Moon, UK fluteplayer 

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