These days, with pitch firmly
locked down to A440 Hz, (plus maybe another 2 or 4Hz to allow for fickle
fashion!) we can find the ideal location for the flute stopper and forget
about it. No such luxury applied in first half 19th-century
England. Pitch could be anywhere from around A410 to A455.
The very long tuning slides of the period are a reminder of this. But
when you have to adjust the slide far enough to cover that range, you
really need to move the stopper too, or the third octave tuning goes
awry. And that has an effect on low octave performance and tone.
Several makers had come up with ways to help the player keep slide and
stopper appropriately synchronised - a good example would be Ward's
and Indicator. Rudall & Rose went one step
further. They automated the process.
In 1832, Rudall & Rose lodged
their first patent, for a remarkable piece of 19th century engineering,
their "Patent Head". Essentially, they linked the
stopper and the slide to the cap via a two-speed screw. As the
player turned the cap to adjust the slide, the stopper moved too, but at
a different rate. The pitches of the two-speed screw maintained
the optimum stopper-to-embouchure distance over the range of slide
In this article, we delve into the patent. Like all patents of the time,
it starts off with the usual litterae patentes guff. "To all to whom these
presents shall come, greeting..." I've not bothered with the
formalities, but picked up at the substantive matter. I've also
made a few changes to punctuation to improve its readability, and added
a few comments in [square brackets]....
Our improvements on or in the
construction of flutes have, for their object, a mode of elongating or
contracting the flute for the purpose of varying the pitch or tune of
the instrument, and of shifting the situation of the cork or stopper
simultaneous, and in due proportion to the increased or diminished
length of the flute when so adjusted, by which contrivance the flute
may, with the utmost facility, be brought into unison with
another instrument, the tune of which may happen to
be either above or below concert pitch.
The objects of the improvement above described may be
effected by different mechanical means applied either within the flute
The mode which we find best suited to the purpose is shown in
the accompanying Drawings, where Figure 1 represents a portion of a flute to which
the improvements are adapted. Figure 2, is the same, shown partly in section for
the purpose of exposing to view the internal sliding tube. Figure 3 is a further
section of the same, the tubes being cut longitudinally through the middle to
exhibit the mechanism by which they are to be moved.
Figures 1,2 & 3
[Note, in Figs 2 & 3, there
are a pair of screws shown which are presumably intended to secure the
decorative silver sleeve and perhaps the guide strip k to the
body of the barrel section and the slide inside. I have not seen
such screws on a Patent Head; presumably other ways to achieve these
ends were found.]
Figure 4 represents a shaft
with two screws a and b, the threads of which pass round the shaft with
different degrees of obliquity, (that is to say,) the one is a quick, the other
a slow screw. The disc c is to be securely fixed by a pin to the upper end of
the shaft as a thumb-piece, by which the shaft may be turned round.
Figures 4 & 5
exhibits the screw shaft and its appendages connected together, and attached to
the sliding tube d, d, and to the cork or stopper e, but shown in this Figure
detached from the flute.
The same parts will be seen in section, and in their
working positions within the flute in Figure 3.
[Note: Because the scale of the image is too small
to make out these details adequately, I have prepared the close-up
below. It is from Figure 3, and takes us from the cap down to
halfway through the embouchure hole.
As an aside, it is an opportunity to marvel at the
remarkable detail Malby & Sons managed to achieve in their drawing.
The approximately life-sized image, "drawn on stone", has managed to
survive lithography, storage for 154 years, photocopying, scanning,
zooming and my ham-fisted attempts at photo-editing out the ravages of
time. And still
tell us exactly what we need to know. Enjoy particularly the
perspective on the multi-start buttress thread lead-screw a.
Bravo Mr Malby!
Now, back to the patent....]
Detail from Figure 3.
At the upper end of the top
joint of the flute, the fulcrum piece f is fixed by pins passed from the outside.
Through a central hole in this fulcrum piece, the neck or upper end of the
screw shaft a protrudes, and the shaft is held in that situation by the disc
being pinned or otherwise fastened on to its end, as before described, which
allows the screw shaft to turn round freely when moved by the thumb piece e.
the upper end of the sliding tube d a screw box g is securely fixed, and through
this box the shaft passes, and in it the large screw a works; hence on turning
the shaft the screw box g and sliding tube d will be moved upward or downwards,
and the flute consequently be shortened or elongated. The cork or stopper e has
a bridge or disc h fixed within it with a hole in the centre, in which the
lesser screw b works; and as the shaft is turned to move the sliding tube up or
down, the cork or stopper is simultaneously moved also nearer to or further from the mouth hole a certain distance
proportionate to the varying length of the flute, so as to regulate with great
accuracy the pitch or tune of the instrument. A cap i, having a milled edge, may
be affixed to the disc or thumb piece e, for the convenience of turning the screw
shaft, by which the whole of the working parts will be concealed from view.
A rib k is placed on the side of the tube for the purpose of guiding the tube
as it slides, and preventing its turning round; but that object might be
effected equally well by placing a guide elsewhere.
[This rib appears to be
visible in Figure 1. In Patent Heads I have seen, it is replaced
by a rib hidden inside the head section.]
It may be desirable to add
that the threads of the screw shaft a and b should be so formed that while the
tube d is sliden [!] a distance of one inch and a quarter [31.75mm], the cork or stopper
e should be moved a distance equal to three sixteenths of an inch
[We then lapse back into formality, but I'll
include it for the dates. Note that although the patent was lodged
in 1832 and bears that date in the title, it doesn't get signed until
the following year, and doesn't get printed until the Patent Office does
a big cleanup in 1857. Those familiar with the Circumlocution
Office in Charles Dicken's "Little Dorrit" will already be smirking.]
In witness whereof, we, the said George
Rudall and John Mitchell
Rose, have hereunto set our hands and seals, this Twenty-fifth day
of May, in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and
JOHN M. (L.S.)
AND BE IT REMEMBERED, that on the Twenty-fifth day of May, in the
third year of the reign of His present Majesty King William the Fourth,
the said George Rudall and John Mitchell Rose came before our said Lord
the King in His Chancery, and acknowledged the instrument aforesaid, and
all and every thing therein contained and specified, in form above
written. And also the instrument aforesaid was stamped according to the
tenor of the Statute made in the fifty-fifth year of the reign of His
late Majesty King George the Third.
Inrolled the Twenty-fifth day of May, One thousand eight hundred and
Printed by GEORGE EDWARD EYRE and WILLIAM SPOTTISWOODE,
Printers to the Queen's most Excellent
The grant of patent would ensure no-one
could copy it for at least 14 years, thus giving Rudall & Rose a
monopoly up to 1846. I can't bring to mind any similar device
after that period, so I don't think it probably warranted the cost and
effort of seeking the patent in protection terms. It may well have
repaid the effort in status terms.
number of Patent Heads are to be seen still, although their greater
complexity and heavy weight are significant drawbacks to use today,
given that most of us no longer need to move the stopper in regular
tuning, and indeed, may wish to custom tune the stopper cavity for our
purposes. But it remains a remarkable piece of work to be
To see what lurks inside the head in
physical form, see: The Rudall & Rose Patent