Rose's Perfected Flute?



As is well known, in 1847, John Mitchell Rose, of Rudall & Rose, submitted a patent, No. 11,853 of that year, in which he patented the Boehm flute, "on behalf of a foreigner residing abroad".  What very few people know is that the patent application also included an 8-key flute.  The purpose of this article is to introduce you to that fact, and for us to try to nut out what on earth Rose was up to.

The Patent documentation

Rose's 1847 patent takes the usual form - a document detailing the claim, and a drawing to clarify the document.  I'd like to have brought you an overall image of the drawing, but it's not that easy.  The drawing was life-size and made "on stone" - i.e. it's a lithograph, and was drawn with a very fine nib.  So, if I reduce it small enough to fit on this page, I run into pixilation problems!  I'll get around the problem by dividing it up into sections.

The drawing shows the conical flute in question pictured alongside the Boehm flute.  If you're disappointed that I haven't shown you the Boehm flute, let me tell you you're not missing much.  It's simply an outline of a cylindrical metal tube connected to a tapered head.  There are no details like holes, keys and mechanisms.  Indeed, the conical flute is shown in far greater detail, even though, as you will see, that detail is still pretty meagre. Anyway, let's take a look.  As you will see, I've divided it into the head, the LH, and the foot.  I've left out the RH, although you see a bit of it in the adjacent drawings.


As you will see, the lithographer made a bit of a slip-up.  The flute is shown in mirror image.  Before you get on your high horse, remember that the poor draughtsman probably had to work in verso as he drew the item on the stone.  I don't know if that runs to the lettering as well!

The head

The head is immediately interesting - where is the barrel?  The connecting bit at the right is the start of the LH section.  (Don't worry about that confused section in the middle - it's just where a fold in the original drawing was.) 

Of secondary interest is the cap.  No longer the old, bold cylindrical cap with turned face, but now the hemispherical cap we see on Siccama's of the same year, and are soon to see on Pratten's Perfected flute. 

Thirdly, the head is unlined, apart from the short tuning slide at the right.

But most interesting is the slide.  It appears to be formed of two cylindrical tubes let into the wood of the Head and LH sections.  Further, it is very short, quite unlike the very long slides in use at the time.  So what, you say.  Well, just wait....

The LH

The LH section , once you get used to seeing it in verso, is pretty typical.  On the left we see the slide to the head which we have just been discussing.  On the right hand end though, we see another slide, similarly constructed, joining the LH and RH sections.  Oooh, now that's different!  Indeed, there are no wooden tenons on this flute.  They have all been replaced by tuning slides.

Strangely, the words of the Patent do not mention the slides at all. The only reference to the conical flute is (p3, l7):

"The third part of the invention consists in a method of strengthening or improving the note known as the middle C natural in ordinary flutes, which note is always very defeak [weak?] and defective. The method of effecting this object is by making an additional small vent hole near the d, or first hole, as seen in Fig 2, and which additional hole is furnished with a key, which is opened by the first finger of the left hand when C natural is required."

Odd, in that the hole appears on the drawing where the usual RH1 c key hole appears. But Rose mentions the "first finger of the left hand". Strange, as that digit needs to cover the first hole, which, incidentally, he calls "d" in the image. Unless by "first finger" he means the left thumb, in which case is he patenting Boehm's use of the left thumb for C?  That had been around since 1832, but maybe it wasn't too late to throw in?  Pratten was soon to come out with a left thumb C key.

Or is it a typo?  Could they have meant the first finger of the right hand?  But if so, that's the standard long upper c-key we've seen since the late 18th century!  Very odd.

(Incidentally, the first and second part of the invention related to the Boehm flute, the other flute in the drawing.  They were 1. making flutes in metal, and 2. making the body cylindrical and the head "conical or the section of a parabola".)

The Foot

The foot illustrated is classic 8-key foot, except that it also appears to start with a tuning slide!  That's three tuning slides on one flute.  What's going on?

But before we attempt to answer that, note one other interesting departure from routine Rudall & Rose practice.  Their flutes had traditionally terminated bluntly at the ring, but the end of this flute is shown protruding through the ring, with the wood then rounded off, again just like the ends of the new Siccama's and the Pratten's Perfected soon to come.

Why three slides?

One sobering suggestion is that the details of the joints, including the three slides, is a supposition by the draughtsman, who, after all, shouldn't be expected to know too much about how flutes were made.  Certainly possible, given the draughtsman clearly managed to reverse the image!  But what would the draughtsman be working from?  Surely a sketch by Rose supplied with the patent application - he would hardly have supplied a flute! 

(I should mention that the drawing and the typed application we see are not exactly those supplied by Rose or other patentees of the time.  The Patent Office engaged Messrs Eyre and Spottiswoode, "Printers to the Queen's most Excellent Majesty", to typeset, print and bind the official patent documents later.  Malby and Sons did the lithography.  This patent, lodged in 1847, was actually printed in 1856.)  

The other weakness in this argument is that there is no barrel.  Whatever he worked from, the draughtsman is unlikely to have overlooked that, one hopes!   Further evidence is that the slide arrangement which had to exist between the head and body is shown exactly the same as between the LH and RH, and between the RH and Foot.  So this flute was conceived as being different.

I'm inclined to see it as a possible development of their 8-key flute that probably never found its way into production. I imagine Rose must have been aware of what Siccama and others were up to - refashioning the simple system flute to satisfy changing needs.  Enlarging bores, reducing length, simplifying the appearance.  And in this drawing we see changes that would bring the Rudall & Rose product more in line with this new movement. For example, the modern cap and foot termination details such as we see on Siccamas and Prattens.

The retention of separate LH and RH sections is not in line with what was happening over at Siccama's, but there may be good reason for that. Perhaps Rose felt that the ability to rotate the RH forward (as per Nicholson) was still too valuable to leave out. But it also makes sense in terms of adjusting between pitches in use. The single slide (between barrel and head) is very poor.  OK for making fine adjustments to pitch as we do today.  But seriously hopeless if you were trying to span the range of pitches they dealt with in those days.  Two slides, at the two ends of a long body, would be better. But with three slides, you could cover a very wide range of pitches but still remain in very good tune throughout.

And, if you had three slides distributed along the body to coax rather than bludgeon the flute into the pitch you want, you no longer needed one very long slide.

Why didn't it happen?

We don't seem to come across examples of such flutes, so we can probably assume it never went into production.  I guess that isn't surprising.  With the new Boehm flute to build and promote, with Carte taking over the company and Rudall and Rose both leaving, and Carte's own flute designs to build and promote, the company certainly had bigger fish to fry.  Rudall Carte's 8-key flutes continued to resemble Rudall & Rose flutes until the last few years before the end of the century whereupon there was a sudden drop in length to meet the new modern pitch requirement.  Even then, they retained the distinctly "old-fashioned", Nicholson's Improved era appearance.

Rudall & Carte 8-key, No 7120
McGee-Flutes Research Collection

The factory records date this Rudall Carte 8-key at 27 February 1893, some 46 years since the Patent.  You can see it bears none of the changes proposed in the document.

A good thing?

It's possible that not adopting the Patent plan was a good thing.  Flutes made along those lines would have been a bit of a nightmare to maintain as the splitting we see around embedded metal tubes would have happened in six places!

Conical slides?

An amusing aspect of the drawing is that the slides appear to be conical, i.e. they appear to follow the taper of the bore.  A moment's thought shows that is impossible - conical slides wouldn't slide!  The mating surfaces have to be cylindrical.  The maker would have the freedom to decide about the innermost surface.

If the slide was just soldered up from sheet metal, the inside would then also be cylindrical, and would represent a distortion of the tapered bore.  Not too much of a distortion, as it turns out.  The longest slide is 32mm, and over that length, the bore should taper by about 0.6mm.  You could minimise the impact and to some extent balance out the error by making it 0.3 too small at the uphill end, and 0.3mm too big at the downhill end.  Alternatively, you could make the inside of the inner slide taper, but that's probably getting a bit obsessive.


It's hard to know what to conclude about this.  On the one hand we have the clear evidence of the drawing.  On the other we have the confusing and minimalist explanation in the document.  I'm unaware of anyone ever finding such a flute, and we see hundreds of later flutes that do not show any of these features.   Was it a statement by Rose about what he would have done if circumstances were different?  Would this be what Rose's Perfected flute would have looked like?  And if not that, what is this drawing all about?


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  Created: 14 May 2011