As is well known, in 1847, John
Mitchell Rose, of Rudall & Rose, submitted a patent, No. 11,853 of
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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
have been a bit of a nightmare to maintain as the splitting we see around
embedded metal tubes would have happened in six places!
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.