Clinton's Flute for India
In or around 1860, John Clinton began to offer an extraordinary new flute, specifically for use in extreme foreign climes. It's a remarkable instrument. We'll let him introduce it:
To obviate this inconvenience, Metal Flutes have lately been constructed, but owing to the complicated mechanisms necessarily employed they have been found speedily to become deranged, and consequently as unfit for use as a split Wooden Flute. This induced Messrs. CLINTON & Co, to turn their attention to the subject, and the result has proved most satisfactory. The above-named objections may be obviated by the adoption of the newly-constructed Metal Flute. This Instrument is made entirely of metal, has the six plain finger holes, and no mechanism of any kind except the ordinary eight keys, and these upon an entirely new principle (forming part of the patent).
There is only one pillar for each key. In the centre of the pillar A, a groove is cut which receives the key, the point of the spring resting upon the bottom of the groove, In that part of the key which lies between the groove of the pillar, there is a small hole B, a nut with a milled edge, and a small point in its centre C; is then screwed upon the top of the pillar, the point on the nut entering into the hole in the key; by this extremely simple means, the key is kept steady in its position, all former friction avoided, and the spring is allowed to act with the utmost freedom - added to which, its action being somewhat in the form of a swivel, the cushion of the key always falls flat upon the hole, thereby stopping it hermetical1y.
This key can be taken off and put on again in a moment with the greatest ease. The cushions being made simply of flannel, covered with kid skin, can be removed at any time, and replaced with new ones, without difficulty, by the most inexperienced persons; or all the keys may be made with Patent Valves (like the two lowest foot keys), thereby preventing the possibility of destruction by insects, - so that the new Metal Flute for India may be pronounced "everlasting."
The fingering of every note is precisely the same as the ordinary eight-keyed Flute. The new Bore, the exc1usive property of the patentee's, renders the tone very powerful, rich, easily produced, superior in quality to any other Metal Flute, and well in tune throughout. It is light and elegant in appearance, and cannot be surpassed for excellence of workmanship.
LIST OF PRICES.
|Large, small, or of medium-size Holes, in German-Silver or Brass, the Keys mounted in Pillars||10 guineas|
|Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto, Silver Electro-Plated, new Patent Key, Case & Cleanser, complete||16 guineas|
|Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto, in Sterling Silver, ditto, ditto, ditto||20 guineas|
|The above with Patent Valves to all the keys, extra||4 guineas|
CLINTON & CO. being the Sole Manufacturers and Patentees, all Orders should be sent direct to the Manufactory, 35, Percy Street, Tottenham Court Road. With Foreign Orders, a Remittance is requested, or a Reference in London.
CLINTON & Co, continue to manufacture their Patent Equisonant Flute, and every other description of Wooden Flute, as hitherto.
PRICE LISTS AND
EXPLANATIONS TO BE HAD GRATIS.
35, Percy Street,
Tottenham Court Road.
The Real Thing
Having whetted your appetite, you'll want to see the real thing. Here's one, from the Helen Valenza collection:
Extraordinary, eh? You can clearly see it's conical with a cylindrical head. Notice how the area around the embouchure has been built up in diameter to simulate the diameter of a wooden head. The same with the finger holes - little chimneys connect the bore to the elevated plates where the fingers rest. Note how the plating has been worn off through many years of use. This one is clearly of the Silver-plated Brass type at 16Gns.
Now you'll want to see inside, I guess ...
Here's the Long F key, removed for your inspection, Sahib. You can see the raised finger-hole plate, and the features Clinton talked about above - the little knurled screw with its point that fits into the hole on the top of the key, also visible. Not quite so clear is the threaded pillar, rising from the body of the flute, with the slot into which the key is dropped. The little slotted protuberance below that is where the spring bears.
Here's the same key viewed from the side:
All a bit reminiscent of an Imperial ceremonial teapot, eh what?
Righto, steady on there lads ....
While poking fun at the Raj can be mighty entertaining, there are some interesting things to be learned from Clinton's remarkable flute and his fulsome introduction to it.
Firstly, note that Clinton went for an all-metal construction. Other makers made use of ebonite, a new hard-rubber compound, for their flutes for the colonies.
Secondly, consider the effectiveness of his key suspension. The key's spring presses it up against the pin. The pin makes a single point contact in a depression in the back of the key shaft. The key cannot get away or bind. What more could you ask?
Thirdly, consider Clinton's statement on the need for the flute:
"It has long been a subject of regret, and almost an universal complaint, that amateurs of the Flute experience much inconvenience and annoyance from the fact that Wooden Flutes will not stand the climate of India - they so frequently split, and thereby become useless until sent to England to be repaired, incurring much expense in the transit to and fro, and depriving the performer of his instrument for a considerable time."
This seems to suggest that wooden flutes kept in England didn't split. Perhaps an obvious point, but vitally important. It suggests that the timbers used in flute manufacture were adequately and appropriately seasoned for contemporary use in England. It explains why, for over a hundred years, London makers kept turning out flutes to a pattern which we now recognise as fundamentally flawed (see The New Improved Tuning Slide).
But when did it become flawed? Seemingly not in Clinton's time. Flutes taken to the colonies - Australia, America, India - cracked mercilessly. But did cracking only become a problem in England with the advent of central heating?
Fourthly, what do we make of his statement on the flute's performance:
"The new Bore, the exc1usive property of the patentee's, renders the tone very powerful, rich, easily produced, superior in quality to any other Metal Flute, and well in tune throughout."
Unfortunately, I don't yet have a "Flute For India" at my disposal to analyse its playing characteristics, so you'll have to be content with a subjective assessment for the time being. It's a mighty flute, exactly as Clinton describes. Even the clear swipe at Boehm's 1847 instrument and its immediate successors: "superior in quality to any other Metal Flute" is valid if the criteria to be met include conical tone.
Thanks to Helen Valenza for making her "Flute for India" available for examination and photographing.