Henry Potter was just one of many flutemakers working in London in the middle of the 19th century. Not as famous as Nicholson, Rudall & Rose, Boehm or Pratten, he is often confused with the earlier but seemingly unrelated William Henry Potter. Although Henry died on 31 August 1876, his company continued under his name until 1950.
Henry Potter was born in 1810
(the same year as John Clinton) into a family with a solid musical
father Samuel Potter (1772 - 1838) had enlisted in the Coldstream Guards
at the age of 14 in 1786, and eventually by 1815 had risen to the rank
of Regimental Drum Major. Samuel
completed 30 years service with the Guards and resigned from the army in
1817 to set up a workshop located in King Street, Westminster for the
purpose of making drums and wind instruments.
Samuel seems to have concentrated on instruments with a military
band connotation, such as drums, bugles, fifes, horns and trumpets. He
actually wrote several published treatises, one being a method for
playing the fife (1815) and the other being a manual for drums, fifes
and bugles (1817).
Samuel’s son Henry (1810 –
1876) presumably learned about instrument making from his father, and
continued the business after his father’s death in 1838.
By 1841 he was well established as his father’s successor, with
premises at 2 Bridge Street, Westminster.
He continued in his father’s footsteps as regards the making of
military instruments, but appears to have had a strong interest in flute
making as well. Clearly he
must have quickly built up a good reputation as a flute maker, since
otherwise it is inconceivable that John Clinton would have entrusted the
manufacture of the early Clinton-system flutes to him, in particular the
1851 Exhibition model. Henry
Potter remained in the instrument business all his life, and his company
remained active until around 1950.
Henry’s son George also
participated in the family business, relocating to Aldershot in 1859 at
which time he established his own firm of George Potter & Co.
This firm focused very much on military band instruments.
This company bought the London Potter firm (see above) in 1918
and remained active into the late 1930’s.
Interestingly, it has not been possible to trace any connection between the above Potter family and the “other” famous Potter flute-making dynasty of Richard Potter (1726 – 1806), his son William Henry Potter (1760 – 1848) and his grandson, Cipriani Potter of the 1851 Great Exhibition Jury. It thus seems that there were two unconnected families of Potters engaged in wind instrument production in London at the same time.
There seems to be good evidence that Henry Potter was a well respected maker. Professor John Clinton made use of his services to develop and build the flute which we have studied at Clinton 1851 Flute. But here we look at a flute in Potter's own right.
From the Charing Cross address, this flute dates from between 1858 and c1895. It's a very standard 8-key, in the large-holed Nicholson's style, but with the benefit of many years more refinement.
The first thing that may be apparent from the image above is that the head (and to a lesser extent, the foot) are coloured differently from the body. Indeed, they appear to be rosewood, while the body appears to be cocus. The barrel is a recent replacement in blackwood.
Fortunately, these differences in colour are not apparent under normal light. The parts are all (saving the barrel) stamped Henry Potter, so the seeming mixture of woods may have to remain a mystery.
Also unusual is the embouchure is drilled on the "plank" cut (tangential to the tree's growth rings). Most flutes of the period appear to be radially drilled.
So, how does it play? Very nicely. It's not the biggest style of flute (such as the Prattens Perfected), but more like a large-holed Rudall and Rose. That gives it a nice balance of volume, with a hearty bottom end and a willing second octave. Third octave is good too, and viable at least up to C''''.
Usefully, the flute works well at A440Hz, apparently without flat foot syndrome. As we'll see, that's not quite the full story.
Examination using our "Best Pitch" approach confirms that, while the flute is capable of reaching pitches as high as 461, it is indeed at its best around 440 Hz.
Running through the most responsive indicators:
These are reflected in the averaged deviations:
Note that although the flute is at its best at 440Hz, it is only mildly compromised at high pitch (452). Has Henry Potter deliberately produced a flute for all seasons?
Note also the unusual response of the foot notes (both graphs). While earlier flutes showed pronounced flat foot syndrome, the Henry Potter's foot is marginally sharp at 440, sharp at 452 and best around 442Hz. And while most flutes show a less flat C, an intermediately flat D and very flat Eb and C#, the Potter's D is its flattest note.
Conclusion and acknowledgements
A fine late 2nd generation flute in the grand tradition of the London makers. Effective absence of flat foot problems and flexible tuning useful across the range of pitch in vogue would have made this a very desirable instrument.
My thanks to flute owner, Melbourne flute player Andrew Le Blanc, for permitting this analysis and publication.
My thanks too to flute researcher Adrian Duncan for biographical information on Henry Potter.
More to come