0803 - 7-key conical flute by William Henry Potter
This flute was bought as part of my project to investigate the immense commercial success of the Potter family's flute-making business, particularly in view of recent published comment that their flutes were neither significant nor well-made. It seemed to me inconceivable that a manufactory which dominated the London flute market for at least 45 years, made its owner a multimillionaire (in contemporary economic terms), fundamentally influenced the design of instruments which remained popular in the Austro-Hungarian empire for a further 50 years, and whose name was a synonym for the instrument in much the manner of Hoover with vacuum cleaners a century later, could have made sub-standard or unreliable products. This flute provided the first inkling that such assessments were wrong. In near-perfect condition, in its original case, and so little used that the varnished finish with which all Potter flutes left the factory is almost entirely intact, it provided evidence - subject to the unavoidable but in this case minor temporal effects on the boxwood - of how such instruments might originally have performed. The flute speaks enthusiastically and effortlessly from bottom C to top A, with sufficient flexibility of voicing that it can be played successfully turned out with a proto-Boehm embouchure, in which circumstances it produces a clean, reliable 'classical' voice, or turned in slightly, which enhances a more veiled, intimate sound which looks 'backwards' historically to older instruments. The fingerholes are still small enough that many cross fingerings work, but the keys provide more uniform and stable tone when necessary, so the flute is maximally flexible (and forgiving) in this regard. The finger holes are axially slightly displaced with respect to the bore on each joint, for playing comfort - an innovation often also evident on father Richard Potter's instruments which prefigures the 'offset G' on modern Boehm flutes. The pewter plugs work flawlessly, and the flute can be resonant and lyrical or cleanly articulate at will. The ubiquity of Potter flutes may have made them less interesting to collectors and antiquarians in the twentieth century, but their ubiquity in the early nineteenth century, when they were of above average price, was for the very simple reason that they could do almost anything that most flute players required of them, and did so reliably and well. Their longevity and survival indicates that for many players they continued to do so for a very long time.