top of page
0810 - 8-key conical 'Nicholson's Improved' flute stamped Clementi (by Thomas Prowse Sr.) #577
This is a typical 'Nicholson's Improved' flute from the first half of the period (c.1817-32) during which such flutes were made under the supervision of Thomas Prowse Sr. and distributed by Clementi & Co. It has small fingerholes - by far the most common arrangement for early Nicholson-stamped instruments - and in this case 8 keys, though equally frequently such instruments were made, as Nicholson preferred, without the long F key. This particular example also has an extra touch for Bb (r/h1) and 'salt spoon' keys for C# and C - the latter also Nicholson's personal preference. In most respects it is not significantly different - in acoustic or physical design -from a contemporary William Henry Potter flute. The differences, in reverse order of significance, are that it has decorative tuning on headjoint and barrel, is made of cocus, and has a concave outer profile to the headjoint with the narrowest point aligned with the embouchure hole. Although the embouchure hole is no larger than a Potter of the same date, it is distinctive in its shallower 'chimney'. Nicholson flutes also had very sharp embouchure edges, a feature partly enhanced by the density of the material of choice, cocus, and in later examples of Nicholson flutes often enhanced further by the addition of ivory bushings. The combination of these does alter the behaviour of the flute, making it potentially more flexible, but also more dependent on the precise qualities and geometry of the players embouchure and breath control. The innovation can therefore be seen as double-edged: it allows more flexibility, including more potential for lack of control in a less than adept player. These qualities gave the instrument something of a 'Marmite' quality when it was produced, and there was a mixed reaction among both workmen making the flute (reported by Nicholson himself) and from players, who, initially at least, stuck resolutely to the 'small-hole' model. The same qualities, positive and negative, are increased by an order of magnitude when the embouchure and/or finger holes are enlarged, and it can be seen by correlating the features of surviving Nicholson instruments against their serial numbers that it took some time to overcome the reluctance among players to adapting their technique. There was significant inertia, and some players were still ordering flutes with smaller holes well into the regime of the Hanway Street manufactory of Thomas Prowse Jr.
bottom of page