It would be wonderfully interesting if we had sales
figures for all the different types and makes of flutes from the heyday of
the flute in the 19th century. Unfortunately we don't - only some
makers records have survived, usually incompletely, and many makers didn't
even use serial numbers, so we can never know how many they made.
We do have some data though, and it's the purpose of this
page to present what we have, and provide a place where we can plug in any
new data. All help is encouraged and will be acknowledged.
The Data Sources
Our data comes in various ways from various sources.
Most data is limited in scope and reliability. We'll attempt to
cover these points below:
Where better to start than with the flute that started it
all - C. Nicholson's Improved. But immediately we are in trouble
with lack of information. We do know that Prowse made these flutes
for sale by Clementi, and that Clementi retired in 1831. So it seems
reasonable to assume that flutes marked Clementi were made before that,
and flutes marked T. Prowse afterwards. The serial numbers start low
and appear well distributed, and the rate of manufacture and sale
Rudall's Simple System
This curve derives from this author's Rudall
Rose or Carte Models Study. I'll use the expression "Rudalls"
to include all the variants of the company from its inception as Rudall
& Rose to its final state as Rudall Carte & Co.
The data is based on serial numbers
tracked against the many changes of address and name of the company, plus
dates on two late conical flutes kindly supplied by London based
researcher Robert Bigio.
We can regard the combined data as broadly reliable.
But before we accept that pretty curve there is an
interesting issue to be addressed - where are the first 400 or so
flutes? So far, no-one seems to have come up with a Rudall &
Rose with a serial number below 437. Big deal you say - that was a
long time ago and you have to expect a lot of flutes to have gone
missing. But when we examine the distribution curve of extant
flutes, we find we have an extraordinary coverage of the rest of the
period, but draw a complete blank before #437.
To illustrate that dramatically, I've drawn, with his kind
permission, on David Migoya's Rudall
& Rose Catalogue. Interestingly it doesn't change the facts
considerably (one more flute at each end than my own data), but the larger
number of data points between the extremes does make the point more
The green dots are the serial numbers of the 190 flutes in
David's catalogue at the time of writing - you can see that they form a
pretty straight line, attesting to the relative fullness of the
data. The minimum gap is 1 (ie there is no gap), the maximum 276,
and the average 36.7. The 12 orange dots at the start of the curve
illustrate flutes that we should have found by now, going on this average
find rate. Instead, nothing!
So what are the options? Perhaps Rudall &
started at serial number 400?
included the flutes Rudall had made with Willis?
included the flutes Rose had made in Edinburgh?
did both of these things?
didn't serial stamp the first 400 or so?
didn't label or fully label the first 400 or so?
your suggestion - please submit!
I'm a bit disinclined to the "start at 400"
suggestion, if only because the curve below makes considerably more sense
if we assume the 400 existed than if we remove them. But if there
are 400 unmarked or partially marked Rudalls out there, we may want to
look more closely at the next nice but unmarked English flute we
Indeed, it might behove us to reconsider some of the
flutes marked Rudall & Rose but that carry no address or serial
number. While some of these are patently frauds and betray this with
sub-standard workmanship and carefully misspelled names (see An Imposition against the Public),
perhaps some are from the "Missing 400".
The Rudall 8-key curve appears on the Estimated Sales
chart in navy.
Rudall's Later Systems
The dashed brown Rudall curve shows what happens if we look at
the total output of the Rudall companies - i.e. we add the output of
modern system flutes to the output of conical flutes we've already looked
at. As usual we have some good data and some areas of speculation.
Until better data comes along, we are assuming that Rudall
& Rose started making Boehm conicals in 1843 and had perhaps made
about 250 by the middle of the century when they took up the manufacture
of Boehm and other modern-style flutes.
For a figure later in the century, we asked Robert
Bigio. He advises:
that these are approximate figures. The full picture is complicated, but
this is the position in 1895:
(Boehm, 1851, 1867, Radcliff, "Old System" and a few
[This is complicated by the fact that silver and gold flutes had
been in a different sequence with letters instead of numbers, but
the sequences were merged in the 1880s.]
(simple-system): 7152 [in 1869: 6485]
This does not
include band flutes and piccolos in Eb, Bb and F or simple-system piccolos
in D. The numbering for these is complicated, but you may take it that
there were many thousands. In addition to flutes, they made clarinets and
oboes plus a full range of brass instruments. For about twenty years
they sold pianos, too, and then there was the publishing business. This
was a big outfit.
Robert will no doubt be able to give a fuller account in
his forthcoming book, but these figures will suffice to give us the broad
Clinton & Co
We don't have much to go on here and the information we
have is confusing. The company worked
only from one address and at this point we have no other data than the
company's start and end dates, and the highest serial number reported so
far. This results in a simple straight line that is not the least
likely. It is more probable that sales would take a little while to
get going and would taper off towards the end, in the manner of the Rudall
simple-system flutes curve.
Secondly, the figures seem high given the time the company
had and the number of extant flutes found so far. Note though that the
post-4513 Boosey curve rises approximately as steeply, so
the rate of manufacture is not completely out of the question. It
equates to making about 7 flutes per working week.
But a close look at the distribution curve for extant
Clinton flutes, we find an fascinating if not immediately understandable
a list of Clintons known extent flutes, and to see how we derive and
interpret the data
Extrapolating from the number of extent Clinton flutes
found so far, we come up with a significantly smaller figure which may
prove to be too conservative at just over 1 flute per week. Both
curves are given in the graph below. The real picture probably lies
The same lack of information applies to Siccama, but at least in
context sales of his flutes seem modest and therefore eminently plausible
at about 1.5 flutes per week. Perhaps what's different about
Siccama is that he appears, at least at the moment, to have offered only
one kind of flute, his 10-key Diatonic, while other makers offered at
least several and some a bewildering range.
For a list of Siccama's known
John Hudson worked for Siccama then left in 1853 to form
his own business. He started making RS Pratten's Perfected flutes;
the highest serial number so far recorded for a Hudson's Prattens being
641, which might suggest a productivity of about 3 flutes per week taken
over the period. In 1856 or 57, he and the Pratten's design were bought
out by Boosey & Co.
Boosey & Co flutes
The data which allows us to estimate Boosey's rate of
manufacture comes from Appendix E : Extant Boosey & Co Woodwinds, to
Kelly White's Mmus thesis: Woodwind Instruments of Boosey & Company,
University of Edinburgh, 2002. The data is taken from the Boosey
factory records from 1857 (flute no 4513) onwards and includes all manner of flutes -
Pratten's Perfected's, Boehm, military flutes and fifes, etc.
The company is said to have started making woodwinds in 1851 and to have started making flutes in 1856. That would seem like
a lot of flutes (about 4500) to make in one year. It seems more
likely that either:
they started making flutes in 1851 when they are said to have
started making woodwinds, or
they were having flutes made externally
but giving them their own serial numbers, or not giving them serial
numbers but keeping count
they started at a serial number around 4500 either to
look better in the market place or for some other reason we can't yet
they started at serial number around 4500 because they
were using the same serial number series for all their instruments,
and they had made about 4500 other instruments in the 5 years before
they started making flutes.
We may be able to reach some conclusion about this by examining
extent Boosey flutes with serial numbers that
predate the current stock books. At this time however, I am unaware
of any extent flutes marked Boosey & Co with serial numbers below
4500. Until this can be clarified, I'm inclined to the "start
in 1857 after making 4500 other instruments" theory.
Even if we assume the 1851 date, it sets a cracking pace for a
company that is just starting - indeed it is a higher rate of productivity
than they achieved for the rest of their history. The 1856 start
date seems totally incredible - it would mean knocking out 17 flutes per
working day (around 85 per week) in their first year! Looking at the
next 4500 flutes, a productivity of around 7 per week looks more likely.
Now the next thing to say about Boosey's is that their
flute output was in general about 75% military band flutes and fifes, and about
25% for civilian use. Given that the figures for the other makers
are predominately for concert flutes, it would be useful to be able to
compare like with like. The light blue dotted curve shows Boosey
total output, while the dark blue curve subtracts the questionable 4513 and
shows only the proportion aimed at non-military use. This
reinterpretation helps explain why so few Pratten's style instruments show
up compared to the surprising numbers of Rudall flutes still in existence.
The chart below puts all this information into context:
So what does it all tell us? Perhaps:
how little we yet know!
of the impact of Nicholson in his lifetime (the fast
rise of the orange curve and its subsequent flattening out)
how the bat then passed to Rudall & Rose, perhaps
because that company was more capable of changing with the times
how relatively insignificant were the sales of Boehm's
1832 instrument in England
that Rudalls made the right decision in shifting their
attention to modern flutes in mid century (their old-style flutes
selling fairly slowly by then)
that Siccama, Hudson and Clinton were "boutique
makers" relative to the big guys, but achieved sales rates better
than the leading "Improved" age 8-key flutemakers were doing
in the post-cylinder period. Players were looking for
that we have work to do yet to understand Clinton's
The relative rarity of extant Boosey instruments is
perhaps explained by the seemingly non-existant first 4500, and the
heavy concentration on military instruments.
Booseys remain quite an enigma - where are flutes 1 to
Ditto, Rudall's 1 to 400?
This I believe is the first time that an exercise of this
kind has been attempted and, for all the reasons outlined above, it has to
be regarded as interim. It certainly sets us some tasks to refine
and interpret the data further. If you have data that appears to
contradict any of the above, let's have it and plug it in!
Back to McGee-Flutes
Created: Dec 2003