In a previous page we looked
at the initials and names found under the
keys of some flutes. In this page we look at numerical markings.
Our aim is to work out how the various makers used numerical markings.
Keys with Numerical Marks
Many flutes have under-key marks which may at times appear to be Roman
Numerals, at other times perhaps emblems. We may be able to deduce
the meaning of these marks once we see the range of marks in use.
(Image Terry McGee)
|Key Mark if any
|Michael Stone / Terry McGee
|F, H&L, I.N
|\/// & \\\/
|Madeleine Rowles / Terry McGee
|Rudall Carte & Co.
|XI or IX?
|Private UK Collector
|XI or IX?
Roman or just scratches?
I think it's been assumed in the past that these marks were Roman
numerals, but several already noted are not legitimate Roman numbers
(\\V, IIIV & ////)* . But if they are just scratches, what's
the numbering scheme? Let's attempt to put them into numerical
order to find out:
|Number in batch
|If scratches (but assuming V = 5 & X = 10)
|III or ///
|III or ///
|IIV or VII
|VIII or V///
|VIII, V/// or IIIV
A bit to early to see where we're going here, so more data needed.
*One reasonable explanation for illegitimate Roman numbers might be
that poorly educated 19th century flute-makers might not be expected to
be numerate in Latin.
Some flutes with keys bearing these marks also have a mark applied to
the wood of one or more pieces, leading to the suggestion that
they are batch marks, intended to ensure the right keys end up on the
right flute at final assembly. If this is so, we might expect to see
a correlation build up as more data comes in.
This is also an example of a mark that doesn't appear to be a
legitimate Roman numeral. Taken from a German 1-key flute.
The same mark appears on the ends of each joint. (Images by Terry
Hmmm, slip-up or what? The Rowles German flute above has:
\\\/ on all the keys
\/// on the wood under two of the keys, and
\/// on the end of the barrel section.
(Image by Madeleine Rowles)
This seems to cast doubt on the Roman numeral theory as \\V is not a
valid number in Latin. But is \\\/ the same as \///, or were these
keys fitted to the wrong flute? Or is it significant that the
markings are mirror images of each other?
Rudall Carte 7120 has the mark V under all the keys and
on the three body parts, apart from the Eb key, which has the mark VI
both under the keytouch and repeated on the spring. The other
foot-keys and the foot are marked V. It seems safe to assume that
an error occurred and the wrong Eb key was fitted. But wouldn't
that make for a poor fit? A small blob of soft solder applied to
the side of the key seems to have been added at some stage to correct
unwanted lateral movement. The blob is about 0.2mm thick.
Soft solder would be preferred here as applying it does not affect the
hardness of the key metal or spring.
Locations of wood markings
In the images above, the wood markings are bold and easy
to find; that's not always the case. The markings may in other
cases be nothing more than a light scratch, making them much harder to
see. Locations of wood markings so far include:
on top or bottom end of section
under a key, hidden by the shaft
beside the Bb hole
above the Long F key hinge block
on the top end of the Eb hinge block
Observations in regard to numerical markings
I've seen plenty of observations in regard to the use
and logic behind these numerical markings, and most of them have a
degree of consistency. But I wouldn't go so far as saying I
believe we have reached a perfect consensus. That is possibly
logical - we can't necessarily assume that all makers who used numerical
markings used them for the same reason or in the same way, especially as
we are dealing with a range of countries over a long period. I
thought that before we attempt to expound an overarching thesis, it
would serve us well to note some of these observations against which we
can test our theories.
As for Roman numerals, some of them are some kind of
bench mark. I have seen them used in two ways: One is numbering a flute
in a series - say you are making twelve flutes, and want to know which
one that long F key belongs to.
Another way is on the flaps of open-standing keys (low
c#, c and B) which are marked "I", "II" or "III" to let help you place
the right flap on the right hole without trying it out too much.
I started out working for oboe makers TW Howarth.
When we made keys for an instrument we would keep them in a tray
with the tip rings that would eventually be fitted to it. The tip
rings would be marked with a number (usually done by scratching
notches on the inside), these numbers corresponded to a number
stamped somewhere out of sight on the body. The keys could then be
polished and sent off for plating and re-united with their
instrument for final assembly. We marked the tip rings rather than
the keys because of the number of keys on each instrument made key
marking impractical. I suspect that some of the numbers found
on keys and bodies of old flutes are evidence of similar practices.
Under cross-examination, Dominic added:
I spent most of my time in the relatively short-lived clarinet dept (we made a great instrument that eventually
failed due to lack of marketing support). The numbers were put on
the body by the guy who drilled holes and put the pillars on, as our
output was relatively small (about 15-20 clarinets a month) we used
a simple two digit number 00-50 (? it was a long time ago) then
start at the beginning again. The numbers were filed into the rings
with a needle file eg 35 would be 3 notches, then a space then five
notches. The exact details are a bit hazy , it's been over ten years
since I had much to do with them.
Because the oboe dept had a much higher output they used a two-digit
one-letter code (I think) to prevent two identical numbers being in
the workshop at the same time. I think the oboe dept scratched the
numbers into the rings.
Thanks to Dominic and Boaz for their observations.
Thanks also to all who have supplied data and images.
Flute key marks and makers