Before Rose met Rudall

We don't seem to know much about John Mitchell Rose.  We believe he was born in 1793 or 4, possibly in Edinburgh.  Certainly he worked for the keyboard instrument makers Wood, Small & Co before coming to London in 1821 to join George Rudall and form the remarkable flute-making company Rudall & Rose.

And we do know that he made some flutes before joining Rudall, in the period 1816 to 1821, as some of these survive.  We'll take a brief look at some of them to see if we can discern the directions he was coming from.   

The flute below is in the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments and is typical 6 key classical flute as was common in the period - essentially a 4-key flute extended down to C with two more keys.  There are some unusual characteristics though:

  • the tenons all point downward - note the socket on the top of the left hand section where we normally expect to find a tenon

  • there is no metal tuning slide (invented some years earlier and in common use)

  • there is no barrel (normally needed to house the receiving end of the tuning slide)

  • the foot is integral with the right hand finger-hole section.

The flute is also big, compared say to the slender instruments being made under the Nicholson name in London at the same time.  While Nicholson's Improved heads were usually less than 27mm in outside diameter, these flutes are in the 29 to 30 region.  Similarly while the head-bore of typical London-made flutes was around 18.8mm, Rose went for around 19.6mm.

Now there are plenty of examples of flutes with reverse tenons and big heads, but I think we can narrow down Rose's influences to one name - Monzani.  And the image below will help make the point.  It shows two flutes I saw in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.  

The top flute is by Monzani, his No. 1377 and No. 31 in the EUCHMI collection.  Interestingly, they put the date as 1816-17, just the time when young John Rose is getting going as a flutemaker.

Below that we have a flute, EUCHMI No. 3533, stamped with a thistle and marked on all three pieces:


Tantalisingly, the head is also marked 1.  Could this be Rose's first flute?  We'll come back to that.

Looking then for obvious points of comparison, we find:

  • Both have no slide

  • Both have no barrel

  • Both have the top tenon reversed

  • Both have feet integral with the RH finger holes section

  • The key-work on both is very similar

  • The hinge-block for the foot keys is very similar

  • The length of the central body section is the same within 0.5mm

  • Location of the finger holes is sometimes the same but always within 1mm 

Looking for obvious differences, we find:

  • The materials are radically different, but we know that both used a similar variety of materials

  • Head and foot lengths are shorter in the Rose, but this simply suggests he was aiming at a slightly higher pitch

  • The head bore is narrower on the Monzani, but we have measured many with similar and larger-bore heads than the Rose.

Now while it would be fun to find a Monzani with precisely the same dimensions as the Rose, this is not necessary and may be impossible.  While it looks pretty likely that Rose started his career by copying a Monzani, he may well have adapted from the start to suit local needs - so we may never find the exact Monzani he copied.  Tantalisingly, there is another Monzani in the EUCHMI collection (No 1219) whose foot length is only 1mm different to the Rose, although it differs in other ways.

Now, this raises another observation - there seem to be a surprising number of Monzani and associated flutes in the Edinburgh collection - half a dozen or so.  Is it possible that Monzani had a good agent supplying flutes to the region?

Plagiarism or Good Sense?

So, assuming we're right to believe the source of Rose's inspiration to be Monzani, should this lessen our view of the man?  I think not.  Every maker has to start somewhere, and to turn your back on hundreds of years of development and try to start from scratch would have been no more attractive then than it is now.  And Monzani was a good choice - his flutes were beautifully made and sold well - well enough to attract forgers who made fakes under names like Manzane.  At least Rose used his own name!

And getting back to that number 1 on the head - is that likely to suggest this is Rose's first flute?  Probably not.  Firstly, it looks rather too nicely made to be anyone's first instrument.  Further, other Rose flutes do not appear to carry a serial number.  The more likely explanation is that this was head joint length 1, with heads of other lengths also available from Rose to tune to other pitches.  In this too he mimicked Monzani, who supplied long and short heads, even providing an extra slot in the case for their storage.

So, London, then what?

Looking at the output of Rudall & Rose in the years to follow (and many of them are pictured and described elsewhere on this website), it seems clear that the Monzani influence didn't survive the trip from Edinburgh to London.  Compare for example the kind of flute Rudall had been having made by Willis and we see it has much more in common with your average Rudall & Rose than Rose's own flutes had:

(Geo. Rudall Willis Fecit, from the McGee-Flutes Research Collection)

And yet, do we occasionally see some yearnings for those earlier days?

Take for instance this intriguing composite flute, EUCHMI No 2016.  The general form and keywork is very similar to the Bate instrument pictured at the top.  But the head stamped with a crown, and Monzani & Co, and the other two parts stamped Rudall & Rose and their 15 Piazza Covent Garden address.  All the RH/foot dimensions being within a mm of the ivory Monzani pictured above.

And maybe there's even some room for compromise, as suggested by the reverse tenon on the top joint of this flute, Rudall & Rose No 1959, 13 keys, DCM 440, from the Dayton C. Miller Collection in Washington.  I've seen other Rudall Rose flutes with the E trill key, also reverse-tenoned.  Hard to see why - there's plenty of room for the key in the normal arrangement.  Maybe done just to leave plenty of room for the maker's mark?

Rose died in Wolverhampton in 1866, unfortunately leaving no personal accounts at least to my current knowledge.  So perhaps we'll only be able to piece together the man's life by close observation of his remaining works.  Indeed, if you are aware of other flutes by Rose himself, please let us know.  I believe that the only other known extant Rose is in the Spohr collection.

That concludes this brief look at Rose before he met Rudall.  For more on Rudall before Rose 

Copyright of images

The copyright of images in this article is vested in the institutions where the instruments reside.  Images may not be used without permission.


Research for this article was carried out during my 2002 Self-Indulgent Flute-Maker's Tour.  My thanks to the curators and staff of the institutions mentioned in the article.  My thanks also to the flute players who hosted me in the relevant cities, and to the Australia Council and ACT Government for their support of the tour.

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