Siccama's 1845 Patent application has been criticised harshly by
Rockstro and more recent writers on the grounds that it was for four
instruments, only one of which ever came to anything. As I
you'll see, this was mischievously disingenuous of Rockstro, and going
along with it less than rigorous on behalf of his
I think we'll find that Siccama's patent was more in the way of an
"omnibus" protection document - Siccama had a range of ideas he thought
had merit and cobbled them all into this application. Is that
evidence that all of the described instruments were ever intended
for manufacture? I think not. So what unites this
full of notions? Unfortunately Siccama does not make that
and perhaps nobody has thought to look. So, I'll hazard my
and you can see if it holds water.
The unifying theme
I'd say the unifying theme is "Big holes, well placed, and how to cover
them". Up to then the English had been playing medium to
hole 8-key flutes derived from Nicholson's Improved flute.
had come up with his conical ring-key concept in London in 1831 and
improved it in 1832, but it hadn't caught on. There was
interest in it in 1843 when Rudall & Rose started manufacturing
it. But with the narrow bore and medium sized holes it still
couldn't compete with a typical English 8-key in power, even though it
ran rings around them in tuning, tone and uniformity. The
the instrument and its change to fingering were also roundly criticised
time. So it must have been on many minds that the way forward
to combine the best features and reject the worst features of
both. It shouldn't take long to come up with a list of
from the conical Boehm:
- uniform size of holes
- for uniformity of response and tone
- proper location of
holes, for good tuning
- comfortable reach, for
ease of playing
We can visualise Siccama as one of many contemplating the issues,
scribbling ideas in the margins of the Musical Times. Ideas
be conceived, developed, rejected, modified, culled, and finally a
short list would emerge. If any of the ideas looked really
promising, a wise man
would seek to patent them to prevent others profiting from his
work. If you're going to patent the best of your ideas, you
as well throw the second-best in too.
So, I'd say we're looking at the culmination of Siccama's feasibility
investigation - a number of ways that a common set of holes could be
controlled to achieve as many of the goals listed above as
possible. So in examining his patent we can glimpse more than
four flutes and more than a bunch of ideas. We're seeing what
been going through Siccama's mind in the year or so leading up to the
patent application: how can 8 fingers and 2 thumbs control 11
In looking at the patent, we'll leave out a lot of the traditional
patent formalities ("To all
to whom these presents shall come ...." etc.) and get
down to the business bit.
The drawings appended to the patent document are absolutely huge - like
- and will not reproduce adequately on screen. Consequently,
represent them as schematic drawings similar to those seen elsewhere on
this web page. Wherever Siccama refers to a point in the
a reference number, the new drawings include that point.
You'll probably find the original text a bit less than riveting -- you
have to remember that a patent document is not promotional flummery but
more of a legal document guarding against the possibility of someone
snitching his intellectual property before he has a chance to take the
benefit of it. And Siccama was a professor of languages, so
can expect that to supervene a stratum of formality, to which they are
no-doubt predisposed in Oxford. So I'll interpose comments as
see fit to try to make the document more comprehensible - anything from
me will be [in square brackets] or otherwise marked.
is the part of a patent
application in which the matters to be protected are to be set
out. We note that it is an omnibus-full of matters, rather
My Invention relates, first, to closing the A natural and the lower E
note each with a key, for the purpose of enabling me to enlarge those
holes to correspond with the other holes, the fingering for those notes
remaining the same, or nearly so, as in the ordinary flute, the third
finger of the left hand acting upon the key of the A natural, and the
third finger of the right hand upon the key of the lower E natural; and
also a mode of operating on the lower E hole by means of a key put in
motion by the thumb of the left hand.
Secondly my Invention relates to modes of connecting certain keys, so
that by operating upon one, another may be operated upon at the same
time; and this mode of acting on keys is applicable to other
instruments having similar keys.
Thirdly, my Invention relates to the application of a key to the C
sharp hole; also to the application of an additional C sharp hole and
key capable of being operated upon by the thumb of the left hand.
Fourthly, my Invention relates to so arranging the parts of a flute,
that in closing the B natural hole, or operating on the E natural hole
(which has a long key operated upon by the thumb of the left hand) the
C natural hole will be closed; or the C natural hole may be closed
separately by a lever acted upon by the thumb of the left hand, and
that the G sharp hole may be closed by closing either the G natural,
the F sharp, the F natural holes, or by a separate lever.
Fifthly, my Invention relates to the so arranging the parts of a flute,
clarionet, hautboy, and flageolet, that a clear succession of notes
according to the chromatic scale may be produced by the aid of only one
"a closed key."
But in order that my Invention may be better understood and readily
carried into effect, I will proceed to describe the Drawings hereunto
Fiendish Plan No. 1 -
the Diatonic Flute
is a flute that Siccama
certainly intended for and went on to manufacture, and is the one now
associated with his name. It is the topic of several papers
Figure 1 represents a flute arranged according to my Invention; Figure
2 shows the surface of part of the flute from b to c, Figure 1, as
though it were a plain surface and without the keys. And I would
remark, that in this case, although the size and position of some of
the holes is varied from the ordinary flute, the fingering as regards
the points acted on to produce the respective notes remain the same, or
nearly so, so that a person accustomed to use ordinary flutes will at
once be able to use one constructed according to this part of my
The extended E mechanism
It will be seen that, instead of the small hole usually formed in keyed
flutes for the production of the lower E natural [at extreme right in
image above], which note in such flutes is always too weak, I have by
bringing this hole nearer to the D sharp key or foot of the instrument
obtained a hole of larger dimensions than has heretofore been obtained
when using the same fingering, and which is more equally distanced with
respect to the other holes.
The hole (E) has applied to it an open valve or key (1), which by an
arm is affixed to the axis (2), the axis (2) having an arm (3), by
pressing which the valve (1) is closed over the E natural hole, there
being a spring (4) [under the arm 3], which has a tendency to keep the
valve (1) raised, except when the arm (3) is pressed upon.
The Short F mechanism
The valve (5) of the hole F natural is connected by an arm to another
axis (6), that axis having an arm (7), by pressing on which opens the
valve (5) of the hole, producing the F natural, there being a spring
(8) under the arm (7), with a tendency at all times to keep that arm
raised and the valve (5) closed.
that because of the
relocation of the G and F# holes, and the provision of a remote touch
for the E hole, the F natural hole no longer can be simply brought
around to the top via the usual Short F key, but needs a longitudinal
translation, in the form here of the axle 6.]
I would remark, that although I prefer the arrangement of valves here
shown and described, I do not confine myself thereto [for the purposes
of the protection of this application] so long as I am
enabled to retain the ordinary fingering in using the instrument, and
at the same time have the holes of increased size and more equally
distanced; and, by this arrangement of the hole E natural I am enabled
to bring the F sharp and G natural holes nearer together, and to have
the E natural, F natural, F sharp, and G natural holes of the same or
nearly the same size, and the same intonation or equality of tone will
be produced in those notes. The G sharp hole is also placed so as to
regularly succeed in distance those already described, and to be of the
same or nearly the same dimensions as shown.
is an extraordinarily
important point overlooked (perhaps intentionally) by previous
writers. Just moving the delinquent A and E holes to where
should be acoustically would have been a "good enough" outcome, but
Siccama didn't stop there. He took advantage of the new
granted him by the decision to re-site holes 3 and 6 to also shuffle
the other holes into better places.
This point becomes more clear when we remember that all of the holes on
the 8-key flute are separated by 2 semitones in pitch, with the
exception of holes 4 and 5 (fingers R1 and R2) which are just one
semitone apart. Yet, when we look at an 8-key flute this is
achieved, because we simply cannot put up with fingers 2 and 3 being
separated by twice the distance of fingers 1 and 2.
glance at the schematic above reveals how this acoustical desideratum
can be reconciled with a physical necessity. The
R1-R2 and R2-R3 are approximately equal (and significantly less than on
an 8-key), but the distance F#-E is double the distance G-F#.
The Extended A mechanism
In the ordinary flute the hole producing the A natural note is always
too weak in comparison with the other notes. This is occasioned by the
difficulty or almost impossibility of stretching the third finger of
the left hand far enough to cover a larger hole placed further from the
head of the instrument. The hole is therefore in such
necessarily left small, to render it in tune or proper pitch with the
other notes or intervals. This defect I have obviated by employing a
valve 9 on a lever, as shown, by pressing on the end of which the valve
will be closed. This lever turns upon the axis (11), and is constantly
borne upwards by a spring (12), By this arrangement the hole for the
note A natural may be at such distance and of such size as may produce
the best quality of tone.
you'll notice that in the
drawing, the extension to the E finger has been achieved using a
longitudinal rod & axle system, while the similar extension to
A finger employs a centrally-located block-mounted key. This
another indicator of the "omnibus" nature of this application - Siccama
is hardly going to manufacture a flute employing such a peculiar
methods (and certainly didn't go on to). He was simply
the possibilities, and asserting his right to the concepts,
independently of how they might be implemented.
In acknowledging this though, let us not miss two interesting
points. In the upper situation, note that the A key is
implemented with a "second order lever" - force, load, fulcrum - where
Siccama's actual production models involved "third order levers" -
fulcrum, force, load. Perhaps he was just keeping his options
open, or perhaps he hadn't yet come to any conclusion as to which
system would give the most efficacious mechanical advantage.
the lower case, the longitudinal rod & axle system offers no
mechanical advantage either way. Of interest though, it is
arranged on what we would now consider the wrong side. He
one of the drawbacks of this at the end of the next paragraph.]
Note.- The B flat, B natural, C natural (with long key or shake), and C
sharp, are similarly arranged in this as in the ordinary flute. The G
sharp, and B natural holes, which have now closed keys, may when
desired have open keys applied to them; and the usual long F key may be
applied by reversing the position of the small F key.
doubt whether Siccama really
means B natural in the passage above, as it doesn't have a closed
key. It's possible that a typo was introduced when the
was set up for printing in 1857.]
Our conclusions on the
A very successful implementation. Because it is essentially
8-key, it automatically incorporates the 8-key features.
Extending fingers 3 and 6 enable it to achieve Boehm's features
too. No wonder it went on to become the big seller it
was. If we take the 8-key as standard, it is a little more
complicated (10 keys rather than 8). Even so, a score of 6
out of 7.
Fiendish Plan No. 2 - a
key-assisted chromatic flute
[Note: Siccama gives no name for this arrangement.]
Figures 3 and 4 show the part from b to c of another arrangement of
flute according to my Invention. The parts from a to b and from c to d
of Figure 1 are suitable to be applied to this.
other words, he's showing us a different body, but the usual style of
head and foot would work
The hole for the production of the lower E is similarly placed as in
the Figure already described [i.e. optimally], but it has applied to it
a closed valve (13) at the end of the lever (14), which turns upon the
axis (15), and the valve (13) is raised by the thumb of the left hand
pressing on the end (16) of the lever (14), there being a spring (17),
which has a tendency at all times to keep that end raised.
Depressing the end (16) of the lever 14 [also] closes the valve 18 over
the C natural hole, there being a short lever 19 placed between the
lever 14 and the lever 20. On one end of this lever 20 the valve 18 is
affixed. The short lever 19 turns upon an axis 21, with one end under
the lever 14, and the other under the lever 20, as shown.
The valve 18 has a tendency at all times to remain open by the spring
22; and when I desire to close the valve 18 over the C natural hole
(without opening the hole E natural by depressing the
end of the lever 14) I can do so by means of the lever 23 of the valve
24, the lever 23 having two projections 25, 25, at right angles
thereto, which are supported in bearings 26, 26, forming the axis of
the lever 23, as shown. The one end of the lever 23 passes under the
lever 27, which is bent out of the way for that purpose, so as to come
under and be capable of raising the end of the lever 20, and thereby
close the valve 18.
27a is a valve at the end of the lever 27, which is constantly closed
by the spring 27b, and it is raised so as to open that hole by the
first finger of the right hand; 28 is a valve on the end of the lever
29, closing an extra hole, by which I can produce an additional C sharp
note when desired, according to the third part of my Invention. This
valve is closed by a spring 30, and raised by the thumb pressing on the
end 31 of the lever 29, which turns on an axis 32.
Our Conclusions on the
Siccama seems to have made a conscious decision to give the three
strongest fingers of each hand to three adjacent semitones, thus
definitely scoring on convenience of reach but wiping out on retention
of the old fingering. And note that L4 doesn't even get
used. Marginally more complex than the 8-key - same number of
keys but two of them interact. So a formal score of 5 out of
7, although given the outcry over the minor change in fingering
introduced by Boehm, the radical rearrangement shown probably
constituted a knock-out blow.
Fiendish Plan No 3 - A
ring key chromatic flute
Siccama gives no name for
Figure 5 and 6 show part of a flute arranged according to the fourth
part of my Invention, and I have in this, as in the last-described
instrument, shown only that part to which the Invention applies, the
parts a, b, and c, d, of Figure 1 being suitable to be applied to this,
as is well understood
in the case above, he's only
showing the body, the foot and head being normal.]
In this case the lower E is covered by a valve 33 on the long lever 34,
the valve having a tendency to keep closed by the spring 35, and being
raised by the thumb of the left hand pressing on the end 36 of the
But although I prefer the parts of the flute to be arranged so that the
E natural hole is closed except when operated upon by the thumb of the
left hand, they might be so arranged, as that, in pressing on the long
lever 34 by the thumb of the left hand, the lower E hole
his options open! The omnibus rides again.]
The right-hand mechanism
37 is a valve over the G sharp hole; this valve is kept open by the
spring 38 except when closed by the fingering, and it is affixed by an
arm to the axis 39, which turns in the bearings 40, 40.
41, 42, 42x are rings affixed to and forming arms on the axis 39, so
placed as that when the first finger of the right hand closes the G
natural hole, or the second finger of the right hand closes the F sharp
hole, or the third finger of the right hand closes the F natural hole,
one or the other of those rings will be depressed, closing the valve 37.
The valve 37 may [alternatively] be closed by either the second or the
third finger of the right hand pressing upon the arm 43 on the axis 39.
The C natural hole is closed in a similar manner by a valve 44, affixed
to the axis 45, with a tendency to remain open by means of the spring
The left-hand mechanism
To the axis 45 is affixed the ring arm 47, which is arranged over the B
natural hole, so that when the second finger of the left hand closes
the B natural hole, the ring 47 will be depressed and the valve 44
closed [producing the note C].
The first finger of the left hand may be used to close the C sharp hole.
It will be seen that there is a lever 48 with projections on each side,
forming the axis, supported in the bearings 49, 49. This lever is so
arranged as that one end passes under a short arm 45x on the axis 45,
and when the end 48x of that lever 48 is depressed it will close the
valve 44; and the long lever 34 is arranged so that by depressing the
end 36 of that lever the lever 48 may also be depressed, or the levers
48 and 35 may be independent of each other.
permits the left thumb to
open the low E key, or close the upper c key]
And this arrangement of the keys is applicable to other instruments
having similar keys.
Our Conclusions on the
Another flute with an unusual fingering - not quite as radical as the
predecessor, but still radical enough to create panic in the market
place. And more demands on the left hand, so I'd be looking
at a score of less than 5 here too.
The Chromatic Flute
identified in this document
by Siccama as his "Chromatic Flute", but readily identifiable by its
drawing and description.]
Figures 7 and 8 show a flute arranged according to the fifth part of my
Invention. The signs on the holes indicate the notes which they are
intended to represent; and it will be seen by reference to the Drawing
that by this arrangement of flute I am enabled to obtain a succession
of notes according to the chromatic scale, which I have found to be
clear and full with the aid only of one key. The valve is kept closed
over the hole producing the note C natural by the spring 51, and is
relieved by the first finger of the right hand, and the G natural hole
is acted upon by the thumb of the right hand, and if desired an open
key may be applied thereto and acted upon by the thumb of the right
hand. The C sharp hole is closed by the thumb of the left hand.
This arrangement of parts is equally applicable to the hautboy,
clarionet, and flageolet, and a workman accustomed to this class of
wind musical instruments will readily make those variations which are
consequent on a different form of instrument, and a foot with keys may
be applied to a flute arranged according to this part of the Invention
Our Conclusion on the
Achieving a keyless chromatic flute has been a long-term dream of
flutemakers, and rightly so - nothing provides the same intimacy of
control as a naked finger over a simple hole. Unfortunately,
neither mathematics or physics are on our side - we don't have enough
fingers to go round and they don't have enough stretch to achieve the
job without pain. I think it is fair to say that no keyless
chromatics have ever achieved what we need to achieve in a practical
In this flute, Siccama has conceded on the maths and gone with a key,
rather than to take Giorgi's approach to use the side of the hand as a
surrogate appendage. But he has employed all 8 fingers and 2
thumbs, achieving the needed 11 control points with the familiar R1 key
for C. So he definitely loses on stretch and standard
fingering, while picking up on minimal complexity. Again the
score must be well below 5.
But hey, fair's fair!
It could fairly be argued that a 1-key flute like this should really be
compared with the earlier 1-key baroque flute. In that
competition, Siccama's flute would win hands down on power, tuning and
uniformity and draw on complexity. It would be a very
different instrument, sounding like a big Siccama flute and not a
gentle baroque flute.
The imponderable is how well players could come to grips with the new
fingering pattern - a matter which perhaps need to be put to practical
test rather than left to applied ignorance. At this time we
know of none having been made.
Having thus described the nature of my Invention, I would have it
understood that I do not confine myself to the precise details, so long
as the peculiar character of either part of my Invention be retained;
but what I claim is:
- First, the closing the
E natural, also A natural holes each
with a key, by which I am enabled to enlarge those holes, as herein
- I claim the operating
upon the lower E natural hole by a
key acted upon by the thumb, as herein described.
- Secondly, I claim the
modes of operating upon one key by
means of another, as described in respect of Figure 3, such improvement
being applicable, as herein mentioned, to other wind musical
instruments where similar keys are used.
- Thirdly, I claim the
applying an additional C sharp key, as
described in respect to Figure 3.
- Fourthly, I claim the
modes of connecting the keys of a
flute and other wind instruments having similar keys, as herein
described in respect to Figures 5 and 6.
- Fifthly, I claim the
arranging the parts of a flute,
applicable also to a hautboy, clarionet, and flageolet, as herein
described in respect to Figures 7 and 8.
- Also I claim the
applying the hole G natural so as to be
acted upon by the thumb of the right hand, and the applying the C sharp
hole so as to be acted upon by the thumb of the left hand, applicable
to the aforesaid instruments.
a restatement of the individual issues that are the subject of the
application, and no indication that Siccama was thinking of four
In witness whereof, I, the said Abel Siccama, have hereunto set my hand
and seal, this Thirteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord One
thousand eight hundred and forty-five.
ABEL (L.S.) SICCAMA.
Our scoring suggests that the Diatonic flute is well ahead of the rest
of the four instruments shown in the document, and that certainly
tallies with the history. As is shown elsewhere in our
section on Siccama, the Diatonic proved massively popular and was
Pratten's easy jumping-off point for his range of Perfected
flutes. It might be disappointing that it didn't reach a
perfect score of 7 out of 7, but no flute before or since has
either. The 8-key scores only 4, Boehm's conical only
3. Boehm's later cylindrical would score a 5, and Pratten's
later multi-key flutes no better than Siccama at 6. I think
Siccama could be happy with that result.
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Created 18 April 2009