Henry Potter was just one of many flutemakers working in London in
the middle of the 19th century. Not as famous as Nicholson, Rudall
& Rose, Boehm or Pratten, he is often confused with the earlier but
seemingly unrelated William Henry Potter. Although Henry died on
31 August 1876, his company still continues under his name. It
moved from West St London in 1970 to the same premises as George Potter
in Aldershot. It is still going as Henry Potter & Co (drums) Ltd as it
was in 1956 when the late George Potter made both companies Limited.
Henry Potter was born in 1810
(the same year as John Clinton) into a family with a solid musical
father Samuel Potter (1772 - 1838) had enlisted in the Coldstream Guards
at the age of 14 in 1786, and eventually by 1815 had risen to the rank
of Regimental Drum Major. Samuel
completed 30 years service with the Guards and resigned from the army in
1817 to set up a workshop located in King Street, Westminster for the
purpose of making drums and wind instruments.
Samuel seems to have concentrated on instruments with a military
band connotation, such as drums, bugles, fifes, horns and trumpets. He
actually wrote several published treatises, one being a method for
playing the fife (1815) and the other being a manual for drums, fifes
and bugles (1817).
Samuel’s son Henry (1810 –
1876) presumably learned about instrument making from his father, and
continued the business after his father’s death in 1838.
By 1841 he was well established as his father’s successor, with
premises at 2 Bridge Street, Westminster.
He continued in his father’s footsteps as regards the making of
military instruments, but appears to have had a strong interest in flute
making as well. Clearly he
must have quickly built up a good reputation as a flute maker, since
otherwise it is inconceivable that John Clinton would have entrusted the
manufacture of the early Clinton-system flutes to him, in particular the
1851 Exhibition model. Henry
Potter remained in the instrument business all his life, and his company
remained active until around 1950.
Henry’s son George also
participated in the family business, relocating to Aldershot in 1859 at
which time he established his own firm of George Potter & Co.
This firm focused very much on military band instruments.
This company bought the London Potter firm (see above) in 1918
and remained active up to 2007 when it ceased trading.
Interestingly, it has not been
possible to trace any connection between the above Potter family and the
“other” famous Potter flute-making dynasty of Richard Potter (1726
– 1806), his son William Henry Potter (1760 – 1848) and his
grandson, Cipriani Potter of the 1851 Great Exhibition Jury. It thus
seems that there were two unconnected families of Potters engaged in
wind instrument production in London at the same time.
There seems to be good evidence that Henry Potter was a well respected
maker. Professor John Clinton made use of his services to develop
and build the flute which we have studied at Clinton 1851 Flute.
But here we look at a flute in Potter's own right.
A Henry Potter flute
From the Charing Cross address, this flute dates from between 1858
and c1895. It's a very standard 8-key, in the large-holed
Nicholson's style, but with the benefit of many years more refinement.
The first thing that may be apparent from the image above is that the
head (and to a lesser extent, the foot) are coloured differently from
the body. Indeed, they appear to be rosewood, while the body
appears to be cocus. The barrel is a recent replacement in
Fortunately, these differences in colour are not apparent under
normal light. The parts are all (saving the barrel) stamped Henry
Potter, so the seeming mixture of woods may have to remain a mystery.
Also unusual is the embouchure is drilled on the "plank"
cut (tangential to the tree's growth rings). Most flutes of the
period appear to be radially drilled.
So, how does it play? Very nicely. It's not the biggest
style of flute (such as the Prattens Perfected), but more like a
large-holed Rudall and Rose. That gives it a nice balance of
volume, with a hearty bottom end and a willing second octave.
Third octave is good too, and viable at least up to C''''.
Usefully, the flute works well at A440Hz, apparently without flat
foot syndrome. As we'll see, that's not quite the full story.
Examination using our "Best Pitch"
approach confirms that, while the flute is capable of reaching pitches
as high as 461, it is indeed at its best around 440 Hz.
Running through the most responsive indicators:
- low octave pitch tilt - best at 437Hz
- 2nd octave displacement - 440Hz
- low foot notes displacement - 442 Hz
- mid foot notes displacement - 444 Hz
- break note continuity - 451 Hz
These are reflected in the averaged deviations:
Note that although the flute is at its best at 440Hz, it is only
mildly compromised at high pitch (452). Has Henry Potter
deliberately produced a flute for all seasons?
Note also the unusual response of the foot notes (both graphs).
While earlier flutes showed pronounced flat foot syndrome, the Henry
Potter's foot is marginally sharp at 440, sharp at 452 and best around
442Hz. And while most flutes show a less flat C, an intermediately
flat D and very flat Eb and C#, the Potter's D is its flattest note.
Conclusion and acknowledgements
A fine late 2nd generation flute in the grand tradition of the London
makers. Effective absence of flat foot problems and flexible
tuning useful across the range of pitch in vogue would have made this a
very desirable instrument.
My thanks to flute owner, Melbourne flute player Andrew Le Blanc, for
permitting this analysis and publication.
My thanks too to flute researcher Adrian Duncan for biographical
information on Henry Potter, and to Pete Wood of Henry Potter & Co for
recent history of the company.
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