Extant Pratten's Perfected Flutes



What was so perfect about the Pratten's Perfected?  And were all Pratten's Perfected's equally perfect? The only way to really find out is to examine lots of them, and that's not so easy - there are not that many of them in public collections.  Even that fact raises interesting questions.  So the purpose of this page is to invite owners of flutes marked Pratten's Perfected to contribute information for the purpose of comparison.  As you'll see, my invitation has not fallen on deaf ears....

Two Makers!

That's right, there were two makers of the R.S. Pratten's Perfected flute.  John Hudson started them off in 1852, and Boosey & Co snapped them up in 1857.  So that obviously invites another point of comparison - did the design change at the time of takeover?

How many flutes are we looking for?

John Hudson made at least 641 flutes, probably mostly marked Prattens Perfected, in the four years between 1853 and 1857 that he was out on his own.  We already have a list of his extant flutes on the page linked.

So, on this page, we are concerned with listing Pratten's Perfected flutes made by Boosey & Co.  Boosey, as the graph below shows, made about 23,000 flutes up to 1930, although most of these were for military use. 

I don't yet have access to their full factory records, but I do have a copy of Kelly White's thesis "Woodwind Instruments of Boosey & Company" which she was working on when I met her at the Edinburgh University collection in 2002.  The graph above is informed largely from records of extant flutes appended to Kelly's thesis.  Sales of flutes in the 19th century gives some further information about the Boosey figures.

Kelly includes a summary of the numbers of each types of flutes recorded, which I've further analysed to show the following:

Boosey's Conical concert flutes

  • 6-keys - 5, all cocus

  • 8-keys - 484 in cocus, 24 in ebonite, a total of 508

  • 9-keys - 7 in cocus, 3 in ebonite, a total of 10

  • 10-keys - 1 in cocus, 2 in ebonite, a total of 3

  • 11-keys - just 2, in cocus

  • 12-keys - 1 cocus

  • 13-keys - 3 cocus, 1 ebonite, total 4

  • 14-keys - 1 cocus

  • Siccama - 4 cocus, 7 ebonite, total of 11.

(Note that the 10-key flutes were probably Siccamas too.)

So that makes a grand total of 508 cocus flutes, 37 ebonite, making up 545 conical flutes.

Boosey's Cylinder concert flutes

  • 8-keys - 109 in cocus, 187 in ebonite, a total of 296

  • 9-keys - 4 in cocus, 5 in ebonite, a total of 9

  • 12-keys - 17 cocus

  • 13-keys - 7 cocus

  • 14-keys - 1 cocus

And so a grand total of 138 cocus, 192 ebonite, a total of 330 cylinder flutes

It's not that many flutes is it?  Now that might make us suspicious, and I can see a few places where we might be coming unstuck.  Firstly the total number of flutes in Kelly's summary appears to be only about half of the highest serial number indicated.  There could be many reasons for that, the most likely being that they ran one serial number sequence for all of their instruments, including clarinets, oboes, etc. Secondly, I might be misreading some of the descriptions.  I should mention in this light that I'm forced to make a lot of assumptions - e.g. that a flute simply listed as "concert flute cocus" is likely to be an 8-key (they seem to specify anything else).  One disturbing observation is this.  If flutes started 5 years later than other woodwinds, why are the clarinet numbers in the graph above always later than similar flute numbers.   And why have we found no woodwinds below about #4500?  The answer might lie in vast numbers of brass instruments the company made.

It's interesting to note that the name Pratten's Perfected doesn't show up much in the factory records - to the boys out there they were just "concert flute, n keys, cone/cyl, cocus/ebonite". Occasionally also H.P., F.P. or I.P. (high pitch, French pitch, international pitch, and 8g.s.k.k (8 German Silver Keys on Knobs).  Plus a few odd letters sometimes that I haven't been able to decipher, eg N.M. and N.Y.  I wondered if N.M. meant Not Marked (ie the makers mark left off to enable a dealer to affix theirs).  Or "New Metal" - a stainless steel variant?  But N.Y.?  They did have a New York branch, and Boosey instruments were handled in NY for a period by Pond & Co.

What really stands out is the relatively vast numbers of military band flutes (in Bb, Eb, and F) they made.  The British army was big business, and the period we are interested in is smack bang in the middle of "Britain's Imperial Century".

Broad conclusions from the records

Even if the records are confusing and incomplete, we can probably safely accept that:

  • there were not that many Pratten's Perfecteds made (say, compared to over 7000 Rudalls).  This is perhaps not surprising, as the flute was designed after Boehm released his cylindrical flute.  Purchasers were probably either conservative or students.  It also fits well with the number of Prattens we see in museums and private hands being well less than the number of Rudalls.

  • among the conical, almost 90% were cocus 8-keys, the next biggest grouping (4.4%) being ebonite 8-keys. 

  • among the cylindrical, 58% were made of ebonite. 

  • 90% of the cylinder flutes were 8-keys; the next grouping at 5% were 12-keys.

  • Multi-keyed Pratten flutes, conical or cylindrical, were pretty small business, amounting to about 60 all up

  • The broad range of types made suggests that the construction process was pretty simple and depended on the flexibility of good craftsmen.  It does not demonstrate the necessary rigidity of a production line approach.


Before we start looking at extant Boosey Pratten's Perfected flutes, let's all make sure we're talking the same language:

  • Speaking or Sounding length - the distance from the centre of the embouchure to the end of the foot with the slide fully compressed

  • C#-D# Length - a measurement indicator of my own devising that tells us a lot about the scale of the instrument, see C# to Eb - a more useful indicator of flute pitch? for an illustration of which points to measure between.

  • No of keys - normally the number of pads, but given as pads/touches if different.

  • Key Mounts - Block, Post or Mixture

  • Key type - One piece, "Hudson" type, Rod & axle, Additional and Full. 

    Keys similar to those on 8-key flutes are noted as One-piece.    Hudson keys consist of a shaft and a cup which screws into a hub on the far end. Some employed Rod & axle style keys. Some later Siccama-based flutes had Additional keywork (ie more holes were covered with keys than just L3 and R3), and some (F) had keys on every hole.

  • Metal - Sterling silver (tarnishes black), Nickel Silver (tarnishes green/yellow), Brass (ditto).

  • Init?  Do Robert Sidney Pratten's initials - a very floral RSP - appear at the top of the main makers mark block?  What does the existence of the initials on a flute imply?

Extant Conical Concert Flutes by Boosey & Co

Data recorded in museums or provided by owners.

hello there! yeah sure here's the information: the writing at the top says Boosey and sons London 4865 (serial number) and on the small connecting part it says R.S Pratterns Perfected
The measurements are: the sounding length is 590mm and the c#-d# length is 250mm,

No of keys Key
Metal Foot length Year Init? Collection & Cat No
4646 577.2 256? 8 B O S 143     DCM 439
4675 575   10? P R S? 132 1857 Yes Royal College of Music, London. 
RCM 326 Fl 31
4865 590 250 14 P R S?   1857?   Ebay, Jan 2013
4913 574 245 8 B O B 132   No Theodore Ceplina
6103 571 237 15/14 P   S 125 1860? No Robert Bigio
6274 574 247 8 B O N 131.5   Yes John MacLeod
6943     8 B   N   1861 Yes Sven Heinrich
7008 573 245 8? B   S 132 1862? Yes Dave Ogden
7106 576 246 8 P H S 132.6   Yes Jan Crisanti
7305     14 M O N     Yes Bate Collection
7443     8 B   N       Private Owner, UK
7446 572 247 8 B   N 132 1964 Yes Dave Ogden
7676 574 245 8 B O N   1865 Yes Larry Mallette
8626 574 245.5 8 B O N 132 1871? No McGee Flutes
Research Collection
10161 571 247 8 P   S 133 1875? No Dave Ogden
10432 573 247 8 B   N 142 1877? No Dave Ogden
11081 572 248 8 P O N 133 1879? No Dave Ogden
19334 573 244.5 8 P O N 134 1910? No Kevin the flute


Even with only this amount of data in, it appears that there is great uniformity in dimensions, and therefore probably in tuning, among Pratten's Perfected flutes, confirming the informal view generally held.  After all, how many variations on perfect can we expect?  But that's not to say there are not special versions out there somewhere.  Only time and more data will tell.

Dating information is taken from certificates in original cases, or from the workshop records as available.  A question mark implies the date has been estimated, probably from the graph further up.

A number of flutes exhibit certificate dates different from their workshop record dates.  This suggests that the certificates were probably signed and dated in batches, rather than individually tested and approved by Mr Pratten as the certificate claims!

It's starting to look like Boosey's dropped Pratten's floral initials (but not the full listing of his name) upon his death in 1868.  Note also that the flute attributed to C. Boosé (4913) also is not initialled.

4646.  Foot length is 143, Embouchure centre to end of body 87, compared to most others at around 132 & 96 respectively.  This combination yields a similar sounding length, but must have implications for tuning.  C#-D# length appears to be around 256mm, dramatically more than later instruments, and in the general range of Improved era flutes.

4675 has a (broken) LH thumb C-key plus upper D trill key, which might qualify it as being a 9 or 10-key, depending if you are counting pads or keys!  We'll need to confirm how Boosey's naming policy worked.

7446 is so far the highest number reported as Boosey & Sons; 7676 lists Boosey & Co.

My # 8626 is from Holles St, whereas 10161 is Regents St.  We can probably narrow down that change of address as we go.

No 11081 is so far the highest number Boosey & Co flute number titled Pratten's Perfected.

No 19334 is a later Boosey & Co flute, not marked Pratten's Perfected.  I'll mark such flutes in green.  We'll look at the question of whether they are still Pratten's Perfected further down...

Some examples of Conical Boosey Prattens

I'm not going to show images of every Boosey Prattens still around, but I'll try to show unusual features.  Which means if you think yours has noteworthy features that I haven't illustrated, send me an image!

Here's a sight you (hopefully) won't see often - a Prattens fully dismembered...

and the same flute, #7109, under happier circumstances, some considerable time and dollars later...

As you can see, it features what we refer to as Hudson keys.  You can see two of those keys with the cups unscrewed from their shafts near the centre of the upper image.  One of the cups is shown screw-upwards below the shafts.  The other is pad-upwards inside a ring on the right.

A low-end Boosey Pratten

The instrument above represents the luxury class end of the Boosey 8-key range.  My own Pratten, #8626, languishes at the other end of the market, with sterling silver replaced by nickel-silver, and posts by blocks.  But probably still worth the $25 I spent on it back in the early 1970's!

Add some bells and whistles...

Here's the Royal College of Music London Prattens, No 4675... 

In addition to the usual 8 keys, we can see:

  • rod & axle keying approach

  • high D trill key

  • L thumb C key option

  • R1 Bb option

  • Siccama-style extended R3

  • Hudson-style keys.  Probably silver plated?

Early fully keyed Pratten

It's tempting to imagine that the more complex instruments came much later, but it doesn't seem to be the case.  This flute, no 4865, probably  dates from around 1857, their first year of business, yet features full keying.  But it's a very different keying layout to No 4675 above.

Fully keyed Pratten

This flute No 7305 from the Bate Collection in Oxford.  It seems to have the full count of 14 keys available in conical flutes.  Note the mix of blocks, posts, and rod & axle keying.  Remember, next time you are in England, visit the Bate!

Boxwood and brass Pratten attributed to Carl Boosé

A boxwood and brass Pratten's attributed to C. Boosé, but giving the Boosey & Co 24-28 Holles Street address.  Carl Boosé was bandmaster of the 9th Lancers in 1841, the Scots Guards in 1842 and the Royal Horse Guards in 1859. He published the Military Band Journal, and was employed by Boosey's as a band music editor and a Woodwind Instrument tester. An advertisement also gives Boosey's as the agents for his Military Band instruments.

It seems that Boosey's were indulging in a little "badge engineering" - marketing the same instrument under more than one label.  Booseys had acquired the Pratten's Perfected design from Hudson - it was normally made in cocus wood under their own name. But they clearly made it also in the cheaper boxwood and brass for military band use and marketed under the Boosé name (Rudall & Rose did precisely the same thing with the name Key).

Roy Jones, who until recently had the flute, advises:

"it is very likely the flute or one very much like it that was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace London. My research also revealed a recent item for sale on Ebay, a boxwood clarinet (by C. Boosé) which was purported to have been exhibited in 1851 also. The clarinet bares a striking resemblance to the flute, having very similar colour boxwood and strong similarities with the brass keys arrangement.

An interesting point is that it doesn't carry the RSP initials.

The Ultimate in keyed Prattens?

This flute perhaps represents the ultimate development of the conical Pratten's Perfected.  It adds a d trill, the twin thumb keys mentioned later, a Boehm-style foot, and has replaced the remaining block-mounted keys with rod & axle style.

Mark: Boosey & Sons|24 Holles Street|London|6103|Pratten's Perfected

This flute, and many many others, are sumptuously illustrated in Rudall, Rose & Carte : The art of the flute in Britain, Robert Bigio, London. 

Robert also advises that he has an original picture of Pratten holding just such a flute, and concludes that it probably safe to say that this is what Pratten played on. That picture, complete with a ghost image of a Yorkshire terrier in the bottom right-hand corner, is in Robert's previous book Readings in the History of the Flute, (p106).

Robert also advises: "There is a picture of Radcliff in the first edition of his tutor for his own flute. Strangely, Radcliff is holding a Pratten flute just like mine.  It might even be the very instrument, for all I know."

See http://www.robertbigio.com/ for details of his books and more.

There is another image that appears to show this flute in the hands of Pratten:

Richard Shepherd Rockstro, piccolo (left) with Robert Sidney Pratten, flute.
(from the Dayton C Miller Collection, Library of Congress, Washington.)

Extant Military Band flutes by Boosey & Co

It might come as a surprise to find that there were military band flutes made by Boosey marked Pratten's Perfected, but the evidence is clear.  Boosey's period catalogues confirm the same.

Pratten Flute in F, image courtesy Stephen Pratt

The serial no. is 9448. Sounding length 47cm; C# to D# is 21cm; it has 8 nickel block mounted silver keys.

Boosey Pratten band flutes found so far:

No of keys Key
Body Metal Foot length Year Collection & Cat No
9448 470 (F) 210 8 B O Cocus N   1872? Stephen Pratt
10958 320 (Bb) 148 4 B   Box B integral 1880? Dave Ogden
12586 474 (F) 206 8 P   Ebonite N 117 1885? Dave Ogden
16855 540 (Eb)  231 8 P R Ebonite N 132 1903 Andrew Le Blanc
17349 417 (F) 207 6     Cocus N integral   Dave Ogden
21057 537 (Eb) 230 8 P   Cocus   134 Boehm   Dave Ogden

Those in Green are not marked Pratten's Perfected, probably coming too late for that stamp.

Owner's comments (thanks Dave!):

Circa 1880 Boosey & Co. Pratten’s Perfected 4 key B flat fife in boxwood, serial #10956. Stamped Boosey & Co., / 295 Regent Street / London / 10956 / R.S. Pratten’s Perfected on the body. Nice figured boxwood, substantial, well made brass keys and rings, crack repair to head. Original embouchure, plays very well. Inside the fife was a note on the letterhead of Hotel Nova Scotian: “Fifes that belonged to John Palmer Daniels b. near Windsor, became a watchmaker & jeweller, d. Sackville, N.B. late 1897.”

Ca. 1885 Boosey & Co. ebonite 8 key flute in F, serial #12586. Nickel Silver post mounted key work, C & C# keys are pewter plugs. Stamped Boosey & Co. / 295 Regent Street / London / 12586 on the body, Boosey & Co. / London / 12586 on the barrel and on the foot joint. No cracks (made of ebonite, an early compound of rubber and other materials, also used for smoking pipe bits), original embouchure, original leather case. Excellent original condition, plays great.

Ca. 1906 Boosey & Co. cocuswood 6 key flute in F, serial # 17349. This is an interesting Boosey flute, no doubt made for flute band work. The body is single piece, no separate foot. The head has a tuning slide, and is the only detachable part. Nicely made nickel silver keywork and rings, complete with end cap, and all rings and keys. It’s stamped Boosey & Co. / London / 17349 on the body. Crack to back of head joint, needs cleanup and pads. No case.

Ca. 1920 Boosey & Co. cocuswood 8 key flute in Eb, serial #21057. Stamped on the body Boosey & Co. / Makers / London / 21057 / Guaranteed / British Made / Throughout, and on the barrel and foot Boosey & Co. / 21057. Pratten style with Boehm style foot keys. Repaired cracks to head and barrel, repairs to foot keys (now difficult to detect). A great playing Eb Boosey in the Pratten style. Very nice overall condition. Plastic hard case.

Extant Cylindrical Pratten's Perfected by Boosey & Co

While we are traditionally attracted more to the 19th century conical flutes, we see from the figures above that a reasonable proportion of the flutes that Boosey's made were cylindrical.

No of keys Key
Body Metal Foot length Year Init? Collection & Cat No
7213 584 245 12 M   Cocus N   1863? Yes Ebay sale by demisemiquaver
7900     15 P R Silver S   1865?   Germanisches Nationalmuseum MI572
9325     15 P R       1872   DCM 310
9328 583.5 239 15 P R Cocus S   1873   Stephen Pratt
9740 581 244 12 M R Cocus N     No For Sale on Ebay, Arthur Haswells
10604 575 247.5 17/15 P R Silver S 129 1875? No Gofer Joe
12209 580 249 8 M O Cocus S   1982? No Bob Midden
17007           Cocus     1904   Horniman Museum 1972.220


9328 - head and barrel may not be original, possibly distorting the speaking length value. 

10604 - an all-metal Pratten's Perfected

12209 is arguably not a Pratten's Perfected - it doesn't carry the name - but it was made by Boosey & Co.  I'll colour Boosey flutes not stamped Prattens green.  I estimate from the graph above that it was made around 1882, quite some time after Pratten's untimely death in 1868.  Perhaps enough time had elapsed for the Pratten name's magic to evaporate?  Certainly, we could hardly expect Pratten to keep popping into the Boosey showroom to sign the acceptance certificates!  We'll look at this question further down.

Note also the significantly longer C#-D# length when compared to #9328, suggesting a lower pitch, while the sounding length is shorter suggesting a higher pitch.  Hmmm.  Some more data might help us understand what's going on there. 

17007, Horniman Collection notes: Flute, Pratten model [but not marked as such - Terry], low pitch. Model number A171. Serial number 17007. Cocuswood with German silver keys, mounts and ferules. Head and body joint are also metal lined. Cylindrical bore. Eight keys. Two rings and cover-plate for left hand; cover-plate for right hand and two large covered holes. Body in one piece. In fitted wooden case with cleaning rod and grease-box.  Date made, 1904 (presumably taken from the workshop records which are held by the Horniman). This flute appears the same as #9740, pictured below.

Some Cylindrical Pratten Images

Although the numbers suggest that not so many cylindrical Prattens were made, they certainly show some variety, as you'll see ...

No 7213

For sale on Ebay, Jan 2013.  Image courtesy of demisemiquaver.

No 7900

At the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg.  Note the similarity between the head of this instrument and the head on the flute Pratten is holding.  While the body of Pratten's flute looks more like #9328 below....

No. 9328

The owner, Stephen Pratt advises:

Although I would class it as a cylindrical flute, the bore has a slight taper, from 19.03mm to 18.08mm in the body, and 19.23 to 19.09 in the foot, the head is tapered like a Boehm flute. It is similar to the one in the Dayton Miller collection DCM 0310 flute no. 9325, and the key work is similar to the one Pratten is holding in the photo [above]

The odd things about it are the C is covered by the Bb key, and closing the top A closes the B and the G closes both A and B, the A by itself gives you C, but the G gives an odd note so I wonder if this was for a trill. I also have a Boosey cylinder flute, no. 22861 (about 1932) which is made in ebonite, and shows a link to the flute of 50 years previous.

Improved Siccama style

No 9740 - a largely-keyed cylindrical offered on Ebay by
Arthur Haswells, specialists in antique flute refurbishment, repairs and sales.

On an historical note, Arthur advises that the flute was in the possession of the player and fettler Paul Davies when he died and is the last of the flutes still owned by Paul's widow.

Gofer Joe's Metal Pratten

Joseph Wilds Sallenger (a.k.a Gofer Joe) is Manager of Fine Arts, Programs & Facilities at Francis Marion University and a self-confessed Certified Flute Nut  (see link for proof).  One of Joe's many interesting acquisitions is this very rare all-silver cylindrical Pratten's Perfected.

Joe says of the flute, Boosey No.10604:

The saddle for the right thumb and ring support for the left index finger make the flute remarkably stable, even with all key touches up.  Since the left thumb key down opens its tone hole, this stabilizing device is a must.  Indeed, it is so comfortable that I'm rather surprised it has not been adapted as a standard option on modern flutes.

My best guess has this flute made around 1879, so it should have been about as perfected as it could get.

Thanks, Joe for upgrading the image, just for us!  More images of Joe's flutes at:


Details of Pratten's flutes

Under this heading we'll draw your attention to some unusual or important details of some Pratten's Perfected flutes...

Pratten's C and Bb key

The upper C note was always at a disadvantage in simple system flutes.  Cross fingered C was noticeable weaker than adjacent notes.  The R1 c-key was great for trills, but inconvenient in a run such as B-c-d.  Boehm gave it a L thumb key in his 1832 conical and 1847 cylindrical designs, Clinton came up with a number of ideas for combined Bb/C keys, Carte employed two adjacent thumb touches and Briccialdi cooked up the version we see today on the modern Boehm.  So perhaps not surprising that Pratten felt the need to go the same way.  Reference to it even found its way into his fingering chart.

The image below, kindly supplied by Bob Midden, comes from his cylindrical Boosey flute, but the same C key was also fitted to conicals.  I must admit, when I first encountered it, I was quite nonplussed.  Where do you put your thumb when not playing either key?!  How do you hold the flute up without the thumb?  But that was before I'd adopted the three-point flute hold used in those days.  The simple answer is that the left thumb should hover free in space, ready to pounce upon whichever key is needed.  The benefit of the three-point hold is not limited to freedom of the left thumb and R4 to operate their keys, but also to the flexibility of the right hand fingers, and general stability of the flute.  There are several accounts of how to achieve this on this website, but a good one to start with is Nicholson's.

Many more lovely photos of Bob's flute at http://midden.zenfolio.com/p796148841

And here are the same two keys, approached from a rod & axle perspective

Note also the use of Hudson-style unscrewable key cups.  Note also the lack of the customary guide on the upper shaft of the C key.  The socket which lifts the key when the L thumb-key is pressed presumably provides the lateral guidance the key needs to seat reliably.

More to come

I'll bring you more images of Pratten flutes and unusual features as time and opportunity permits.

Boosey, but not Prattens?

Finding that later Boosey & Co flutes are not marked R.S.Pratten's Perfected naturally raises the question, are they still Pratten's Perfecteds, or has the design changed too significantly?  We'll obviously be watching for evidence of this; early indications with the limited data we are collecting seems to suggest they have not changed.  Of course some tinkering may be expected as British High Pitch collapses around 1895, replaced by something approximating modern pitch.  So the question is perhaps one for us - would we accept minor updating as still within the spirit of Prattens, if the most part of the instrument remains the same?

There are clues elsewhere of how Boosey's regarded it.  I have a copy of a Boosey & Co catalogue from circa 1900 that describes all their flutes (including cone and cylinder flutes, and the military types) as R.S.Pratten's Perfected models.  Another catalog, circa 1923 continues in the same light, although it also shows "a new model cylinder, covered holes".  The engravings in the catalogue shows the makers mark as Boosey & Co / Makers / 25 Regent St / <serial number>.  The serial number on the 8-key cone appears to be 18899, which should place it around 1908.  They offer two versions of the 8-key, Model 165, presumably with traditional foot, and Model No 167 "with superior foot", ie Boehm foot.  So, even with this clear change, Boosey's still saw it and promoted it as a Prattens, even though they didn't mark it as such.


Thanks to all those people and institutions who have provided data or images or allowed me to measure their instruments.


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  Created: October 2006, Updated Dec 2012