Friday 17 February 2017

William Card

I first came across the name Card more than thirty years ago now in connection with a flute which belonged to that doyen of Clare flute players, P. J. Crotty.
Always with an eye out for the unusual, I first noticed the Card trademark, the little silver plate with his name engraved, inlaid into the head. I remember little else about the flute, but that P.J. made it sing.
Fast forward to my flute buying phase of a few years ago, and I managed to acquire a Card, as part of a lot of flutes I was bidding on, and of which the Card was not the target of my bid.
Unfortunately, it's still in the drawer marked "to be restored".
But here's a few photos:

I know it doesn't look like much in this state, but in the hand it is a really elegant instrument, slim, with precise workmanship, and delicate keywork. I'm looking forward to restoring it, and getting rid of the crude nickel silver sleeve that has been used to repair the right hand joint.

Card appears as a maker, according to the Langwill index, from 1825-1876, but in fact little is known about him except that he made exceptional flutes, and was responsible for several patents.
The flute in the photos above could be presumed to have been made before the Boehm revolution, possibly as early as the late 1820s, but the extremely neat post mounted keys perhaps belie such an early dating.

Then in 2011 I got word of a flute for sale in an auction in Lichfield, which looked so interesting from the photos, that I hopped on a 'plane and bid on it personally. I was the only bidder bar someone on-line who cost me a few hundred, but I got it in the end. Spent the rest of the day, the auction being over by lunchtime, in exploring the town, birthplace of Samuel Johnson, and also Charles Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus. Well worth a look, not only for those of a literary bent.

The flute itself proved to be a bit of a mystery. One of the first things I noticed about it was that the keywork system had been changed at some time, as evidenced by the holes which had been closed with end grain plugs. These included post holes.

Once I had the flute in the workshop and was able to examine it in detail, the first thing that struck me was that this is not a Card system flute. As it turned out in the end, it is and it isn't...

It is not easy to come across details of Card's flute. Rockstro mentions it but gives no description of the actual mechanism. Card's system is perhaps best illustrated by the photos in Robert Bigio's "Rudall, Rose & Carte The Art of the Flute in Britain" which allows us to see that essentially the left hand follows the old system of fingering:- three open holes, with closed keys for  C, Bb and G#. The right hand basically follows the Boehm system where two ring keys for R 1 and 2 control the F#. There would be three ring keys on the 1832 Boehm system.
There is a Card system flute in the DCM, but the illustrations that they provide are frustrating to the researcher, as they only show the flute from the finger hole side, so it's impossible to see a lot of the keywork.  Here's an image of the same flute, this time courtesy of Robert Bigio, and taken from his book. ( see refs below )

Bigio ( this taken from his "Readings in the History of the Flute" ) gives us some insight into Card, and his motivation.
It appears that Card was, save Boehm himself, the first player to use the Boehm flute in England, and that he made several flutes to the Boehm pattern on which he himself played.
( This would be the Boehm 1832 flute )
Objections from his pupils to the changes in fingering necessitated by the new key system, and encouragement from the famous French flutist Camus led Card to develop a system which had as much as possible of the old fingering, but with as many advantages of the new mechanism as possible. In his own words:

" Still finding the changes in the fingering an objection with my pupils, by the recommendation of my friend M. Camus, who at this time paid me a visit in London, as well as by that of his and my subsequent pupil, E. Edwards, Esq., of Framingham, Suffolk, to adopt as many of the improvements of the Boehm flute as I could, altering as little of the old system of fingering as possible, I did so, and I am gratified to be able confidently to state, that I have succeeded in this beyond my most sanguine hopes or expectations, the full extent of my alterations being confined to two notes only, in the natural scale of the flute."

Information on Card is hard to come by, and it's not even certain when he began to produce this model of flute. Powell (see refs below) says c1860, but this seems rather late to me for a flute of this kind, and besides if we take the letter quoted above as factual it would seem that he was already producing these flutes by 1845.
Despite his hopes that his flutes would be "universally all professors...and by every amateur" it appears that, if the number of surviving instruments is anything to go by, that his hopes remained unfulfilled.

But to get back to the flute itself. There seems to be quite a bit of variation in the surviving flutes, but they all seem to have had at least the following features.

1/ The foot joint keys are in the same style as those found on the 1832 Boehm system flutes
2/ The right hand controls two ring keys which account for one of the few fingering changes from the old system, in that F# is played 123040, and F 123400.
3/ There is the normal G# key for the left pinky
4/ There is the normal Bb key for the right thumb, which can also be operated by L3
5/ There is a C key for the right thumb, also operated by L1
6/ There is a key for R1, which may be a trill key but gives a good C#.

It took me a long time to figure out what was going on with this flute, but eventually I think I have it.

 I believe that this flute started off as what we might call the "standard" Card system, essentially as described above. This conclusion is supported by the positions of the blocked key holes and post holes.

In the photo below, you can see three blocked holes which starting from the left on the picture would be the C#/trill key, the C natural, and finally the thumb key for Bb. The post holes also seem to match this original configuration.

Here's an image ( to the right) of the flute taken from above, which you can contrast with the image above to the left.
Note the silver rings inset around the holes for L1, 2, and 3.
These are not ring keys, and seem to serve no obvious function except perhaps an aesthetic one, in making the upper and lower holes look alike.
Perhaps not so obvious from the photo is the fact that these rings are not flush with the surface of the flute, i.e. they don't follow the curvature.
In presenting a flat surface to the finger, this may serve in improving the "sealability" of the three upper holes, which are large ( from the top 9.4mm, 11.3mm(!) 8.25mm )

The first modification is the extension of the two ring keys for the right hand to three ring keys as per the 1832 Boehm System. This is probably the commonest modification you'll see to the Card system.
You can see this in the image just to the right here.

The G# on my example is a Dorus G# meaning that the G# is basically an open key until L3 is down, which closes it by means of a ring key. A clever system of springing then allows the left hand pinky to open it as a normal G#.

On my flute the rod which carries the G# is an extension of the right hand ring key rod. On most card systems ( perhaps all, but I can't say since I can't claim to have seen all surviving examples) the two are on separate rods as per the Bigio photo above. Additional to this, the G# has a strange addition to the mechanism, which also opens the G# when it's closed via the ring key for L3, acting on the same clutch as the pinky finger for the Dorus key. It's operated by a key on top of the flute for R1.
This had me completely fooled, but after a good deal of research, it seems the only real equivalent is to be found on the two flutes illustrated by Rockstro, one by Gordon and one by Ward

Rockstro, being a great champion of Gordon, goes into considerable detail about the mechanism and fingering,  and despite the extremely crude illustrations on which he bases his opinion, concludes that this key is a shake key for g-aflat or f#-g#. The image above shows where the key interacts with the Dorus G#, but the image below gives a clear idea of what's in question.

                                                            Now to the keys on the long rods on the players side of the flute.
These aren't too hard to read. What is going on here, is that the three keys which were on the players side of the flute (vid. the three blocked holes in the image above) have been moved to the top of the flute. The really odd thing is, that though the thumb keys for the C and Bb are in the same relative positions, the touches for the right hand have been moved to the other side of the rod, and are no longer between the holes at the lower end of the flute. This is of course necessitated by moving the key cups to the top of the flute. The old positions of those touches are standard on many systems and lying as they do between the holes on the top of the flute, are very convenient. As they are now they appear to me to be placed so as to almost impossible to play, and the position the touches has been changed.

The final unusual keywork, is a key for the left thumb, which links to the low C#. Again, this is a key which while not unknown on other systems is rare. The only example widely known would be the key on Ward's flute, where he gives the low C and C# to the left thumb. In this case it's only the C# that's in question. Gordon was the only other designer to propose moving the low C and C# to another finger than the usual right pinky, and he gives them to the left pinky. In fact, the thumb touch for this key is in the same position as the little finger touch on Gordon's flute, and if you consider that other keys on this flute have been moved from one side of the rods to the other, perhaps this begins to make sense.

So taking all the above into account, I think we can now make a stab at trying to place this flute within the plethora of different systems which began to proliferate around the middle of the 19th century.

I think there is little doubt that the flute began its life as  Card's Improved Patent flute, and that various modifications were made to it at a later stage. Some of these are quite normal and were adapted from other instruments from the same period.  The Dorus G# falls into this category. Others are perhaps more obscure, but not entirely original either, and the modification to the Dorus G#, and the thumb key for low C# fit this description.

The strangest modification is the transfer of the C, Bb, and the upper C#/trill key to the upper surface of the flute from the side. This seems to make no sense, as it now places the touches for the right hand in a much less convenient position. I can only put this down to a personal preference, and could it be that perhaps, that the original owner's (of whom more later) right hand was in some way compromised by injury or deformity?

From a flute maker's point of view, one name runs through this whole story.
What first alerted me to this was the allusion in Robert Bigio's book of a letter from Geoffrey Rendall to Dayton C. Miller, in which he states, referring to Card's flutes,

"I believe from the general appearance that Cornelius Ward made them"

(Rendall was a woodwind instrument collector and scholar whose collection became the nucleus of the Edinburgh University instrument collection.)

Ward is widely considered to be the finest flute craftsman of the 19th century, and flutes by him are extremely rare.
Bigio himself says

 "Cornelius Ward's flutes were perhaps the most beautifully-made of his or indeed of any period, but their eccentricity was bound to affect their acceptability to the market."

I'm fairly convinced at this stage that the flute before you, although obviously a Card was in fact made by Ward. It is not only Rendall's assertion that leads me to believe this. The unusual aspects of the keywork, outlined above also point in this direction. It is generally thought that Ward made Gordon's flutes, but as none have survived, it's difficult to decide the truth of this. That the key described above is only otherwise found in the prospectus of Ward's flute and in Rockstro's illustration that is the only surviving evidence of Gordon's seems to me to be further evidence of Ward's manufacture.
Finally, the thumb low C#, being only found, albeit in a slightly different version, on Ward's flute, I believe again points to Ward as the maker.

The workmanship of the flute, as can be seen from the images here itself is further evidence. The silverware on many examples of both Card's and Ward's instruments is very finely engraved, and no less so on this instrument, where just about every surface large enough to bear engraving is covered.
The head cap in particular, bears some of the finest engraving I have ever seen on a flute.

I should add that the similarity in the engraving, and also the general workmanship of the "reversed"
keys leads me to conclude that these modifications are the work of the same maker as the original flute, i.e. Ward.

Followers of this blog will note that I have already posted about this flute ( on the 14/05/12, 31/05/12, and 17/06/12 ), and at that time I said:

"I'm in the process of restoring it, and in that process I hope to document the flute and how it was put together, because it seems to be the work of more than one maker, or, as I suspect a collaboration between a professional flautist and more than one maker".

So as it turns out that was both right and wrong. My initial instinct was that the flute had belonged to either a professional or keen (and rich!) amateur who had worked with a flute maker, not necessarily the original maker, to modify the flute to their own preferences.
The flute itself has obviously been heavily used, but also well maintained. ( The crack in the head, was the only major repair work needed ) The mechanism, though worn is still fully functional, and dare I suggest that this is now the only playable example of a Card System extant?
The flute plays well, with a full, bright, even tone over three octaves. The tuning, despite the claims of Card of it's superiority over that of the old flute, is only marginally better, although I need to do a bit more work on this, especially since I know I'm blowing it like an "ordinary" flute as Card would have had it. What is remarkable though is the pitch. With the slide at an 8mm extension, which seems reasonable to me, it plays at a = 470, which is by far the sharpest I have encountered in the flutes of this era, and certainly bears further inquiry. There is no evidence that the pitch has been modified at any stage.

As to the owner, we can only presume that the initials embossed on the case, are those of the original owner.

I'm reading this as E.P.H. or possibly as E.L.H., and I'm currently trying to find a player from the period that matches this. At the time of the purchase, I did attempt, via the auction house, to establish contact with the seller, but unfortunately, this came to nothing. If any reader can shed any light on this, I'd be most appreciative.

So that's about it.  I intend to do some more work on the pitch and tuning aspects of the flute, and also see if I can make any sense of the following...

One of the first things I noticed about the flute, I think even at the time of the auction viewing, was a strange expansion of the bore at the end of the foot. This at first appeared to have been crudely done, but on cleaning it up a bit, it looked like this...

...and clearly it has been done deliberately, and probably professionally.
I didn't think much more about it until I was photographing the other Card flute for this post, and I looked at its foot, and spotted this...

So it seems this must be a Card thing, but what's it for?
At this stage the only thing that I've come up with is that it's a socket for a small extension to the foot which would allow one to play B or Bb instead of C when the low C keys were used. Of course then the low C itself would be unavailable?
I wonder if the other surviving examples of Card's flutes, ( or Ward's for that matter ) have this feature?

One last point. I had almost overlooked this but it turns out that the elusive Ward has a connection to the banks of my own lovely Lee. Bigio notes in his "Readings in the History of the Flute" that the basis for Ward's booklet, "The Flute Explained" was a paper which he read to the Mechanical Sciences section of The British Association meeting in Cork.

I am most grateful to Robert Bigio for his generous permission to reproduce his images, and for his always freely given help and advice in general.

References ( all essential reading for the flute aficionado )

Bigio, Robert. Reading s in the History of the Flute. Monographs, essays, reviews, letters and advertisements from nineteenth century London. Tony Bingham, London. 2006

Bigio, Robert. Rudall, Rose & Carte The Art of the Flute in Britain. Tony Bingham, London. 2011

Powell, Ardal. The Flute. Yale University Press, New Haven & London. 2002

Rockstro, Richard Shepherd. A Treatise on the Construction the History and the Practice of the Flute.
2nd ed. 1928. Musica Rara, London. 1967 ( 1st. ed. 1890 )


  1. Just awesome collection,information i like it ..
    i have website like a you -Vukan milin

  2. Hello,

    The script appears to be Roundhand (Copperplate), going by the E and the H; if so, the central letter most resembles (to me, no expert) the P in that script style rather than an L.
    The order of initials in a monogram can have a relationship to their size; in some traditions, if they're all the same size, they're read first initial-middle-last; if the central letter is larger than the others, as in this case, it's written first-last-middle, so it's possible that the order of initials is actually E.H.P.
    Just a theory, but it might give you a different rabbit hole down which to bark.

  3. Hello, and thanks for that particular about the possibility of reading the letters in a different order. It does give me a new rabbit hole to bark down, but I think I'll put it to the folks over on Flute History Channel to do the barking!