A. Leroux and Rudall, Rose & Carte Flutes, c.1850

Have you ever been curious about what the ancestors of your modern flute looked like? There have been some pretty amazing-looking flutes in the history of the instrument!

Here are two simple-system 8-keyed flutes which were built sometime around the 1850's. The dark one was made by Rudall, Rose & Carte out of Vulcanite/ebonite, which is the hard, polished rubber that was used in the manufacture of combs, buttons and electric insulation. These ebonite flutes were popular with people travelling from England to India, as they were less likely to crack with the change in environment than the wooden flutes which were the standard at the time.

I find this silver flute fascinating - the first of its kind I've ever seen, it's a metal flute with a cylindrical bore like our modern flutes, but with the simple-system keywork common on the conical wooden flutes. This instrument is marked "A. Leroux, Paris" and the keywork is exquisite.

To play a B-flat on this flute, you would cover the first 2 holes (as if you were playing an A) and press the thumb lever to open this little key.

Here you can see the C-natural (bottom right, played by the right hand index finger), G-sharp (as on modern flute) and long-F-natural keys (both played by the left-hand pinky).

Footjoint keys, essentially the same as on a modern flute.

Short-F-natural keys. To play an F natural, you would cover the holes as if for an E, then press this little key (or the long F) to open one of these holes.

The flutes are slightly different sizes, as the ebonite flute above is pitched in E in traditional flute terminology (D to a modern classical player) and the metal flute is a D flute (C, or non-transposing to a classical player).

Have you seen any old flutes recently? Tell us about them in the comments!

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