Two interesting mid-19th century flutes by William Card
(DRAFT August 16, 2020)


William Card (1778–1861) was a Professor of Flute and an innovative flute manufacturer. He was strongly influenced by the conical Boehm flute of 1832 and he claimed to be the first flute player to perform on a Boehm flute in England (other than one performance by Boehm himself in 1836). Later, he played on a flute of his own design.

Card and his partners were in business in London from 1825 to 1876. Between 1845 and 1862, the address of Card's firm was 29 St. James's Street, matching the address stamped on these two flutes. The top flute in the photo above is a simple system flute with 11 keys while the second flute is one model of a Card system flute. (Of course, his firm made other styles of flutes as well.)


The simple system flute shown above and below is made of boxwood and is basically a large-holed English 8-key flute, but it has three more keys than the eight most often appearing on English simple system flutes. The other keys include a key for low b, a trill key opening a hole about 1 cm above finger hole 1, and a small additional lever for G# between finger holes 4 and 5.

The trill key gives a good d'' and so a good d''/c''# trill with all fingers off. It can be used for other trills at the top of the first or second octave, but with less perfect intonation. I stumbled on the fact that if the trill key and the additional G# lever are used simultaneously (using right hand fingers 1 and 2) while fingering third-octave g''' with the usual 1-3 --- fingering, a good a'''/g''' trill results. (The position of the trill key's hole is similar to that of Schwedler's first trill key for a'''/g'''.)

Unfortunately, part of this flute is missing. A lost tuning device, that Card called a "Melodian" and registered in 1851 (see Bigio's "Readings", page 116), was once attached to the metal head joint tube above the barrel and below the embouchure. The melodian can be seen on a Card flute DCM 1230 in the Dayton C. Miller Collection of the Library of Congress. It is a rack and pinion with a knob, which when turned extracts or retracts the head joint while leaving the relative alignment of embouchure and tone holes unchanged. It can be adjusted quickly by the right hand while the flute is supported in playing position by the left hand.

The lower photo is excerpted from the photo at


Card was motivated to design a new model flute (which may be called the "Card system") in part when students complained about having to change fingering from the simple system to the Boehm system. His flute is a hybrid combining features of the simple system and Boehm system. In a few words, the left hand fingering was that of the simple system and the right hand fingering that of the Boehm system. The Card system flute below is made of cocuswood, has a conical bore, seven closed-standing keys (two are extra levers), as well as two open-standing keys on the foot joint, and a brille consisting of two ring keys and an open-standing cup rigidly attached to the same axle. The foot joint keys are of the style used on early Boehm flutes. There are metal rings surrounding finger holes 1,2,3,6 which mimic the feeling on the finger pads of pressing the ring keys on finger holes 4,5.

The left hand notes from g' to c''# are fingered the same as on a simple system flute. Most simple system fingerings for c'' and c''' work fine. When all holes above the G hole are closed, RH1 (the right hand first finger) gives F and RH2 gives F# just as on the Boehm flute (but RH3 doesn't do anything special).

We remark that some Card system flutes have a third ring key for RH3, and RH3 gives a better vented F#, just as on the Boehm flute.

The trill key hole is higher up the flute (about 3.5 cm above finger hole 1) but controls a relatively small hole; it gives d'' when all fingers are up, so it is useful for the d''/c''# and some other trills.

Note that the holes on the Card system flute are relatively large (most finger holes are 8 mm, but holes under the keys are somewhat smaller), relatively equally sized, and close to uniformly spaced. Thus it sounds more like a conical Boehm flute rather than a simple system flute. The stretch required for the fingers to cover the holes is somewhat greater than on a simple system flute.

The Card system flute came in a long wooden case with Card's card.


Mr. Card, / Professor of the Flute, / & Flute Manufacturer. / 29 St. James's Street.



Bigio, Robert. Readings in the History of the Flute. Tony Bingham, London, 2006. (Advertisement by Card, p.116.)

Bigio, Robert. Rudall, Rose & Carte The Art of the Flute in Britain. Tony Bingham, London, 2011. (Letter from Card, p.60–62.)

Hamilton, S. C. Flutemaker William Card, Accessed August 10, 2020.

© 2020 Richard M. Wilson