Mathieu metal flageolets

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Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by stringbed »

I’m moving a discussion that was recently initiated under the topic heading Blowing machine to a separately labeled one. It started here and I’ll only be repeating bits of what the participants have already noted.

One of them called attention to a metal flageolet made by Charles Mathieu that was for sale. It is now in my hands and I have a very specific question about it.

The instrument appears almost certainly to be made of nickel-plated pewter and is therefore very much a tin whistle. It bears his model no. 3, is pitched in D (at about A446), and speaks easily and evenly from the bottom of the first octave to the F♯ in the third octave. There’s more to be said about its tuning but I’ll defer that for the while.

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The plating around the fingerholes has worn away and the patination on the exposed casting indicates, as expected, that there is lead in the alloy. What might also be taken for a solid lead block is in fact hollow underneath the floor of the windway (but in the direction opposite from current cast plastic mouthpieces). The floor of the windway is of even thickness that I’d guestimate to about one millimeter, and extends two centimeters upward from the top edge of the window.

There can be little doubt that the intention was to keep condensation from forming in the windway, collecting it instead in a chamber that could be emptied when necessary through the hole in the mouthpiece bit. This retains the initial design goal of the English wooden flageolets that this emulates. I’m not about to play it long enough to test how well it performs in that regard, at least not without first having inspected the chamber.

The segment of the instrument that includes the bit was obviously fitted to the instrument after it was voiced. It separated from it at some later date due to damage and was crudely soldered back into place. That seam has itself since become damaged and leaks air.

Image

And at long-winded last, this brings me to the question. Was it Mathieu’s practice to fuse the bits to the bodies of his flageolets, or to have a friction fit? If nothing else that would enable keeping the chamber clean, as is possible on the prototypal wooden instruments. Depending on the answer, I’ll either seal the crack with dental wax, or see if the cap can be separated and refitted properly. (I suspect that the latter wouldn’t be possible anyway, due to the proximal melting points of the solder and the pewter.)
Last edited by stringbed on Sun Aug 06, 2023 1:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Mr.Gumby »

As I said on the other thread, this is basically the same as the standard Mathieu conical whistle but extended to add flageolet type chamber and blowing end.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by stringbed »

I’m not suggesting there’s anything the least bit unusual about this exemplar. My question is simply if the cap at the top of the instrument was initially intended to be removable or was fixed permanently to it. It cannot possibly have been an integral part of the casting.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Mr.Gumby »

My impression they assembled parts to a degree. Below are two examples of Mathieu whistles, one a conical one, the other cylindrical. The body of the cylindrical one is clearly rolled metal : there's a seam, slightly overlapping on the outside. The top piece, the head, seems soldered onto the tube (there seems to be a bit of spillage at the back), finished with a ring to cover the join.
The cylindrical one is less clear cut, there's a seam at the back but it's smoothly finished, I can't tell you if it is a remnant of a casting process or a rolled metal body. The head may or may not be joined onto the body like the one on the other whistle.

It would make sense to assemble various parts, it would allow bodies to be fitted with whistle, flageolet etc heads during production as needed.


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Last edited by Mr.Gumby on Sat Aug 05, 2023 1:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by stringbed »

Mr.Gumby wrote: I can't tell you if it is a remnant of a casting process or a rolled metal body.
As a general rule, markings in solid (not embossed) high relief suggest casting. Marks stamped into what otherwise appears to be drawn tubing, or rolled and seamed sheet stock, contraindicate casting.
It would make sense to assemble various parts, it would allow bodies to be fitted with whistle, flageolet etc heads during production as needed.
That does make perfect sense. The puzzle that remains is why a maker would fuse the cap on a flageolet collection chamber which is so obviously also a gunk trap.
Last edited by stringbed on Sat Aug 05, 2023 1:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Moof »

I don't know the answer, but the leaky joint looks all wrong. The rest of the instrument is really nicely finished, and then there's that chewed-up joint.I wonder if there was an inner and an outer sleeve that created a friction fit, part of which got damaged so much that it no longer held on the mouthpiece? If that happened, you'd either need a costly professional repair or a bodge job by a plumber with a supply of lead solder. From what I can see in the photo, it looks like the latter option was taken. I could be on the wrong track, though, it's hard without being able to handle it.

The quickest way round it might be to find another example? Maybe there's one knocking around in a museum or collection somewhere, or even up for sale.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Mr.Gumby »

Moof wrote: Sat Aug 05, 2023 12:32 pm
The quickest way round it might be to find another example? Maybe there's one knocking around in a museum or collection somewhere, or even up for sale.
There are still two (and a whistle)up on ebay, albeit at silly prices: one in the US, and one in France, that looks like it has been used to prise open a door.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Moof »

Found this whilst I was waiting for my dinner to finish cooking. Someone picked up a whole collection of antique whistles for £60 last year:

https://www.musicalinstrument-auctions. ... -Paris-etc
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by stringbed »

Moof wrote: Sat Aug 05, 2023 12:32 pm …the leaky joint looks all wrong. The rest of the instrument is really nicely finished, and then there's that chewed-up joint.
That's pitting and is seen on the bits of comparable Mathieu instruments. The damage is plausibly, if not likely, the result of the thing haven fallen smack on its nose. I see no reason to doubt the originality of the piece that was then so sloppily reattached. The current cracking is a failure of that repair.
you'd either need a costly professional repair or a bodge job by a plumber with a supply of lead solder.
I can deal with the restoration myself. The questions here are what the original state was and whether the secondary solder can be removed without putting the original material in jeopardy.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Moof »

stringbed wrote: Sat Aug 05, 2023 1:23 pm
you'd either need a costly professional repair or a bodge job by a plumber with a supply of lead solder.
I was talking about the options facing the person who did the clumsy repair rather than now – sorry if not clear.
The damage is plausibly, if not likely, the result of the thing haven fallen smack on its nose. I see no reason to doubt the originality of the piece that was then so sloppily reattached.
Yes, I guess so. The photos of the other examples up for sale show a neat joint at the same point, which could feasibly be the top of a slide or inner collar. It would make sense for the head to be removable for cleaning; if that's the case, it's possible the inner sleeve used to attach the head got damaged.

Maybe you could contact that US seller via eBay and ask if s/he is willing to have a look at this part for you, perhaps even take a photo if the head comes off? They might ignore you or say no, but there's not much lost if they do.

There's also a US secondhand instrument store that has a similar model on sale, and might be willing to advise you:

https://www.uncleikes.com/p-19419-xyz-v ... 18810.aspx
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Terry McGee »

Coming at it from the angle of "If I were Mathieu, what would I do?", I reckon I'd make the beak section removable for emptying. The thought of driggling the build-up of breath moisture back out through the blow tube, and then putting it back in your mouth sounds a bit yuk! (Yeah, I know, flute players are sooks.)

We're lead to understand that, in English Flageolets, a bit of sea sponge was included inside the windcap to soak up that collected moisture. Do we know if that was also advocated in the French flageolet? If so, the only way to get it out for squeezing out or replacing it when decayed would be if that beak section could come off.

Looking again at the beak section (great image, stringbed!) ...

Image

am I going too far in imagining that the first small ring around the mouthpiece is for you to grab to wriggle the mouthpiece off? Or just a guide to stop here when inserting in mouth?

Given that the head is a slightly conical tube tapering away from the mouthpiece, I'd imagine, if I were Mathieu, I'd have a tenon with cork or thread set in a trough to plug into the socket presented by the head tube. That would be a more reliable joint than metal to metal, although we have to be impressed by the precision of the casting work in general!

Now, imagine you have pulled the beak off and cleaned out the moisture gathered within. And you go to reassemble the instrument. You'd want to plug the beak in with the flanges on the blowing end at right angles to the finger holes. Any sign of any form of indexing, such as a mark, or a notch and pin, to assist that lining up? Or do you just rotate it a bit if not right? Again, fine adjustment would be made easier if there was something soft in the junction.

And getting back to the material of which it is cast. I know I speculated pewter previously, but I saw somewhere the metal zinc mentioned in connection with such instruments (might have been with regard to the chap who bought the company). Is it possible that this one is cast in zinc, and would that make any differences to the best approach?
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by stringbed »

Terry McGee wrote: Sat Aug 05, 2023 7:19 pm …imagine you have pulled the beak off and cleaned out the moisture gathered within. And you go to reassemble the instrument. You’d want to plug the beak in with the flanges on the blowing end at right angles to the finger holes. Any sign of any form of indexing, such as a mark, or a notch and pin, to assist that lining up?
There is no indication of any kind of indexing and the flanges are currently skewed noticeably to the plane of the windway, toward the side that a right-hand-up player would find comfortable and would annoy a left-hand-up player. I have a rough time imagining that to have been the factory position and agree that a separable mouthpiece design would have made best sense.

The next question is why anyone would subsequently have soldered it into a fixed position? This suggests the possibility of the damage having been a crack in the casting and the solder a crude attempt at sealing it, collaterally freezing the mouthpiece into place. Either way, the first remedial action would be to remove the solder.
And getting back to the material of which it is cast. I know I speculated pewter previously, but I saw somewhere the metal zinc mentioned in connection with such instruments (might have been with regard to the chap who bought the company). Is it possible that this one is cast in zinc, and would that make any differences to the best approach?
It looks like plated pewter. If it should prove to be zinc the situation becomes a lot easier. The difference in the melting points of lead solder and pewter is uncomfortably small. That of zinc is significantly higher, also making it easy to determine which of the two metals the instrument is made (assuming it’s one of them). There’s a ding at the lower end of body that has raised just enough metal inside the bore for convenient (even if destructive) testing with a temperature-controlled soldering iron.

If the mouthpiece was fused into place in the factory it makes no sense to attempt its separation now. If it was removable from the outset, it may be worth that effort. If I were to develop an interest in playing it more than to satisfy initial curiosity and there was still reason for concern with lead in the alloy, I’d then set the original mouthpiece aside and replace it with a copy in an inert material.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Moof »

Terry McGee wrote: Sat Aug 05, 2023 7:19 pm Coming at it from the angle of "If I were Mathieu, what would I do?", I reckon I'd make the beak section removable for emptying.

Looking again at the beak section (great image, stringbed!) ...

am I going too far in imagining that the first small ring around the mouthpiece is for you to grab to wriggle the mouthpiece off? Or just a guide to stop here when inserting in mouth?

Given that the head is a slightly conical tube tapering away from the mouthpiece, I'd imagine, if I were Mathieu, I'd have a tenon with cork or thread set in a trough to plug into the socket presented by the head tube. That would be a more reliable joint than metal to metal, although we have to be impressed by the precision of the casting work in general!
Here are links to photos of the flageolets on sale at Uncle Ike's and eBay. They may not be the same model, but the construction looks similar. On these at least, the ridge on the beak appears to be just a ridge; the joint looks to be lower down, at the point where the the solder has failed on Stringbed's model. (Uncle Ike's also appears to have an external sponge to mop the window, which is an interesting idea.)

https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/vnd70pry ... zbmq0&dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/3me1z8oj ... mx8nw&dl=0

It doesn't mean there isn't a joint on the beak on Stringbed's version, of course. Sometimes when designs are modified, elements that used to be functional on one iteration are echoed in the shape of the next. it's a way of making a cheaper version look more like the expensive one.

But anyway, on the two examples online, there clearly is a joint further down but it's not possible to see whether the head is actually removable. Given that both these examples have damage near the window, perhaps the metal here is a particularly thin gauge? If that's the case, maybe it's more likely the head was soldered on rather than designed as removable.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by stringbed »

Moof wrote: …perhaps the metal here is a particularly thin gauge? If that’s the case, maybe it’s more likely the head was soldered on rather than designed as removable.
Image

This is the same model that I have. The deep dent strongly suggests that the cap does not extend into the body of the instrument. Tap testing mine supports that conclusion. A crochet hook inserted through the bit catches at the seam, further corroborating that nothing extends beyond it. It’s also worth noting that the conical socket provided by the body is poorly suited to the presumed purpose and the top couple of centimeters could as easily have been cast cylindrically.

Pending concrete evidence to the contrary, that may answer my initial question. However, if the cap had previously separated from the body of my instrument and was poorly soldered back into place, removing the solder should expose the inside of the instrument. Since I want to examine that part of it it in any case, I’m going to try to reopen the seam. I’ll take some macro “before” pics and post them here, with “after” to follow.

And now rising to a point of terminological order:

The label flageolet à bec designates a flageolet with a recorder-style mouthpiece (from flûte à bec). We’re talking about the alternative configuration with a collection chamber and a flat bit that the player can chomp down on. Calling this a “beak” obscures a distinction that we should be highlighting. The term “tongue” is attested in the mid-19th century and either it or “bit” would probably be best included in whatever name we converge on here.
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Re: Mathieu metal flageolets

Post by Terry McGee »

Yeah, I was just about to chime in exactly the same thing, stringbed, and well done Moof for bringing it to our attention. So do we conclude that the blowpipe section was perched onto the end of the head tube and deftly soldered there with little or no mechanical support? And yet that vulnerable joint somehow managed to survive the thump that bent the head tube so deeply? There appears to be a little bit of "land" between the indent and the ring - does that perhaps suggest there is a very short "tenon" extending from the blowpipe piece into the headtube? Just enough to provide location during assembly and soldering, and support during the thump?

Looking closely at that image, can we be sure that the ring is part of the blowpipe, and not part of the headtube? The area just to the right of the ring looks less well defined than the area just to the left. Is that where the soldering might have taken place?

If the metal turns out to be zinc, then perhaps the pieces could have been tinned, assembled and then "sweated" (heated until the solder on the "tinned" pieces runs together). That approach can lead to a less obvious joint.

And yeah, no argument from me about dropping the term "beak" for the flageolet mouthpiece, excepting perhaps that I thought it might have been used at the time. Ah, egfrom Wikipedia:

The flageolet is composed of several parts: the ivory beak serves as the instrument's mouthpiece; the windway is a gradually expanding part that leads to the barrel. The barrel contains the fipple and together they form the wind channel which focusses the stream of air across the window and onto the labium (lip) where the stream is split, giving rise to a musical sound. Finally, there is the body (or bodies, in a double or triple flageolet) which contains the finger holes and keys. The beak, windway and barrel do not contribute to sound production and the instrument can be played if these parts are missing.

Not really convinced about "tongue" or "bit" (unless they prove to be inescapably popular back in the day). I'd advance "blowpipe" or "mouthpiece". We certainly wouldn't want to confuse it with "windway" as we use that for the duct.
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