This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Sep 24, 2012

Historic Nose Flutes - The Nasalette: Template

Some historic nose flutes have totally disappear or haven't even been produced or commercialized. Our goal, here, is to reconstruct them, as close as possible to the original, with the help of the patent drawings and descriptions.

Historic Nose Flute - The Nasalette: Drawing a template

The « Nasalette » was the very first "urban" nose flute. It has been designed by William G. Carter (1846-1919), who filed his patent Nov. 19, 1891 (registration US477167 Jun. 14, 1892).

Someone who looks at the patents drawings in the purpose of reconstructing the Nasalette should get into a lapse of perplexity. Indeed, when comparing the 2 profile pictures, it becomes obvious that the proportions are so different, that a choice will have to be done.
The "technical" figure, more detailed, should be the true one, but it clearly appear totally non-functional: if the nose cap is big enough to cover the nostrils, the air duct is so long that the mouth tube gets in front of the chin... The sketch presenting the player's head shows a poorly designed nose flute, but the draughtsman was obviously forced to respect true proportions.

There is no particular specifications detailed in the patent text that could help us, besides the description of the materials:

Since William Carter was a tinsmith, I decided to make my Nasalette with tin plate. To get a nice tin, easily weldable, I order some tin plates dedicated to model making. Very funny: the brand is "Albion Alloys" (the Nasalette was invented in Albion, NY.).

So, my choice was this one: to stay as close as possible to the technical drawing (notably regarding the ergonomical and technical details), but keeping the proportions of the profile sketch. I also assumed that the Nasalette was functional (else, would Carter have filed a patent?) and thus, I would change little details if they were necessary for the flute to whistle.
My goal is not to build the best nose flute in the world, no, but to build a Nasalette, the closest possible to the original. So I will not try to improve the model (by making the air duct slimmer at the end, etc.) No. It's archeology, not engineering.

Well, my first job was to draw a template for the nose cap. On the profile section, one can see it is a sort of truncated cone, with an ergonomical cut on its largest rim, in order to fit closely the nose and the upper lip.
On the rear section, we can see the "egg-shape" of the cone, and also a triangle (just below the mark "A"): this is the shape of the air exit.

So, the nose cap is not obvious to design and to shape, and it took me many tests and trials with cardboard to get the perfect cap template. And finally, it looks exactly like an hippo butt :)

The airway was easy to make, since it is a regular parallelepiped, with just a triangular scoop at the junction. However, I made it according to the external specs: my cardboard is much thinner that my tin plate (0.5 mm thick). So my cardboard air duct is not functional (doesn't matter) [I changed the template of this part afterwards]

Then the mouth tube. It is parallelepipedic. The real question is what were the specifications for the labium? Was the labium slanted? Well, the patent technical drawing shows that :
- the front plate of the air duct is lightly forward the front ot the mouth tube (bayonet) [see A in the pic. below].
- the labium seems to be beveled towards the front, but it surely is an artefact of the crosshatch drawing itself [see B in the pic].
However, the description use the word "reed", so it could have meant it was beveled. Anyway, this detail is really insignificant with a 0.5mm thick tin plate.

So, I completed my cardboard model with the mouth tube, and added a small rod on the end of the cone, plus 2 ear rounded wires connected to the flute by cords (they will have to be made of rubber on the definitive construction).

To be continued!


On the same topic :

- Historic Nose Flutes - The Nasalette: Template
- Historic Nose Flutes - The Nasalette: Building
- Historic Nose Flutes - The Nasalette: Review
- Historic Nose Flutes - Couchois' Whistle: Template
- Historic Nose Flutes - Couchois' Whistle: Building
- Historic Nose Flutes - Couchois' Whistle: Review
- Historic Nose Flutes - Grierson's Whistle: Template
- Historic Nose Flutes - Grierson's Whistle: Building
- Historic Nose Flutes - Grierson's Whistle: Review



  1. Sweet lord: yet another wonderful addition to the Nose Flute Collection! If you cannot find an original Nasalette, make it yourself! Only you could do this, Antoine!

    'Albion Alloys': quite remarkable indeed! Albion is the old name of Britain and obviously most towns and cities were named after the place where the immigrants from 'the Old World' had come from, in order to make a new start and create a new and better Britain across the Atlantic.

    The name Albion is supposed to refer to the meanings 'white' and 'hill'. The first thing that you see when you go to Britain is the white chalk cliffs.

    I also believe that there was some sort of myth about King Arthur's sword that was supposedly called Albion. Obviously, the name relates to the silvery white colour of the precious iron or steel it was made from.

    Bear in mind that only a king or a knight at the time would or could have a sword manufactured. With it he then could dictate the 'law of the jungle'. A good sword would absolutely make the difference. The legend about 'he who can pull the sword from the stone will rule Britain' to me comes down to that, as well as this sword having 'magical powers'.

    I hadn't realised the difference between the two technical drawings on the patent file: the two photo-montages clearly show the impossibility here. To me, this indicates that there had been no cross-reference and surely no tested prototype added to the patent procedure.

    I look forward to see the tin or aluminium end result. I am sure it will be astonishing. The cardboard Nasalette already looks fabulous! I particularly love the photos of the work in progress.

    I would love to see an exhibition one time of all your nose flutes collected and manufactured. It has already amassed to a great number of highly stylish, significant and important instruments (including the enbalmed potato nose flute)!

  2. Everything about this blog fascinated me. I am a freshman in college and play flute in the marching band here. Until I found this blog, I had no idea this kind of thing even existed. It's such an awesome idea to make this. I want one for myself!

  3. This is fantastic!. You are making yet another masterpiece.

    I believe that your nasallette, as well as the original, should be quite playable. May need a little voicing or fine tuning with a little tweaking, as is often done with tin whistles. Things like pinching the windway and/or bending the labium a bit should be easy to do.

    For example see:

    I actually have a heavily tweaked Clarke whistle that sounds great (except that, as with my nose flutes, it could use a better player).

    Miss Johnson,

    Welcome to the nose flute community. Hang around this great blog, watch some videos. Get yourself a bocarina. Make some music and have fun.

    He he, I was a freshman in college once, some 40+ years ago.



  4. @ Summer Johnson : Thank you very much for your comment! I'm glad you appreciate my work. You know, a marching band would be the perfect place for playing the nose flute...
    If you want to get one, I recommend you a "Bocarina" (you can faind them on Ebay, at GrothMusic, DanMoi, etc.) : it's the perfect model : cheap (in price), beautiful and ergonimical, and... a great player!

    All the best


  5. @ Luis: Thank you my friend! Well, you know, in this work, I do not intend to produce 'the best nose flute', but just to reconstruct an historic piece, with its flaws, and so. As far as I am able to reproduce the original design, I'm happy. And anyway, my second Nasalette plays well (softly, but nicely)... wait for the 3rd part :)

  6. @ Maikel :

    Thank you for your comment. In this case, the name Albion comes from the Old England, since "Albion Alloys Limited" is a british company.

    The differences in the patent drawings come from the fact that the technical drawing is made to show principles, not a design. Indeed, for instance, on the technical one, the thickness of the tin look the same that the airway, meaning a 1.5 mm or 2 !! I guess that the first Humanatone tin sheet was 1/3 or 1/4 mm thick only.

    Yes, there was certainly a prototype made by Carter (probably several!). But the patent is not made to "represent" a object, but "principles". More : sometimes, the inventor prefer not to show the exact shape of the prototype, in order not to be stolen.
    For instance, Mr. Schuermans do not see any problem to show his technical drawings... after he had removed the figures corresponding to the exact angles and measurements.

    All the best,


  7. @UkeHeidi:

    Thank you for clearing up the technical bit. I never realised it could work like that! I always assumed that a technical drawing, particularly for a patent file, needed to be totally accurate, in order to get through and to be able to take the wind out of any competitors' sails!

    Do you have any info at all about the prototypes made by Carter? Is or was it necessary to actually produce a working prototype when filing the patent?

    Another thing: how come there is no original Nasalette around? You would expect a few to have survived, especially after it got such a great debut at the Columbian Fair.

    @ Summer Johnson:

    Wouldn't the rediscovery of the original Nasalette, lying and waiting around some old American attic or basement, be a great topic for a graduation project?;-)

  8. Hi Maikel,

    It is certainly NOT necessary at all to produce a prototype to fill a patent. A patent is a description of one or several principles. You could even dispense with making drawings! Unless it is a "design" patent, and in this case you do not file "principles", but a real design : in this case, everything (dimensions, angles, etc.) must be actual.

    But you would never file a patent without testing your invention! Would you file a patent for a new object without having first tested it, improved it, and so?

    And imagine an inventor like Carter : he didn't begin with papers and a lawyer! he certainly began with tin, pliers, and welding iron... "It would be cool to be able to play my irish tin flute while i'm working, how could I do to free my hands?... Oh! I have a nose that can blow! I can manage to blow my flute with the nose, but how to free my hands? Oh! I have a mouth! ...etc."

    No, I have no info about Carter's prototypes. In fact, I have abolutely no info at all about Carter's work. I just know where he lived and when he married or had children.

    Regarding the supposed remaining Nasalettes : having made one (even 2!) I can tell you it take a bit of time. Even for a experienced tinsmith. I'm not, and it took me, after having designed the template, around 10 hours for each. Let' even say it would take an experienced tinsmith only 3 hours of his time : he could not sell them 10 or 20 cents.
    Those items have to be industrialised.
    If Carter went to the Columbian Fair, it certainly was in the purpose to find an manufacturer. But more certainly he found him before, and the nose flutes findable in Chicago were already manufactured.
    And a manufacturer would buy the patent, for the *principles*, but would say "this nose cap is not efficient, let's change it" or "this shape is to difficult to produce by stamping, let's modify it". So I guess that if the Nasalette was industrially prodiced, it had a different shape. And maybe was it the ancestor of the Humanatone that was sold in Chicago. Who knows...

    What I'm sure of : there had been many many models of nose flute produced in the 1900s, and I just don't know most of them. The Humanatone was a HUGE success ine the 1907-08 (it dates from 1903). And many people copied and imitated it, Europe and Australia included.

  9. That explains why there are so many different shapes of metal nose flutes from the early 1900s! Were there any laws at the time, like we have now, that state that any product has to have at least 5 differences to be considered of another make?

    I think you're quite right about how the Humanatone came into being: simply as another evolved form of the same principle. Maybe the original company went bust, as a result of investing too much in creating this mass-produced instrument. We mustn't forget that William Carter got a very decent sum for his patent! Also, setting up a production line not only takes huge investment, but a lot of persistence as well. It took Henry Ford years of investing and revising his assembly line before he actually made a bit of a return...

    I wouldn't be surprised if the original manufacturer paved the way for others to step in this way. There might even have been a competitor who got the lot for a bargain and then kickstarted production himself. The facts state that the Humanatone dates from 1903 and really took off 4 years later. This seems to be quite a lengthy route, but I reckon that sales at the time relied on events such as fairs and on travelling salesmen who sold about anything in their sideshows. Bringing the product to the people was the only way of getting it to sell, very different from the vrtual shops we have now!

    I guess the various manufacturers all wanted to try and cash in on a real novelty. No matter how inexpensive the nose flute as an instrument might be, a handmade metal nose flute would still relatively cost quite a lot. What do you reckon would be the price, looking at the hours put in and the average wages for a skilled metal worker? Comparing these to the prices as seen on the packaging of the later plastic mass-produced models would be quite interesting...

    I like your idea of how the nose flute came to be made: simply as a means of being able to play an instrument whilst working with both hands. That is the most satisfying answer I have heard so far! But then, why not simply whistle...?