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.

Jul 22, 2014

Vintage Schwan - Forensics and Dating

I just had the opportunity to buy some vintage "Swan logo" Weidlich & Lohse Nasenflöten, all the same color, never used ("New old stock"). The seller told me he found a bag full of them, in an old german warehouse that closed in the early 1980s. Compared to the other stuff left in the store, they should date, according to the seller from 1965-1975. My opinion is that they were probably produced between 1960-1970...

Don't they look like fresh Beetles waiting in front of the Volkswagen plant?

On a objective point of view, there should be no difference between a vintage and a modern Schwan nose flute: both are made of plastics and from the very same mould. So what? Do plastic nose flutes age and mature like wine or ukuleles? No. But if you take the time to look closer, there is a bunch of differences between "genuine" Weidlich & Lohse swan flutes and the current chinese production.

We previously had some discussions on this very topic on this blog, but I made some mistakes in the former posts. So it's time to make a new scan of our knowledge [please check here and here the former analysis]

Notably regarding the mould for chinese production, that I thought to be a copy of the genuine one: in fact, it's the german mould that is used in China. There are some tiny artefacts that were present originally on the W&L nose flute that still appear on the chinese one. For instance, these two tiny dents that were unintentional in the typo:

I used to think there were 3 different periods in the Schwan production, with an intermediate one between the original flutes and the chinese production. This is my first amendment: the were (at least) five! W & L closed their factory and (supposedly) left Göttingen at the end of 1959, probably in order to occupy a bigger manufacture (until then, they were based in a small workshop). But... I don't know if there were quality differences between the nose flutes produced in Golden age I and II: maybe the delocalisation didn't impact the production (same machines and moulds, same plastics...).

Also, I found there were 2 intermediate periods.

1955 - end of 1959
  Golden age I - Weidlich & Lohse, Göttingen.
1960 - Late 1960s/Early 1970s
  Golden age II - German prod., who ? where ?
Late 1960s/Early 1970s - Late 1970s
  Intermediate I - German prod. Plastic change.
Late 1970s - 1985
  Intermediate II, then end of German prod.
±1997 - current
  Chinese production

Catching at a glance the differences between a early production vintage Schwan and a modern chinese one is easy: the plastics and the quality of finitions have nothing to compare!

Now, the question is a bit more subtle to differenciate (and thus dating) a Nasenflöte from the intermediate periods. Let's scan the points of comparison.

1 - Plastics

The plastic used for the german production was polystyrene (which is a good quality of material for sounding instruments). But there are several quality of PS(polystyrene), with different characteristic (sounding and resonance, weight, shrinking rate while cooling, ...), and the "intermediate periods" notably correspond to a change of PS type. If you could hold the different Schwan in your hands, it becomes obvious that the plastics are not the same. The Chinese production do not use PS at all, but probably Polypropylene (PP)or Polyethylene (PE).

The plastic used during the "Golden age" is shiny but opaque.
The plastics used during the intermediate times are rather dull - let's say "satiny" - and opaque.
The chinese flutes use a shiny but somehow translucent plastic (depending on the color).

Here is the weights measured on each model (again, I have only one type of "Golden age" flute, that I suppose to be GA II, without being 100% sure):

Golden Age  7.40g
Intermediate I  7.68g
Intermediate II  7.36g
Chinese prod.  7.34g

So, all of them weigh rather the same, with a slight difference for intermediate II. 0.3g (4% discrepancy) may look very few to ascertain a difference between InterI and InterII, but other points allow us to distinguish periods I and II, as we will see.

Here is the thickness measurements made with a Palmer at the same point of the flutes. This test helps to evaluate the plastic shrinkage (remember those flute were injected in the same mould) and thus, to determine if the plastic used is the same or not.

Golden Age  1.27mm
Intermediate I  1.10mm
Intermediate II  1.47mm
Chinese prod.  1.45mm

On the thickness test gives more visibility to discriminate between plastics. This time, the difference between InterI and InterII is huge: 33%! The same plastic injected in the same mould with the same process can't provide such a difference (Ask Mr. Schuermans!). This is the proof there really were (at least) two intermediate periods.

The ratio Weight/Thickness (kind of density test with no unit) increase the difference even more:

Golden Age  W/T = 5.8
Intermediate I  W/T = 7
Intermediate II  W/T = 5.0
Chinese prod.  W/T = 5.1

(With these figures, the InterII and the Chinese schwan look very similar, but are totally different on their visual aspect)

To differenciate the nose flute plastics, I like to use a sound test. It is very unscientific, but I think it tells a lot to any of us, because we have in mind the associations between sound and plastic quality. Here are samples, made at the same conditions: letting a nose flute falling on my desk from 10cm:

Golden Age sample:

Intermediate I sample:

Intermediate II sample:

Chinese prod. sample:

Golden Age  med/high tone - good resonance
Intermediate I  medium tone - very dull sound
Intermediate II  medium tone - medium resonance
Chinese prod.  high tone - low resonance

2 - Labium

Checking a Schwan labium is the easiest way (at a glance!) to determine which period the flute dates from, in association with a check of the "nose shield stigmata" (see next point).
Indeed, that the origin, the labium was obviously designed as a regular sharp angle, with an edge parallel to the line the mouth shield line. The mould, fresh and new in 1955 (and the good quality polystyrene injected there), was able to produce such sharp angle, with a clean result. But with the time and the millions of schwan nose flutes, the state of the mould deteriorated (I suppose the part that makes the labium is a moving part...) and the labia produced became more and more irregular. The edge of the labium lost more and more its parallelism to the shield line.
The degradation phenomenon is already visible at the Intermediate periods: a bit crappy but still parallel for InterI, crappy and with an angle at InterII, then really crappy and very unparallel and even not rectilinear in the Chinese production.

One point is interesting: the labium production small "stigmata" are *exactly* the same from intermediate periods until Chinese production. Same shape, and same 2 tiny pimples. But the Golden age flute, yet not exempt of this kind of stigmata, shows a totally different arrangement, with a group of pimples on the right side. I have no explanation. Such a constant distribution of pimples after the initial production is the sign of an artefact that didn't appear at random. Was it due to a change of production method?

Golden Age  straight and clean labium - group of pimples on the right
Intermediate I  straight labium - couple of pimples on the left
Intermediate II  flimsy labium - couple of pimples on the left
Chinese prod.  flimsy and wavy labium - couple of pimples on the left

3 - Nose shield

A second point can easily be looked over to help dating (in coordination with the labium check): the nose shield stigmata.
The inside of the Golden Age nose shield is perfect and clean of any stimata. Intermediate I too, but the top edge of the air entrance are not smooth anymore. Intermediate II has a very recognizable artefact: a tiny circular depression (corresponding to the location of a mould air-hole in the inside of the flute). InterII air hole is coarse edged too. And finally, the chinese nose shield is *systematically* torn by a tear-shape hole where the airway cover joins the nose shield (+coarse edges air hole)

Golden Age  no stigmata - smooth top edge of the air-hole
Intermediate I  no stigmata - coarse edges of the air-hole
Intermediate II  tiny round depression - coarse edges of the air-hole
Chinese prod.  tear-shape hole- coarse edges of the air-hole

4 - Venting points

I call them venting points, but I'm not sure they are; I talk of the 4mm diameter round shapes appearing twice in front of the Schwan, plus one hidden by the air cover. The air cover shows one too.

The concept of venting is simple: provide many pathways to allow trapped air and volatile gases to escape from the mold quickly and cleanly. The pathways should lead directly from the edge of the cavity image of the mold, or through ejector and/or core pin clearance holes, to the outside atmosphere surrounding the mold. These pathways need to be deep enough to let air and gases out easily, but not deep enough to allow the molten plastic to escape through them.

As we can see in the picture below, the Golden Age schwan may have salient or concave venting points. On any Intermediate periods Schwan I know (including the Piet Visser's ones), the points are salient. And the chinese factory produce almost flat points, sometimes slightly convex, sometimes slightly depressed.

Golden Age  both convex and concave venting points
Intermediate I  convex venting points
Intermediate II  convex venting points
Chinese prod.  hardly convex or hardly concave venting points

5 - Edges

As for the labium, the edges seem to get coarser and coarser with the time. The Golden Age ones are smooth and clean, and immediately from the first intermediate period, they become rough. The chinese ones look even worse because of the glue in excess that overflow the plastic and even make bubbles.

Golden Age  smooth edges
Intermediate I  coarse edges
Intermediate II  coarse edges
Chinese prod.  coarse edges and glue


It is now possible to draw a Dating chart for the Schwan:


On the same topic :

- About the "Swan logo"... Part I
- About the "Swan logo"... Part II
- About the "Swan logo"... Part III
- "Swan logo"... Identity revealed!
- Much more about the Swan!
- Schwan Special Colors
- Vintage Schwan - Forensics and Dating



  1. This is such a splendid article! I am chuffed to bits that we are getting to know all these facts about the W&L nose flute.

    To me, the instruments from this batch are the most beautiful nose flutes I have ever seen. I am positive that the sound they produce is awesome.

    There are a couple of highly interesting facts in this piece:

    The original mould was indeed sold and is indeed used to date in China. I was once offered this mould for DM 20,000, which is roughly € 10,000, back in 1997. When I called back about a year later, it was stated that there was no mould any longer. No other information was given. Now I understand why.

    The quality of the material does matter. I have heard so many people stating that the material the nose flute is made from has no influence on the tone quality whatsoever. My brass flute and the perspex Froby actually told another tale when I tried them: they sounded far superior than anything I had heard before.

    Even within the same material lies a difference: the ABS Bocarina has a fabulous tone. Unfortunately my cartilage doesn't allow me to play the Bocarina the way I would like to; I only wish the W&L type-model would be made in ABS!

    Likewise, I can imagine my Brittania silver flute has an even richer tone quality than a Sterling silver flute.

    These original, Golden Age W&L flutes undoubtedly have a superior tone quality over my original, now broken, Intermediate 1. This original plastic instrument is a gem. So sad to see such a wonderful concept, product and instrument this ill-treated and neglected so fast!

  2. Dear Maikel,

    Thank you for your kind and interesting comment. As you know, it took some time to finalize this article (I'm not talking of the writing, but to collect the info...) and I feel the quest is not complete :)

    Do you remember who proposed you to buy the mould? Which company?

  3. Dear Antoine,

    You are very welcome; I mean every word I say when I state that you are doing a most fabulous job.

    For a few years I had been convinced that I had to do something to improve the (basic) tone quality of the plastic nose flute with the swan logo on the front. At a flute meeting in 1995, a world famous flute player and collector suggested to me that I should have the flute made in gold, My search for the right person to build me an instrument from precious metal took me a couple of years. Obviously, this was before the Internet.

    The first specialist flute builder I went to demanded the precious sum of Fl 16,000, which equates to € 7,500, an outrageous sum of money. The next three people I approached, two flute builders and a goldsmith, asked for € 1,600 to € 1,800. I finally decided I had to settle for a silver flute instead of a gold one. The two flute builders asked about the same: € 400 and € 450. Flute specialist Jelle Hogenhuis eventually made it. An experiment to build a Humanatone type nose flute from titanium failed to finalize; I wanted to be able to bend the Humanatone wings in order to create a multitude of wind tones. The plastic Humanatones tended to snap rather easily creating those wonderful effects.

    After I had heard the shocking sum of money that a gold nose flute supposedly had to cost, I took all sorts of twists and turns: I went to see a church organ specialist, who suggested to carve a flute from rose wood, which didn't finalize as he asked just too much for it, namely € 350; I went to see a truly talented wood miniature craftsman whom I urged to try and craft the W&L model from one piece of wood, which he couldn't do; I went to various metal workers which resulted in my copper and brass flutes; I tried expoxy to cover the plastic W&Ls as well as Humanatones; I tried electrolysis with gold, silver and copper plating, which didn't work out; I went to see a clock and watch maker to see if he could come up with something.

    I finally tried my luck at the factory that produced the plastic W&L flutes.
    I had obtained their telephone number through a saxophone/flute player and builder, who had sold me a bag with some 50, likely to be Intermediate 2, nose flutes, amongst which were the translucent and green marbled flute I have. In 1997, I had become pretty convinced the best way to go was go straight to the factory and ask them to create a gold nose flute using the original mould. The lady in charge at the office of the factory, somewhere in Germany, stated that production had ceased. She consequently offered me to buy the original mould for the princely sum of € 10,000 at the time.

    The thing is, I have tried to, but simply cannot recall the name of the lady nor the exact name and place of the factory. It might have been Frau Lohse from W&L, yet I cannot be certain, as it was too long ago and I haven't been able to retracer the paper with the names and addresses on it. I do remember it was the only company that produced and sold them at the time and that it was based in Germany. When I caled back a year or so later, the organisation had disbanded and the same lady spokesman didn't seem to be able to give me any information about the company, the factory or where the mould had gone to. There certainly also wasn't any stock left.

    1. Dear Maikel,
      Thank you for this relation of your inbelievable quest! You were as mad as I am, as far as I can see :) I'm glad to see some can survive ! I do not despair of going back to Göttingen and be able to talk (with the Nosy Diva as a translator) with Mrs Lohse.