Welcome to

Friends of Square Pianos!

This is a website for anyone who owns, or would like to own, a square piano, or possibly a spinet. Or anyone who is just interested, and would like to learn a little more.

 

Please get in touch with me, David, on friends.sp@btinternet.com with questions, comments, or just to say 'Hello'.  This is a site for everyone, especially those new to the world of Square Pianos.  And of course, we very much appreciate the support of those with more experience.

 

Update  4th July

 

RWS Spinet 'Keene & Brackley' For Sale 

 

Three More Pianos For Sale - including two by Bates & Co.

 

A Handsome Rosewood Tomkison at Auction July 6th

 

Leather and Cloth  Sold

 

An 1804 Clementi For Sale

 

A Splendid Broadwood 1829 For Sale

 

Bespoke Tuning Hammers

 

RWS Spinet 'Keene & Brackley' For Sale 

I recently had the privilege of doing substantial work on the c. 1711 Keene and Brackley spinet before sending it on its way to the Sigal Music Museum in South Carolina.  This is possibly the most famous spinet in the world, and certainly the most copied, having been the subject of a book by Peter Barnes, and a plan and kit by firstly the Early Music Shop and now by the Renaissance Workshop Company.  

This was an excellent prototype for the reproductions, representing as it does one of the first instruments to abandon the 'broken octave'  in favour of a fully chromatic keyboard, more practical for today's players.  

 

We now offer on the 'Spinets, Harpsichords and Clavichords For Sale' page a fine reproduction, nicely built from the RWS kit.  

Bates & Co 1793 N° 175 For Sale 

Pianos by Bates & Co are by no means common, but by co-incidence we have two for sale this month.  Dated 1793, as they all are, this fine example is number 175.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

1801 Tomkison For Sale 

This 1801 piano by Thomas Tomkison is the eighth-oldest known survivor by this maker, who subsequently was awarded the Royal Appointment to the Prince of Wales, later Price Regent and King George IV.  His most famous piano was made c. 1820 for the Brighton Pavilion, and has recently been restored to its royal home.  This piano was expertly restored by David Hunt, and is still in good order.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

1793 Bates & Co 1793 N° 185 For Sale 

This Bates Piano is dated 1793 - they all are.  The firm operated for only one year, before Houston & Co took over at the same address; the number 185 puts it near the end of the year.

 

Please see the Sale Page for details.

1827 Tomkison at Gorringes Auction,

July 6th

This unusually handsome six-octave piano by the Royal Maker Thomas Tomkison will be in Gorringes next sale at Lewes on July 6th.  It is number 8214, dating from 1827.  Apart from the need for tuning, the auctioneers say that it is in very good order.  Note the rosewood case and 'pie-crust' edging.

Pictures by, and by courtesy of, Gorringes LLP    www.gorringes.co.uk

 

Leather and Cloth Sold

Please see the

Materials and Tools for Sale Page 

for details of red and blue cloth and hinge-leather.  

 

Have you got any surplus materials that would help somebody else?  Please let me know - the page is there for you!

An 1804 Clementi For Sale

By the time that the firm of Muzio Clementi & Co was emerging from the ashes of the bankrupt Longman & Broderip, most of the output was of 5½-octave pianos.  These exploited the patents of John Geib for the escapement action (1786) and William Southwell for the 'additional keys'  (1794) - both of which were exclusively licensed to L&B.  However, production of simpler five-octave instruments continued, although probably not at the main Tottenham Court Road factory.  It is likely that they were sub-contracted to one of the other London makers.  We don't know how many were made, but they are quite rare now: Leif Sahlqvist's extensive research has only found seven, compared to hundreds of 5½-octave pianos.  This is essentially an eighteenth-century instrument. 

 

We should remember that there will never be any more of these historic pianos made, and the opportunity to examine, document, and restore an original unspoiled example is diminishing fast. 

 

Please see the Sale Page for details.

A Splendid Broadwood 1829 For Sale

This splendid Broadwood is number 37518, and an advanced piano for its time.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

The Battle of Prague

Frantisek Kotzwara was a Czech composer, perhaps better known in Jane Austen’s time than he is today.  He was based in London for most of his career, and it was in London that he died in 1791.  Those of us with an inquisitive nature may wish to Google the somewhat bizarre circumstances of his death. 

 

 His best-known piece was ‘The Battle of Prague’, based on the events of 1757 during the Seven Years War.  We remember that it was this turmoil which caused the ‘Twelve Apostles’, the legendary group of piano makers, to emigrate to London. The flaw in this tale is that there was no such group, but it’s a shame to let the facts spoil a good story.

 

The piece is played now for us on a domestic square piano by our friend Ros of ‘Regency Rum Bluffers’, with video commentary.  This is perhaps not great music, but we don’t have to be serious all the time.  So pour yourself a glass of something nice, and click on the image below to enjoy this Regency domestic entertainment.

Piano Auctions Limited - Sale July 9th

Regency Tomkison Cabinet Piano - Picture courtesy of Piano Auctions Ltd

 

Auction rooms are amongst the businesses which will be allowed to open on June 15th.  Piano Auctions will be having a sale on Thursday 9th July.  For practical reasons this will not be at Conway Hall as usual, but at the premises of G&R Piano Removals at Langley, Buckinghamshire.  The sale will be on-line only, and there will be no viewing on the day of the sale, but viewing (by prior arrangement only) will be extended to cover the five days before.  

 

Appropriate safety measures will be in place; we cannot have groups of people crowding round instruments and multiple hands on keyboards.  The full details of Piano Auctions' precautions are published on 

http://www.pianoauctions.co.uk/news.php

 

It will be good to start to move towards normality! Please see the Auction page for details of those instruments of particular interest to us.

Bespoke Tuning Hammers

Early keyboard Instruments, whether originals or replicas, do require more frequent tuning than modern iron-framed pianos.   The costs of professional tunings mount up, and it can also be a problem finding a tuner who is happy to work with our ancient instruments.  For this and other reasons, most of us do our own tuning.  To offer some help to those thinking of having a go, I have prepared a short PDF guide, available on request.

  

It is very important to have a properly-fitting tuning hammer, which should bear on a good portion of the two flat faces of the wrestpin (tuning-pin).  If the fit is too sloppy, the corners of the pin and the socket of the tuning hammer will be damaged, and the backlash makes accurate tuning difficult anyway.  If it is too small, it will grip the top of the pin only, with the same result.

 

Tuning-hammers are available from Lucy Coad or David Law - see 'Suppliers' page of this website.  Alternatively, I am now able to offer a limited number of hand-made hammers tailored to your own pins, either directly or via a template.  Please see the Tuning and Tuning Hammers page for details

 

I have made a number of very short and lopsided hammers; these have proved popular with owners of Broadwoods and other pianos with the pins at the back, and also with spinet owners.  In both cases the lid makes tuning difficult (unless it can be thrown right back) and these special hammers can help.  They don’t look as elegant as the long-stemmed symmetrical type, but they are quite practical!

 

Medea Bindewald's Newsletter

Picture by courtesy of Stuart Hollis

 

Medea is the artist who made what was probably the last recording at Finchcocks, of music by Jacob Kirckman played on the Kirckman harpsichord.  She writes:

I am going to start my own series of occasional newsletters, and I invite you to be amongst my first subscribers. The next couple of weeks will bring some exciting news, that I don’t want you to miss! My subscribers will be the first ones to learn about any of my musical projects.

Please click on the link below to register:

NEWSLETTER MEDEA BINDEWALD (no charge)

IMPORTANT: After signing up, you will get an email prompting you to confirm your subscription. Please click on the link in that email or your subscription will not be complete. If you can’t find an email in your inbox, please check your spam folder as well. In case of any problems with the registration, please get in touch directly with me by answering to this email: medea.bindewald@web.de

Chelveston 2020

Colt, Finchcocks, and Welbeck

- Tales from Derek Adlam

Saturday April 18th would have been  ‘Chelveston 2020’.  This was not to be, but to commemorate the day, we look back with pleasure to our party two years ago, when it was our privilege to welcome Derek Adlam as our special guest.  As a musician and builder, Derek has been a leading figure in the rediscovery of early keyboard instruments in the second half of the twentieth century, and we continue to benefit from his wisdom today.

Derek’s presentations formed the main feature of the day, interspersed with tea-breaks, the buffet, and musical interludes.  Our thanks to Norman MacSween, who took comprehensive notes at the time.  These formed the outline of this essay, now edited and enhanced for us by Derek.

CHELVESTON DA TALK.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [895.4 KB]

Derek has made this file is freely available to us all for private study, but it is his copyright, and we respect this.   

The Spinets of the Hitchcock Dynasy - Names, Numbers, and Dates

The second of these two essays builds on the first ('1664 and All That' - see below) and offers a new interpretation of the data concerning the establishment of Thomas Hitchcock as the leading spinet maker.  It explains the somewhat confusing numbering sequences, their relationship to dates of manufacture, and the change on the nameboard from Thomas to John.  As before, the piece is rather long to transfer directly to this page, so please open the PDF below.

The Spinets of the Hitchcock Dynasty Apr[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.2 MB]

1664 and All That 

Some confusion still surrounds the early life and career of Thomas Hitchcock.  When was he active?  Who was ‘Thomas Hitchcock the Elder’?  One of the first histories of keyboard instruments in Britain was written by Edward Rimbault (pub. 1860).  He tells us that “John [!] Hitchcock made these little instruments of a compass of five octaves. Several specimens still exist bearing dates between 1620 and 1640”  It is likely that Rimbault mistook front numbers for dates, and numbers as high as this would indeed have carried the name of John Hitchcock, but it seems surprising that he had apparently never seen Hitchcock spinets carrying numbers which could not possibly have been dates, such as 1460.

Perhaps the most important early historian for keyboard instruments was Alfred Hipkins of Broadwoods.  He compiled the catalogue for the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition, and used this experience for his 1888 book ‘Musical Instruments – Historic, Rare, and Unique’.  It is in this book that Hipkins makes the notorious statement “…Thomas Hitchcock, whose autograph appears in spinets from 1664 and 1703.” 

His famous 1896 book ‘A Description and History of the Pianoforte’ repeats this as “Thomas Hitchcock’s written dates found within instruments made by him cover the long period between 1664 and 1703.”  But he then goes on to note that Hitchcock was the first to number his instruments, so he did realise that the numbers on the nameboards were not dates. 

As so often happens, later authors followed these statements as unchallenged facts, and the misunderstanding is repeated in James (1933) and Russell (1959).  Boalch ‘Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord’ (2nd edition 1974 and presumably 1st edition 1956) has a variation of the muddle, ascribing ‘1664’ to ‘Thomas the Elder’, and ‘1703’ to ‘Thomas the Younger’.  Even the 3rd edition (1995) still has the entries, but the editor (Charles Mould) does realise that something is not quite right, and offers the plaintive statement: “…1664 does seem early for a wing spinet in London, and the date may have been misread.  If it were possible to locate this, and the other early Hitchcock instruments, it would be possible to be more precise about the identity and dates of the members of the Hitchcock family in the early years of their workshops.” 

So it was that, having kept a low profile since 1885, the mysterious ‘1664 Hitchcock’ emerged from the shadows.  This is the story of an important little spinet – it is my privilege to be part of the story.

The essay is a bit long to transfer to this page directly, so please open the PDF below.  All comments welcome!

1664 and All That.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [959.1 KB]

A Fine 'Flemish' Harpsichord For Sale

This beautiful  harpsichord is in Germany, near Hannover.  It is modelled after one of the earliest Flemish Harpsichords, made by Hans Moermans in 1584.  The original is featured in Frank Hubbard's ground-breaking book 'Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making', and as of 1995 was owned by Mrs Diane Hubbard.  The compass of this reproduction has been extended to increase its musical versatility.  

 

Please see the Spinets, Harpsichords and Clavichords For Sale page for details.

Alec Hodsdon Virginals 1952 For Sale

 Sound-clip added

We don't seem to know very much about the Suffolk maker Alec Hodsdon (1900 - 1986) but he was an important figure in the revival of early keyboard instruments just before and after the Second World War.  He made clavichords, spinets, and virginals.  This good example, in playing order, is now offered for sale. Please see the Spinets, Harpsichords and Clavichords For Sale Page.

Discovering the Piano - Cristofori Style

OK, so this is not a square piano, but as I said, I make the rules, and this is a recording that every early piano enthusiast should have.  It features spirited playing by Linda Nicholson on a beautiful replica of a 1730 Cristofori-Ferrini piano made by Denzil Wraight.  None of the few surviving Cristofori pianos is in a condition to give us any idea of how they sounded originally, so rather than copy an original, Denzil has based his instrument on all known sources of information.  The result is a truly delightful and expressive sound, very far removed from what I was expecting.  Comparison with Zumpe's diminutive squares is hardly fair, so let's just say that this is a lovely sound, which we all should enjoy.  The recording is Passacaille 1024, which deservedly received the Diapason d'or award in 2017

 

Denzil has very kindly provided a download of the English part of the CD booklet.

CD booklet Passacaille 1024 English.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1.4 MB]

These notes will remain on the Friends' Recordings page.

Original Spinet by Longman & Broderip

For Sale

We are happy to present a rare opportunity to buy an original English spinet, recently restored and re-quilled, and in full playing order.

This is one is bears the name of Longman & Broderip, and dates from probably about 1785.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

Spinet by William Hewet

There's always something 'New'.  Many of us will have been keeping an eye on the spinet that came up for auction on August 12th at Criterion Auctions, Islington.  It was clearly an early spinet, showing the influence of John Player.  Chris Nobbs was the first to identify William Hewet as an apprentice to Player, achieving his freedom of the Joiners' Company in November 1687.  As the spinet carries his name, we may assume that it was made after that date.  It is notable that it does not have the divided C#and D# keys of the broken octave, and that the compass, although apparently up to d''', was originally just to c'''.

 

It was an attractive little spinet, with a beautiful nameboard, but closer inspection did reveal considerable complications for any possible future restoration.  It did raise again the question of whether it is sometimes better to leave these rare survivals as they are, as an historical record of all they have been through.  Once this is disturbed, it is lost for ever.

 

As expected, this spinet attracted considerable interest, and was sold for a hammer price of £5,500 (nearly £7,000 including costs).

 

I wonder if we will ever see another spinet by William Hewet?

After spending some time in Chelveston for rebuilding of the soundboard, the famous Keene and Brackley spinet has arrived safely at its new home in South Carolina.

 

There were some anxious moments (to put it mildly) with the Port Authorities in Baltimore, but after skilful negotiation by Myrtle (of G&R Removals) and Tom Strange himself, the problems were overcome.  However, the prospect of getting antique ivory keyboards into the USA is looking increasingly difficult and risky.

However, all is well now, and after careful packing and shipping by G&R, the spinet needed only minor adjustments to the tuning to play again.  It sounds lovely, with a lyrical rather solemn tone, and is now set for a long and active future with the Carolina Music Museum.

De-Ivorising

  It's always fun to invent a new word: although we won't find

'de-ivorising' in the dictionary, we know exactly what it means.

  With the approach of the UK restrictions on the sale of ivory (see the Ivory Page for details) we might consider the implications for each of us personally.  We will soon be able to register our old instruments, which will mean that they can be sold legally after the regulations come into force, later this year.  But the exemption from the ban applies to musical instruments made before 1975, and many of us have instruments made after this date by Morley and other professional makers, or indeed by ourselves, which have ivory keys.  Even if they were made a few years earlier than this, it might be difficult to prove. We should note that the age of the ivory itself has no bearing on the case; no doubt partly because of the difficulty of proving its age, I see no mention in the Bill allowing for the use of antique ivory.  There are also considerations of CITES, and so we should be actively considering replacing the ivory on our modern instruments with an accceptable substitute.  

  The second of my instruments to receive attention has been a spinet made in 2006.  This origially had boxwood sharps with thin ivory slips (recycled from old uprights) on top, as seen in the upper notes in the picture above.  For the update, I decided to make 'skunktail' sharps, as favoured by Thomas Hitchcock in particular.  These are sandwiches of Eforyn and ebony, prepared on the bandsaw, and finished by sanding. 

 

 I am very pleased with the result, which looks and feels better than the original.  Making the sharps was simple enough, but I should make two observations:  As I noticed with making the sharps for the replica Blunt spinet, the Elforyn has a severe blunting effect on bandsaw blades, which will not cut wood afterwards!  I believe that this is due to the fine mineral filler in the resin.  Also noticeable was a very fine white dust (probably the same filler) which got everywhere, and clogged the filter on the vacuum-extractor.  The bandsaw was directly connected to the extractor, but use of a belt-sander was more of a problem.  We all know that we should wear proper masks for dusty operations, but in view of the very fine nature of this powder, I suggest that it is particularly important in this case.  

Making a Spinet

  Some of you may have been following the construction - starting from a pile of wood - of this replica of a remarkable and important instrument.  The spinet is now complete and playing well, and has gone to its new home in Scotland; a second replica has joined the Carolina Music Museum.   Please see the Spinet Page for the story.

The Spinet Page

  We all love those beautiful English Spinets, and now they have a Page of their own, where I hope to encourage interest, ownership, and amateur makers.

About the 'Webmaster' (David Hackett)

My only claim to respectability is that Carl Dolmetsch once offered to take me on as an apprentice.  This was in 1962, when I had just shown him my first clavichord, and been his guest at Haslemere.  However, he also advised me that it would be better to go to University, and I accepted his advice.  Early Keyboard Instruments have therefore remained a hobby, and now happily retired, I am able to spend a bit more time enjoying them - and encouraging others, I hope..

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© David Hackett