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  27th November

 

More on Elwerkemper of Vienna - please see under 'Piano Auctions' well down the page.

 

'Harding' A Pianoforte Classic Book

 

More Instruments at Piano Auctions

 

Gardiner Houlgate Auction 10th December

 

The UK Ivory Act 2018

A Pianoforte Classic

Originally published in 1933 and a reprint in 1989 of the revised 1978 edition book by Rosamund E.M. Harding. A comprehensive development of the pianoforte until the middle of the nineteenth century at which point the instrument which we know today was almost completely evolved. The book starts with the almost simultaneous invention of the pianoforte in Germany, France, and Italy easily in the eighteenth century and traces the technical development over the next 150 years. The text in the book is illustrated with vast amounts of diagrams, pictures and information about the piano players and makers of this time.

Please see the Bookshelf page for details of ordering.  The price for this classic book is just £15 plus postage.  Everyone should have a copy!

More Instruments at Piano Auctions

Three more 'Early' keyboard instruments at Piano Auctions' December sale, including this two-manual seven-pedal harpsichord by the pioneering English maker Alec Hodsdon.  Please see the Auction Page for details.

Gardiner Houlgate Auction 10th December

The first of the December auctions will take place at Gardiner Houlgate, Corsham, on Friday 10th.  The sale will feature the usual wide array of musical instruments and related items.  It will offer a rare opportunity to buy one of these - pictured below.

Clues: It defeated the experts on the Antiques Roadshow, and it is violin-  rather than piano-related.  Can you guess what it is?

But back to reality: there will be an early square piano by Christopher Ganer c. 1780.  The auctioneer writes:

 

Although the name board is inscribed 'Christopher Ganer Musical Instrument Maker' which suggests a date after 1784, it is probable that the name board was overwritten for resale and the actual date of manufacture is earlier. The absence of a bottom f sharp, the key escutcheon, that the dampers have built in pivoting rods and the overall style suggests this is an earlier date.

For more details of the Ganer and the other keyboard instruments, and the answer to the puzzle, please see the Auction Page.

An 'English' Harpsichord For Sale

This is an attractive and practical harpsichord, an instrument in the traditional style constructed in an authentic English case. 

Please see the Sale Page for details.

Clementi 1829 Sold

This handsome Clementi was being played regularly until a year or so ago.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

Collard & Collard 1838 For Sale

This Collard & Collard seems to be in original condition, including the strings.  Good to say that all the notes work, and the pedal is present and correct.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

George Dettmer c. 1806 For Sale

George Dettmer was an important piano-maker in early nineteenth-century London, both under his own name and for other brands.  This piano, restored and in good working order, is now offered for sale.  Please see the Sale Page for details

Thomas Preston c. 1820 For Sale

This piano has been played in company with other instruments  (including the serpent?) until recently.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

Tomkison c. 1820 For Sale

This elegant Regency piano has a lot going for it.  Note that it does have its pedal, and it's good to see the green shade.  It has been carefully restored at some time, and internally it is mostly clean and tidy.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

Piano Auctions Sale December 14th

The Piano Auctions sale on December 14th will be held at G&R's new premises in Sydney Road, Watford.  

 

There will be five items of particular interest to us, from the Stanhope Collection.    All five are much better than average, and are reported to be in playing order.

 

Pictures of the items, including two square pianos and a very unusual clavicytherium by John Paul, are on the Auction Page now.  I will add more details as soon as I can.  The picture above is of the star lot, a Viennese grand by Heinrich Elwerkemper.

Well, the Stanhope website says that the name is Elwerkemper, but I'm not convinced, and there is no record of the name in Clinkscale.  Any suggestions please?

 

Thanks to Pieter Kuiper in the Netherlands for the following comprehensive biography:

 

As the name shield on the piano which is now for sale tells, he was a Bürger in Wien, that is to say he was authorized by the Emperor to live in the city and make piano’s under his own name. He did so since 1811 when he took over the workshop of the Swiss builder Tobias Ohl who died in 1809. As was not uncommon in the old guild structure he also married the widow of Ohl.

 
Like all Vienese piano builders he lived in the area called Auf der Wieden. The simple reason for this being that it was close to the water, and more importantly close to the wood mills where large pieces of wood could be transported and sawn.
 
Elwerkemper was known als Klavier-und Orgelmacher, I am not aware of any organ build by him but the combination was quite common.
He lived from 1813 Paniglasse 85, from 1819 Alleegasse 29, from 1823 auf der alten Wieden 94 where he died in 1839.
 
So the instrument for sale can be dated 1811-1839, I would estimate closer to the first than to the latter based upon the photos now available.
 
Literature:
 - Rudolf Hopfner, Wiener Instrumentenmacher 1766-1900, ed Kunsthistorisches museum Wien (1999)
 - Patrizio Barbieri, Pianos and piano-makers in 19th century Papal Rome mentions two grand piano’s for sale in Rome by Elwerkemper, one in mahagony, the second in walnut with 5 registers. Date 1849.
 - Georg Albrechtsberger, Gründliche Anweisung zur Composition mentions Elwerkemper as a renown Vienese builder in his 1830 and 1839 edition, not in the first edition from 1790. For obvious reasons.
 - lieverbeeck.eu mentions Elwerkemper and tells us that Schubert played a piano of him in 1828, during the last 3 months of his life.
 
In summary Elwerkemper was a respected builder in the large Vienese market though not a builder who produced at an industrial scale like Streicher or Graf, hence less famous and less known.

Plans for Keene & Brackley Spinet -

Now Affordable!

The famous Keene and Brackley spinet is rightly the model for many reproductions, both amateur and professional.  I am happy to announce that by courtesy of the copyright owner of John Barnes' original plan, we are now able to offer copies at an affordable price; they are now available through Friends of Square Pianos for just £20, plus carriage at cost. 

Please see the Spinet Page - Plans and Designs for details.

 

Even if you are not going to build an instrument yourself, anyone with an interest in spinets will find this plan fascinating.  

Harpsichord after Theewes 1579 For Sale

The earliest known English harpsichord, now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, was made by Lodewijk Theeuwes in 1579.  A fine replica of this historic instrument is now offered for sale.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

Boalch Online - Announcement

Donald Boalch’s Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440 – 1840 has been a valued resource for us all for many years – the first book we turn to when we encounter an original instrument. The third and most recent edition (edited by Charles Mould) is now very difficult to obtain – the cheapest on-line offer is currently over £1,400.  Moreover, since its publication in 1995, the development of the internet in particular has brought to light a wealth of new information, and the ownership of many instruments has changed.  So we are delighted to announce that with Charles’ blessing, the launch of ‘Boalch Online’ is now assured.  It is expected to be available by the end of the year, as a free-to-access database.  One change will be that the scope will be increased by eighty years to 1920, to include the early pioneering work of Arnold Dolmetsch and others. 

 

It will run alongside Clinkscale Online, the database for early pianos, and will follow a similar format.  Photographs will be included where possible.  The work of transcribing the data from Boalch III is now complete, and development of the database itself is well advanced.  The work is being undertaken by Tom Watson (formerly of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), Tom Strange (Sigal Music Museum, South Carolina) and Tom and Michelle Winter (Clinkscale).  I am happy to be a small part of the team – I was the grit in the oyster!

 

A lot has changed since 1995;  Amendments and new information will be invited in due course.  In the meantime, I will be happy to be a point of contact, and to receive any preliminary offerings. 

Harpsichord after Ruckers 1638 For Sale

Douglas Hollick is a well-known harpsichord player with many recordings to his credit, and he is also an accomplished builder.  He made this fine double-manual instrument for a client in 1979; it is based on the 1638 Ruckers in the Edinburgh collection.  It was carefully maintained by the original owner, and in the early 2000's it was returned to Douglas' workshop for repainting and re-gilding.  It was regularly played until shortly before the owner passed away recently.  

 

Please see the Sale Page for details of this fine harpsichord.

Moeder et Stiefdochter

Yes, I know it's not a square piano, but it is at least square...  Today, the 5-voet Muselaar formally adopted the 3-voet 'Stiefdochter' and they played together for the first time. After Ruckers, of course.  Not a true Mother and Child, because the main instrument is not big enough for the little one to fit inside.  I would have preferred to have made a full-sized 6-voet muselaar, but my hut isn't big enough - and full of square pianos and spinets.

 

Still a bit of work to do for some of the notes, to ensure accurate corespondence of the jacks of the stepmother with the keys of the little one (via a slot in the baseboard).  But the sound of those which do engage neatly is very enjoyable.  The octave instrument has a cheerful trumpety sound for the upper part, but inevitably a weak bass, deficient in fundamental.  However, when added to the booming bass of the main instrument, the effect is rather splendid.

A Guide to CITES

It is encouraging to report that after a slow start, sales to the EC are starting to pick up.  These sales do of course require CITES certificates for pianos with ivory keys, and experience is good.  We just need to know the codes to put in the boxes, and which boxes should be left blank.  The attached PDF is based on successful applications, and model answers offer guidance on filling in the form correctly.  A blank form is also attached.  These are for applications to APHA in the United Kingdom; it is my understanding that application can also be made in the destination country.  For practical reasons, it is usually simpler for the seller to complete the form and make the application, but the cost should be passed on to the buyer.  The fee is currently £37 in the UK.

CITES Example.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [121.7 KB]
CITES Blank.odt
Open Office Writer [22.9 KB]

APHA aim to give clearance within 15 working days of receipt of the application.  

 

Please note that from a UK perspective, CITES approval is needed for transfer to the Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man - these are Crown Dependencies and not part of the United Kingdom nor of the European Community.  Also, by an anomaly, CITES is required for transfers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland - but not between Northern Ireland and The Republic.

 

I hope these notes are of some use, but please let me know if I can offer any more help.

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!

 

Chelveston 2022

Sadly, we had to cancel our parties in April 2020 and 2021.

It's a bit early to make firm detailed plans, but I can announce that I have booked the hall for April 8th and 9th 2022.  

Priority will be given to those who were disappointed in 2020, but if others would like to drop me a line, I will be happy to put their names on a list subject to the availability of space.  Please email David friends.sp@btinternet.com

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]

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