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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 18th September
Boalch Online - Announcement
'1708' Spinet by Joannes Collette
Something Completely Different
Harpsichord after Ruckers 1638 For Sale
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.
'1708' Spinet by Joannes Collette
We believe that this nicely-made spinet is based on the anonymous 1708 spinet in the collection of the Royal College of music, and was probably built from the excellent Zuckermann kit. It will be included in the auction at Veilinghuis De Ruiter in Klaaswaal, south of Rotterdam, on October 14 as lot 3995. The estimate is €2,000 - €2,400.
Image by courtesy of Veilinghuis De Ruiter
And now for Something Completely Different
This Beach Boys album from the early seventies featured a 1969 Baldwin electric harpsichord and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It was recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios, and the actual harpsichord used for this recording is now offered for sale.
A similar instrument was used for 'Abbey Road' - the Beatles' last album to be recorded.
Please see the Sale Page for details of this unique and (modern) historic opportunity.
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.
Simpson Sweetings Alley c. 1780 - Sold
The family firm of Simpson had a long history, but relatively little is known about them. At the time this little piano was made, they were operating as music publishers and instrument dealers in Sweetings Alley, Royal Exchange, opposite the Bank of England. We're happy to say that this piano, probably made by Gabriel Buntebart (former partner of Johannes Zumpe) has found a rescuer! Please see the Sale Page for details.
Broadwood 1831 Free to Good Home
This handsome Broadwood is in very good condition, an amazing offer for a piano being offered Free to Good Home.
Please see the Sale Page for details.
An English Spinet at Sworder's - Result
Sworder's auction on September 7th featured a very nice-looking spinet by an unknown maker. It is after the style of an English instrument c. 1700, as made by the school of Stephen Keene.
The picture above shows the 'broken octave' to achieve a compass from GG - d3, as on my own Blunt replica featured on the Spinet Page of this website. (Edward Blunt was apprenticed to Stephen Keene, and was his business partner for a while.)
By courtesy of Carey Beebe, we now have more information. This one was made from the Zuckermann English spinet kit, which was based on the anonymous 1708 instrument in the collection of the Royal College of Music.
The estimate for this neatly built instrument was a very modest £200 - £300. It did rather better at £820 (~£1,100 with costs). Still surely good value when we remember that the current price for the Renaissance Workshop kit of the Keene & Brackley is around £4,500.
Broadwood 1787 - Sold
Regular readers will know that these First Series Broadwoods, with their Latin inscriptions and reliable and efficient brass under-dampers, are my favourite pianos. This example of the 'elegant' model with its French stand and more elaborate inlay-banding is in need of a considerable amount of work, but it deserves to be carefully restored.
Please see the Sale Page for details.
Square Piano Prices in Great Britain
I am often asked, especially on Facebook, why square piano prices in Great Britain are so low. Some background first: Many thousands of square pianos were made here in the first half of the nineteenth century. Serial numbers of both Broadwood and Clementi/Collard and Collard reached over 60,000, and there were many other makers. Helped by a relatively stable social climate, and the respect accorded to pianos in family homes, considerable numbers have survived. But more recently, younger people have smaller homes and less inclination to accept family heirlooms of ‘brown furniture’, and only a small number have an interest in square pianos as such. Older generations ‘downsize’ or pass away, and as a consequence many pianos that appear at auction or are offered for private sale (including here on the Friends’ website) must be sold, as they have nowhere to go.
The result of these factors is that there are too many pianos chasing too few buyers, and these are the conditions for a buyers’ market, where prices inevitably fall. National auction houses are increasingly reluctant to accept square pianos. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonham’s have given up completely, and Piano Auctions Limited and Gardiner Houlgate are nervous about setting reserves (the figure below which an item is unsold) to avoid the complications of a No Sale./
When I am asked to suggest prices for pianos advertised on this site, I bear in mind prices achieved in recent private sales and at auctions. At auctions, because of commission, buyer’s premium and other costs, there is a big difference between what the buyer pays and the seller receives, so I try to go somewhere in the middle. On average, I think I don’t do too badly, because whereas some pianos sell really quickly (the record is less than half an hour) there are six currently on the Sale Page that have been there for three months or more.
It is obvious that the condition of the pianos on offer varies considerably, from ‘basket-cases’ to concert ready. Most need at least some work. But because prices are so low, the range is unavoidably flat. However, restorers have to make a living and feed their children, so the cost of a full professional restoration appears to be high. Buyers are slow to take this into account, the price of a recently-restored instrument in really good condition is therefore too low. This does mean that such pianos do represent very good value. When considering prices, please take into account work that does not need to be done, and the value of what has been done.
Another factor is that until recently, the majority of pianos sold through this site were going to Continental Europe. Probably due to the movement restrictions caused by the pandemic, and the need now for CITES clearance for the ivory (even to Northern Ireland) sales have slowed down considerably. Prices cannot fall much further, so this leaves even more choice for British buyers. But if friends from the EC can afford the £37 for a CITES permit, and allow for the delay needed to complete what is a very simple process, this is a good time to buy!
Piano Auctions Sale September 21st
Just one square piano in the Piano Auctions sale on September 21st, a recently-restored Tomkison, c.1825. Estimate £600 - £800. www.pianoauctions.co.uk
Gardiner Houlgate Auction September 10th
Gardiner Houlgate always deight us with an amazing array of musical instruments of every kind, and of the four early keyboard instruments in the September sale, Lot 1288 in my favourite. It is a very unusual small square piano, believed to have been made in Germany or Austria c.1825. It has a 'prell' action and a stand in the Biedermeier style. Obviously intended to be a compact piano (it is less than three feet long) it has an apparent compass of 3½ octaves. But if the apparent low B is tuned to G by a short octave arrangement (with C# playing A and D# playing B), it would be nearly 4. But is 1820 rather late for players to be familiar with the convention?
Please see the Auction Page for details and results of this and the other keyboard instruments, including a Tomkison square piano.
The Sale of the David Winston Collection
Dreweatt's auction on September 23 will feature twenty-six pianos and other keyboard instruments from the collection of the well-known restorer, David Winston. The full catalogue is now on-line
The star of the show for me is a beautiful first-generation Broadwood square, dated 1788. The number is given as 465, but curiously this does not tally; 465 was made in 1786.
The estimate is £2,000 - £3,000
We are happy to offer the reassurance that David will be continuing his work as a restorer.
Two instruments by Roger Murray
Roger Murray's instruments are notable for their fne craftsmanship and special keyboards. Two of them are now offered for sale.
The first is a spinet, inspired by the Italian tradition.
The second is a two-manuial harpsichord to an eighteenth-century French pattern.
Please see the Sale Page for details of these two attractive instruments.
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.
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.
Ivory Sales in the European Community
The UK Ivory Sales Bill received the Royal Assent and became law in December 2018, but there is still no news of the implementation plans. This delay between Royal Assent and implementation must surely be a record, but perhaps the government has other things on its mind. Please see the Ivory Page for more details.
Meanwhile, there is activity in the EC which looks likely to bring about a similar situation for musical instruments at least. The Commission proposal effectively bans the trade in ivory with limited exceptions for musical instruments legally acquired before 1975. The period for consultation and feedback ended on 25th February, and we await the next announcement.
Please note that the legislation in both cases concerns the date that the instrument was made, not the date that the ivory was taken from the wild. So the use of stockpiled or re-cycled ivory does not get round the law.
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!
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 email@example.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.
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!
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.
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..