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 22nd April
Unsigned Clavichord at Piano Auctions
27th April - Now Identified
A Very Interesting English Spinet
at Dreweatts Auction
1797 Broadwood at Lawrence's Crewkerne - April 23rd
A Guide to CITES
Piano Auctions April 27th -
The Best Ever?
Unsigned Clavichord at Piano Auctions
We believe this to be a Thomas and Rhodes downstriking clavichord, with the bass strings towards the back and the treble strings to the front. The tangents are attached to the underside of the levers, which strike the strings from above. As far as we know, only Thomas and Rhodes made instruments like this. Thanks to Peter Bavington for these notes.
More pictures on the Auction Page
A Very Interesting English Spinet
In the May 12 auction at Dreweatts, Newbury, Lot 315 is a very interesting English spinet. As we see, this one has black keyboard with solid ivory sharps, and a compass of GG - e3 chromatic. In the early part of the eighteenth century, English spinets were typically GG/BB - d3, with a broken octave in the bass (apparent C# divided to play AA on the front part, and D# to play BB). By about 1710, chromatic keyboards were usual: the famous Keene & Brackley spinet (c. 1711) goes to e3, but the lowest sharp GG# and the highest d3# are omitted. Then by about 1715, apart from odd exceptions, Ivory naturals were usual, with the compass extended to a full five octaves chromatic, as seen on the early Thomas Hitchcock spinets. So unless this spinet is an anomaly, its probable date is around 1713, within a year or two.
Sadly, there is no maker's name, and the nameboard is either a replacement, or has been re-veneered in a somewhat inappropriate style. The stand is a nicely-made modern replacement, but the soundboard shows every sign of being original. The instrument seems to be in good order. Shame about the nameboard, but this could be a rare opportunity to buy an original English spinet.
So the puzzle for us armchcair detectives is, who made it? Is there any more we can say about it? Do please let me know your ideas, and we'll share them.
The auctioneer's estimate is £1,500 - £2,500
Pictures by, and by courtesy of Dreweatts www.dreweatts.com
Broderip & Wilkinson c. 1800 For Sale
Soon after the bankruptcy of Longman & Broderip in 1798, Francis Fane Broderip set up a new firm with George Wilkinson. Broderip died in 1807 or possibly earlier, after which the firm continued as Wilkinson & Co until being sold to Thomas Preston in 1810.
This handsome piano, unusual in having a veneered and inlaid back, is now offered for sale. Please see the Sale Page for details.
'Viennese' Grand by Zuckermann after Andreas Stein For Sale
Many of us believe that for the music of Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven, the ideal instrument is one of these five-octave pianos from the end of the eighteeenth century, with their clear tone and light touch. It is rare indeed for an original to come onto the market, but this replica by Zuckermann is a fine example. Please see the Sale Page for details.
1797 Broadwood at Lawrence's Crewkerne
A nice looking 1797 Broadwood (N° 3812) at Lawrence's, Crewkerne, on April 23. Estimate £200 - £300.
Images by courtesy of the auctioneer www.lawrences.co.uk
Clementi 1824 for Sale
This Clementi is number 15197 (stamped) in the series of square pianos, grand total for the firm 20068 (ink). It is unusual for a Clementi in having the acoustically-elegant divided bridge. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter c. 1812
George Goulding founded a successful business as music publisher and dealer in 1785, and operated from various addresses and with various partners. The firm continued until 1866, although Goulding's name disappeared in about 1834 (he retired in 1847). The style 'Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter and the Soho Square address date this handsome Regency piano to some time after 1812. Please see the Sale Page for details of this handsome Regency piano, in good working order.
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. In either case, it is normally the responsibility of the buyer to make the application and pay the fee (£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.
An Auction Bonanza? - Some Results
Well, the sale was certainly different, with an entertaining double-act between the man with the gavel, and the young lady doing all the work on the computer. On Wednesday 24 March, the collection of the late Dr Ian Brunt was sold at Boldon Auction Galleries. There were fifteen pianos, harpsichords, and clavichords, and three organs. the notice was rather short for this sale, but we did our best to increase awareness, and the overall result was in line with other recent sales.
As we are Friends of Square Pianos, let's have a look at the squares first. Perhaps not as glamorous as some of the other instruments in the sale, but an interesting selection nevertheless.
All photographs by and by courtesy of Boldon Auction Galleries.
Piano Auctions April 27th - The Best Ever?
Well, this website is supposed to be about square Pianos, so I should really lead this news item with one - a 1787 Broadwood square just like my own favourite piano. Your chance to own one just like it. But this is just one of what is probably (from our point of view) the most amazing line-up ever at Piano Auctions next sale. Please go to the Auction Page to see the nine lots of special interest, starting with a 1632 harpsichord...
Many pianos claim Royal connections, but Thomas Tomkison really was the favourite of King George IV, formerly Prince of Wales and Prince Regent. This handsome piano is number 7191; please see the Sale Page for details.
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 consulation 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.
Feliks Janiewicz - Composer and Violinist
We are happy to say that the lovely piano which featured on the Sale Page of this website, which carries the name of the remarkable composer and violinist, is now the subject of a crowdfunding campaign by The Friends of Felix Yaniewicz.
It was spotted by the great (x4) granddaughter of the composer when she was searching the web for information about her ancestor, and its discovery led to a project to revive interest in him as a composer, with a website dedicated to him and plans for an exhibition.
Feliks Janiewicz (as he was known in his native land) was born in 1762 in Vilnius, then part of Poland. He was a contemporary and friend of Muzio Clementi when they were both living in England, and led a similarly colourful life. The piano was clearly made in the Clementi factory, and it will be part of a project involving an exhibition on Yaniewicz’s life and music at The Georgian House in Edinburgh next year.
More information about this piano and its restoration by Douglas Hollick may be seen here:
The project does need our support, and the link includes an opportunity to donate via Crowdfunding. Please help if you can.
Square Piano Hammer Alignment
The lowest hammer of the 1777 Pohlman now offered for sale exhibits an interesting detail. It is evident that the hammers were made over-length, including the wrapped leather coverings, and then trimmed to register accurately with the oblique strings. Anyone who has made or restored a square piano will understand how tricky this can be. On this example, uniquely in my experience, the lowest hammer has not been trimmed on the front edge. Obviously as these are the lowest strings, there is no lower neighbour to make this necessary, but I have never seen it before. Little details like this tell us more about how our pianos were made.
An Excellent Book
This is probably the best book about the early piano that I have ever read - everybody should have a copy. Although most of the book is about John Geib and his family in New York, the first fifty pages or so are a concise but comprehensive guide to the early piano business in London in the eighteenth century, and all our friends are there. We all know about Geib's invention of the double action with escapement, which transformed square pianos from 1786, and stayed with them until the end, c. 1870. But I did not realize that until the ascent of Broadwoods by about 1790, John Geib was the most important maker in the world. Comparatively few pianos have survived with his name on the front, but Tom has made the case that he was the maker of more of the pianos sold by Longman & Broderip than I thought. The complications of the Seven Years War in Europe and some of the bankruptcies in England are also explained.
As we would expect from Tom, the book is beautifully written and illustrated (there's even a sketch from me!) and represents excellent value. If you pay by PayPal, all the currency conversions are handled automatically, and my copy arrived securely packed in just a few days.
To order your copy, please go to Lulu publications, and just put 'Geib' into the search icon at the top. Or click the link HERE
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 party in April 2020, and now we have had to abandon plans for April this year as well.
We all look forward to the time when we can meet again, but an informal event such as this in a small hall won't work with anti-social muzzles and that dreadful phrase 'social distancing'.
"Tomorrow will be a Good Day."
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!
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.
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..