Welcome to

Friends of Square Pianos!

This is a sort of on-line club for anyone who owns, or would like to own, a square piano, or possibly a spinet. Or anyone who is just interested, possibly 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 20th May



Sale of the Colt Collection -

Catalogue on-line now


Chelveston 2018 - the John Player Spinet

and new note about 

Keyboard Compass and the 'Broken Octave'



UK Ivory Sales Ban Announced



Sale of the Colt Collection

Catalogue on-line

Sean of Piano Auctions Ltd has done a splendid job of documenting this famous collection, and the catalogue is now available on-line




The printed version of the catalogue will be available soon; this also gives admission to the viewings for two people.

Chelveston 2018 - The Instruments

Thanks to our Friends, we had a fine collection of instruments at the party.  Some of my favourites will be featured on this page over the next few weeks.

Spinet by John Player, c.1700, and 

Keyboard Compass and the 'Broken Octave'

The instrument that many of us call 'The English Spinet' was probably invented in Italy.  The earliest known examples of this beautiful and practical design were made by Giralomo Zenti in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, and it is known that he came to England in 1664 as 'the King's virginal maker', but he returned to Rome in the same year.  However, his design for a compact and practical musical instrument quickly found favour, and was adopted by several of the established English virginal-makers.  It seems likely that Charles Haward was one of the earliest makers, and his instruments receive favourable mention in Samuel Pepys' diary, and undoubtedly Pepys bought a spinet from him.  However, one of the strongest links with the virgnal makers is provided by John Player.  The contrast between John Player's rectangular virginals (example seen below, co-incidentally made in 1664) and the new wing-shaped spinets could hardly be greater.

We often speak of instruments being 'newly-discovered' but of course the generations who have cared for them knew that they were there all the time.  However, it is fair to say that the John Player spinet that came to Chelveston has been keeping a low profile for very many years.


It is not dated, but it was probably made around 1700.  John Player was born about 1634 , the son of a shepherd Giles Player in Gloucestershire.  He came to London,and was apprenticed to Gabriel Townsend (another of the virginal-makers) for 7 years from 1650.  He was created a Freeman of the Joiners' Company in June 1658, and was Master of the Company from 1684 to 1688.  His end is uncertain, but he probably died or retired between 1705 and 1708.  


It has recently been expertly restored by Andy Durand,  and the transformation of the nameboard marquetry (although by no means the most challenging of the tasks) does offer a good 'before & after' comparison.

As well as the 1664 virginal (in the Cobbe Collection) at least ten of John Player's spinets have survived, most famously the example in the collection of the V&A museum - present whereabouts unknown.  However, a beautiful replica of this one by our dearly-remembered  friend Robert Shaftoe was brought to Chelveston 2018 by Joy Shaftoe.  


Keyboard Compass and the 'Broken Octave'

  The keyboards of the early English spinets changed considerably between 1680 and 1720.  One feature was the use of the 'Broken Octave'.  Because key-signatures with few sharps or flats were usual, and the notes in the bass were harmonic rather than melodic, there was little or no call for some of the lowest notes such as GG#, AA#  and C# and D#.  This meant that a keyboard with the useful bass note of GG could make use of the little-used C# and D# keys to play the notes AA and BB (or BBflat).  In the organ in particular, this offered a considerable saving in space and material for large pipes.  There was some saving of space on a keyboard instrument, but presumably also keyboard players expected this.  The result was a keyboard that appears to start on BB, but in fact plays GG.  This arrangement we call the 'short octave'

  Towards the end of the seventeenth century, music began to include lower 'accidentals' (probably Eflat at first) and so the lowest two sharp keys were required to play the notes we now expect.  However, probably because players were used to it, rather than expand the keyboard, the 'broken octave' was introduced.  At first the D# key was split to play BB (or BBflat) from the front part, and the chromatic note D# (= Eflat) from the back half.  At least one early Haward spinet is like this.  Then the C# also was split, to play AA from the front part, and C# from the back.  This required (as well as extra strings and jacks) some ingenious engineering of the keys themselves.  The picture below shows the broken octave arrangement (on a replica of a 1704 Blunt) with the C, C# and D keys removed.  I hope this makes it clearer!

This arrangement continued until about 1710 or shortly before, at which time the keyboard was made wider, and all notes played as we now expect them to play today.  At first, the GG# was omitted...

..but this was included by about 1715.  


  There were developments at the top end as well.   On the  c. 1700 Player which came to Chelveston, the top note is d'''.  But earlier spinets only went up to c''', as in the V&A spinet and its replica.  The original is believed to have been made c. 1685.  By about 1710, the top had reached at first e''', then f''' (as in the 'freelance' instrument above) and finally g'''. This remained the standard compass of the English spinet until near the end, when a few late examples have the FF -f''' compass to match the English harpsichords.


   Also until about 1715, the usual colour of the natural keys had been black (ebony) with ivory sharps.  But after this date the colours were usually reversed, with ivory naturals.  The special 'skunk-tail' sharps seen in the picture below were a feature of Hitchcock spinets, but also occasionally used by other makers.

UK Ivory Sales Ban Announced

The long-awaited ban on the sale of ivory in the UK was announced on  3rd April.  This is amongst the toughest in the world, and will prohibit all sales with certain narrow exemptions.  


Importantly for us, the sale of musical instruments made before 1975 and containing less than 25% ivory will be allowed.  This beautiful Hitchcock spinet will therefore be safe.


The ban affects all sales and trade,including exports. 


We should be aware that there is no exemption for the use of old, reclaimed ivory on new-build instruments. Even if we can prove that the ivory is old, the ban still applies if the instrument was made after 1975.


Please see the Ivory Page for more details.

Important Events in 2018



Opening of the New Finchcocks in Tunbridge Wells.


See the new website http://www.finchcocks.co.uk/events.html



Sale of the Colt Collection

Thursday 7th June



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.    

 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.

Square Piano Tech

Please take time to visit our sister website www.squarepianotech.com  This is run by our Friend Tom Strange in America, and is rapidly growing into a treasure-store of permanent wisdom.  

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