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 27th November
1969 Five-octave Morley Clavichord For Sale
Piano Auctions Sale December 15th
For Sale - Charles Trute?
Broadwood 1836 For Sale
1969 Five-octave Morley Clavichord For Sale
The five-octave Morley clavichord model C5 'Phillip Emmanuel' is much less common than the four-octave instrument - this is a rare opportunity to own a beautiful example in a special rosewood case. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Piano Auctions Sale December 15th
The December sale will be at Langley again, where there will be a splendid selection of 'Early Keyboard Instruments'. Five of them (three harpsichords, a virginal and a clavichord) are twentieth-century, but the square piano of the group is an Érard from 1819.
The most imposing of the modern group is a special Morley harpsichord in the Kirckman style, which was exhibited at the Bruges Festival in 1980.
Please see the Auction Page for details of all six instruments.
For Sale - Charles Trute?
This charming little piano has no maker's name, but shares many characteristics with another 'anonymous' piano which carried Trute's name internally, and claimed links with the inventor Joseph Merlin.
Please read the Sale Page for the full story.
Please see the Sale Page for details of this Broadwood, dating from the last year of the reign of King George IV. Note that the lid, although detached in this picture, is present.
Érard Grand 1860
A bit outside our usual territory, but I made an exception for this lovely Érard grand. Sorry, the other three instruments are not for sale! Please see the Sale Page for details.
Tomkison c. 1812 For Sale
The seller is open to offers for this early Regency Tomkison piano. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Christmas Music for Clavichord
It is understandable that many of us are putting our Christmas decorations up earlier than usual this year - I think we all need a little light in our lives just now. So I can recommend this beautiful recording by Adrian Lenthall, on four different clavichords. In his own words: "It is a magical evocation of being outdoors veery early on a crisp, frosty morning, as the stars are starting to fade.... As the sun then parts from the horizon... the Dayspring has broken."
So no trumpets and drums on this one, just the quiet, peaceful voice of the clavichord, playing Christmas music from mediaeval times to the present day. Who knew that Carl Nielsen kept a clavichord in his study?
Please see the Friends' Recordings page for details of this CD, and notes about the clavichords used.
Clementi 1804 For Sale
Clementi's Pianos are always popular, and this is a fine restored example in good condition. The pianos from the first few years of the nineteenth century are the prettiest; the hand-painted garlands on this one are morning glory. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Tomkison c. 1819 Free to Good Home
This piano is one of the last to bear the claim 'Maker to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent - very soon, Thomas Tomkison's royal patron was to be crowned King George IV. This piano is generously being offered Free to Good Home. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Broadwood 1823 For Sale
This handsome six-octave Broadwood is number 28435. It was restored by Andrew Lancaster in 1994, and remains in good condition. It has not been played for some time, and is of course well out-of-tune, but it is otherwise just about ready to make music again.
Please see the Sale Page for details.
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
Thomas Tomkison 1820/21 For Sale
Many of the nineteenth-century makers claimed to be suppliers to Royalty, but Thomas Tomkison really was the favourite maker for the Prince of Wales, later to become Prince Regent and then King George IV. this handsome piano dates from his first year as King. Please see the Sale Page for details.
'Viennese' Grand after Stein, 1982, For Sale
We were very sad to hear that earlier in the year Malcolm Greenhalgh had suffered a severe stroke. Better news is that he is making a good recovery, but he has decided to let his hire fleet of harpsichords and pianos go to new homes. These instruments are well-known from their many public appearances; one of the harpsichords was in the Royal Albert Hall in September, played by Steven Devine in a programme of baroque concertos featuring the lovely Nicola Benedetti.
We are now pleased to offer a fine 'Viennese' piano from the fleet. This one's last outing was as the continuo instrument for a performance of Don Giovanni. Please see the Sale Page for details.
The UK Ivory Sales Bill - Latest News
The UK Ivory Sales Bill bans all sales of ivory, with strictly limited exemptions. It received the Royal Assent in December 2018, and is now law. The attempt by a group of ivory collectors and dealers to overturn the law was rejected earlier this year, but the group sought leave to make a final appeal to the Supreme Court. We have just received news that the Supreme Court has refused to hear this further appeal, and the group now has nowhere to go. Pending all this business, the law was not enforced, and the detail of the secondary legislation was not announced.
From our point of view the important exemption is that musical instruments containing less than 20% ivory may still be sold provided that they were made before 1975, and are registered. The detail of this registration scheme, included the fee, will be decided in the secondary legislation. Also to be decided are the criteria for another exemption, ‘ items of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value made prior to 1918’. There is obviously an element of judgement involved here, and DEFRA will launch further consultation to decide how this will be done.
The bill is now expected to come into effect later this year, or early in 2021.
CITES is an international convention which protects about 5,950 species of animals, and 32,800 species of plants. It is completely unrelated, but it does also affect the movement of ivory. Please see the latest news as it concerns the UK and the EC on further down the page.
CITES - Latest News
CITES is an international convention which protects about 5,950 species of animals, and 32,800 species of plants.
I have recently received formal notification from the CITES EU Implementation Team at DEFRA confirming that as from 1 January 2021, CITES documentation will be required for all cross-border movements of musical instruments containing CITES listed species. The main materials in pianos are ivory, and baleen ('whalebone'). Please note that latest news is that although all members of the genus Dallbergia (rosewoods including kingwood and tulipwood) are regulated by CITES, there is an exemption when they are part of a musical instrument. A twist that I did not foresee is that no CITES clearance will be needed for movements between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but they will be necessary for movements between the rest of the United Kingdom (i.e. Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. So, in summary, any movement from Great Britain to any other country or territory will require CITES clearance.
This, and notes for what we need to do, has all been summarised in a two-page PDF (attached).
There are some more notes on the Ivory Page.
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!
Saturday April 18th would have been Chelveston 2020 - our annual party for Friends of Square Pianos (and Spinets, and Clavichords...). But sadly, and 'owing to circumstances beyond our control' this was not to be. So what is the outlook for 2021? The hall is booked (9 -10 April) and we have virtually a Full House of partygoers on the provisional list. And also a splendid line-up of instruments promised, perhaps the star of which is the beautiful Joseph Mahoon spinet, recently emerged from a seventy-year hibernation.
All of this, of course, depends on cirumstances which are still beyond our control. We remain optimistic, and will do our best, but cannot promise. Please watch this space.
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..