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 email@example.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 18th May
Thomas Preston c. 1819 For Sale
Edward Smith c. 1815 Sold for just £60
- but some Good News!
Thomas Preston c. 1819 For Sale
Thomas Preston was a dealer and music-seller rather than a maker, but like others he sold pianos with his name on the front. On this one we can just make out 'GWD' on the soundboard: George Dettmer was one of the most successful makers for others, as well as selling under his own name. Please see the Sale Page for details.
J G Malmsjö, Göteborg
The name of J G Malmsjö was not familiar to me, but as ever 'Clinkscale' came to the rescue. Five pianos are recorded, four of them in the Skenkonstmuseet in Stockholm. This rare and lovely piano by the Royal Maker is now being generously offered Free to Good Home*. Please see the Sale Page for details.
*Note that as an unconditional gift, this one is unaffected by the UK Ivory Sales Act.
Broadwood c. 1829 For Sale
The serial number on this six-octave Broadwood is not clear, but it looks like 3710? Whatever the final digit, if it begins 37--- then the date is 1829, which fits the specification and appearance of the piano perfectly Please see the Sale Page for details.
Edward Smith c. 1815 at Toovey's Auction
Image by courtesy of Toovey's
This beautiful piano by Edward Smith of Acton Place, Kingsland Road, appeared at Toovey's auction (Washington, West Sussex) as Lot 2137 on 12 May. Please see the Auction Page for more details and pictures.
1614 Ruckers at Gardiner Houlgate
The star of Gardiner Houlgate's Musical Instrument Sale on 17th June will be this rather fine two-manual harpsichord by Andreas Ruckers. Formerly in Dartington Hall, it was sold at Sotheby's in Novemeber 2004 for £104,160. It is an example of an English 'ravalement', with crossbanded mahogany veneer to the outside of the case to match contemporary furniture, but the inside largely untouched. AA - e3 compass with ivory keys, 2 x 8' + 4', lute, and a pedal to operate a machine stop.
The soundboard looks original, with an 'AR' rose. The seventeenth-century painting inside the lid is of a landscape outside St Theresa's hometown of Avila, and is attributed to van der Meulen (1632 - 90).
Ivory Sales in the European Union
The European Commission in Brussels has now published the directive restricting ivory sales in the European Union. It is my understanding that each member state is required to enact appropriate national legislation. Although states have some flexibility to alter the detail (e.g. penalties and registration procedures) it is also my understanding that the principles must be carried forward into law.
"A type of legislation issued by the European Union which is binding on Member States in terms of the results to be achieved but which leaves to Member States the choice of methods."
The two documents below form a summary of the directive.
Finally, after three long years, a group of something over forty of us came together on 9th April for an enjoyable party at Chelveston. We assembled over twenty instruments, including spinets, clavichords, a Chappell 'Glasschord', a 5-voet muselaar and child, a curtal (aka dulzian), a baroque bassoon baroque oboes and oboes da caccia, and oh, yes - a square piano!
We were entertained to some spirited playing by our volunteer musicians. There were a couple of short talks, and mostly it was an opportunity to chat to each other, make friends, and enjoy numerous tea and lunch-breaks.
But surely the highlight of the party, and a first for us at Chelveston, were some songs by Purcell, Couperin, and others sung by the lovely soprano Angela Hicks.
New Page - Plans For Sale
Please see the new page Plans For Sale for details of plans of spinets, harpsichords, and clavichords offered at reasonable prices.
UK Ivory Sales Act - Enforcement Date
At last - after many delays, the date of enforcement of the UK Ivory Sales Act has finally been announced - 6th June.
From 6 June, you will not be able to deal in items containing or made of elephant ivory under the Ivory Act 2018 unless they are registered as exempt or certified as exempt.
The full document may be seen by clicking on the picture of the elephant
above. Readers of this site will know well that due to our friends' efforts, musical instruments made before 1975 and containing less than 20% ivory are eligible for registration. The link to the registration process is below:
The fee is £20.
Sales through this website
Before they can be offered for sale on this website, all pianos with ivory keys must now be registered as required by the UK Ivory Sales Act; I will need the registration number to include in the description. This applies to all listings on my website, even instruments that are not in the UK and might not be sold to UK - as 'facilitator' of a possible transaction, I have to comply with the law. There seems to be no problem registering an instrument anywwhere in the world - residence in the UK is not a condition.
The exceptions to this are cases where we can be certain that the keys are not ivory, or instruments which are genuinely offered 'Free to Good Home' - the act applies to sales, not gifts.
Please note that instruments with ivory keys (even if recycled) made in 1975 or later cannot be registered. We must be able to prove that they were made before this.
A couple of years ago, a piano appeared on the Sale Page of this website, bearing the name Yaniewicz. The piano itself was evidently from the Clementi factory, and shared the same beautiful presentation of the name. It was in first-class playing condition, having been skilfully restored by Douglas Hollick.
By a stroke of good fortune, it was spotted by Josie Dixon, a direct descendant of the famous Polish musician. She was immediately attracted to it, and devised a plan to secure its future as a tribute to her several-times-great-grandfather. Please take time now to enjoy this beautifuly-made short film to hear the story, some music played on the piano, and the plans for the future.
Plans for Keene & Brackley Spinet -
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.
Boalch Online - Announcement
Update January 2022
We were hoping that the on-line launch would be 31 December 2021, but unfortunately the web designer has fallen ill, and a replacement for this vital role is being sought. We are now aiming to launch in June.
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.
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.
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!
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..