Welcome to

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 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  7th August

 

Child's Harpsichord by John Rawson 1980s For Sale

J & A Watson (Edinburgh)

For Sale in Canada

 

1829 Broadwood - Price Reduced

 

A Beautiful Piano by Hornung & Moller

For Sale

Child's Harpsichord by John Rawson 1980s For Sale

This beautifully-built and charming harpsichord is at standard pitch, but has a narrow keyboard reminiscent of the Pascal Taskin miniature formerly in the V&A.  The keyboard is approximately ¾ size, suitable for a child or an adult with small hands.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

J & A Watson (Edinburgh)

For Sale in Canada

We do not often have pianos offered for sale in Canada: this is a rare opportunity.

 

The firm of John and Archibald Watson proclaimed themselves to be 'From London'.  This attractive piano certainly shows signs of a Broadwood heritage.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

1829 Broadwood - Price Reduced

The price of this lovely piano has been reduced to just £750.  The owner is moving house next week, and it's just possible that he could do a deal if it could be moved before then.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

A Beautiful Piano by Hornung & Moller

For Sale

This beautiful piano by the Danish Royal Court maker must  be one of the last European squares.  The nameboard lists a medal awarded in London in 1862, so it must be later than that, but probably not much.  

Please see  the Sale Page for details.

Two Cottage Pianos Free to Good Home

Not actually square pianos,  but two cottage pianos from the Collection of the late Kenneth Mobbs.  Some of his pianos have been donated to the Royal Academy of Music, and the majority have gone to New Zealand to form a new collection.

But these two litle 'cottage' uprights are still looking for new homes. 

Please see the Sale Page for details.

Harpsichord by Andrew Wooderson 1994

For Sale

This beautiful and practical harpsichord  has featured in many concerts and recitals, most recently in the Classic FM video of 'The Four Seasons' with Jennifer Pike.  Please listen!  Classic FM Video  

It is now offered for sale - Please see the Sale Page for details.

Emergency Rescue!

  This magnificent American Organ by Clough & Warren of Detroit is the subject of a house-clearance, and urgently needs a new home.  It is currently in a house in Wellingborough, but the bad news is that  a window had to be taken out to get it in, and a builder is advising there is a risk of the wall collapsing if this were attempted again.  But we're checking this.  The top section with the dummy pipes is detachable.  It is nearly nine feet tall!

It is offered Free to Good Home; the new owner would of course be responsible for dismantling, collection and transport.  For further information, please contact me, David, friends.sp@btinternet.com

Clavichord by Thomas Wess, 1969 - Sold

Although not well-known these days, Thomas Wess was an important figure in the keyboard instrument scene.  This attractive polygonal clavichord is now offered for sale at a very reasonable price.  Please see the Spinets, Harpsichords,  and Clavichords Sale Page for details.

'Italian' Harpsichord by David Leigh 1975

Please see the Spinets Harpsichords and Clavichords Sale Page for details of this fine harpsichord from a professional musician.

The Earliest Morley Clavichord?

- Offers Invited

Joseph George Morley was a member of the harp-making side of the family.  Early in the twentieth century he moved t0 Paris, where he worked with Érards.  During that time he knew Arnold Dolmetsch, who was then with Gaveau.  Shortly before the First World War both men returned to England, Dolmetsch to set up in Haslemere, and J G Morley in London, at 6, Sussex Place, Kensington.  This could well be the first Morley clavichord; it is certainly an early one, and probably dates from just after the war.  As the years went by, it was his cousin John Sebastian Morley who developed the keyboard instrument side of the business, employing skilled craftsmen from Paris, who were without work in the aftermath of the war.  The business  continues to this day, now under the leadership of  John Morley. 

This historic clavichord did not find a buyer in the July 22-23 sale of Chorley's auctioneers of Cheltenham, but the auctioneers are now happy to receive offers.  The estimate was £700 - £900, so presumably offers below this would be considered. 

Please contact Laura Milne,  laura.milne@chorleys.com

 

My thanks to John Morley for these notes, and to Chorley's for permission to reproduce these photographs.

 

www.chorleys.com

Music  on a Longman & Broderip Square 

  It's always a pleasure to listen to music played on a fine square piano, especially a recording as good as this.  

  Before Peter and Mary Berg's beautifully-restored 1792 L&B set off on its journey to mainland Europe, Timothy Roberts made this recording of music written from 1773 to 1801 by J C Bach, Samuel Wesley, Steven Sorace, and Samuel Arnold.  

  Copies are available via this link  Order a Copy

RWS Spinet 'Keene & Brackley' Sold 

I recently had the privilege of doing substantial work on the c. 1711 Keene and Brackley spinet before sending it on its way to the Sigal Music Museum in South Carolina.  This is possibly the most famous spinet in the world, and certainly the most copied, having been the subject of a book by Peter Barnes, and a plan and kit by firstly the Early Music Shop and now by the Renaissance Workshop Company.  

This was an excellent prototype for the reproductions, representing as it does one of the first instruments to abandon the 'broken octave'  in favour of a fully chromatic keyboard, more practical for today's players.  

Bates & Co 1793 N° 175 For Sale 

Pianos by Bates & Co are by no means common, but by co-incidence we have two for sale this month.  Dated 1793, as they all are, this fine example is number 175.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

1793 Bates & Co 1793 N° 185 Sold 

This Bates Piano is dated 1793 - they all are.  The firm operated for only one year, before Houston & Co took over at the same address; the number 185 puts it near the end of the year.

 

Please see the Sale Page for details.

A Splendid Broadwood 1829 For Sale

This splendid Broadwood is number 37518, and an advanced piano for its time.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

The Battle of Prague

Frantisek Kotzwara was a Czech composer, perhaps better known in Jane Austen’s time than he is today.  He was based in London for most of his career, and it was in London that he died in 1791.  Those of us with an inquisitive nature may wish to Google the somewhat bizarre circumstances of his death. 

 

 His best-known piece was ‘The Battle of Prague’, based on the events of 1757 during the Seven Years War.  We remember that it was this turmoil which caused the ‘Twelve Apostles’, the legendary group of piano makers, to emigrate to London. The flaw in this tale is that there was no such group, but it’s a shame to let the facts spoil a good story.

 

The piece is played now for us on a domestic square piano by our friend Ros of ‘Regency Rum Bluffers’, with video commentary.  This is perhaps not great music, but we don’t have to be serious all the time.  So pour yourself a glass of something nice, and click on the image below to enjoy this Regency domestic entertainment.

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!

 

Chelveston 2020

Colt, Finchcocks, and Welbeck

- Tales from Derek Adlam

Saturday April 18th would have been  ‘Chelveston 2020’.  This was not to be, but to commemorate the day, we look back with pleasure to our party two years ago, when it was our privilege to welcome Derek Adlam as our special guest.  As a musician and builder, Derek has been a leading figure in the rediscovery of early keyboard instruments in the second half of the twentieth century, and we continue to benefit from his wisdom today.

Derek’s presentations formed the main feature of the day, interspersed with tea-breaks, the buffet, and musical interludes.  Our thanks to Norman MacSween, who took comprehensive notes at the time.  These formed the outline of this essay, now edited and enhanced for us by Derek.

CHELVESTON DA TALK.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [895.4 KB]

Derek has made this file is freely available to us all for private study, but it is his copyright, and we respect this.   

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.

The Spinets of the Hitchcock Dynasty Apr[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.2 MB]

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!

1664 and All That.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [959.1 KB]

Spinet by William Hewet

There's always something 'New'.  Many of us will have been keeping an eye on the spinet that came up for auction on August 12th at Criterion Auctions, Islington.  It was clearly an early spinet, showing the influence of John Player.  Chris Nobbs was the first to identify William Hewet as an apprentice to Player, achieving his freedom of the Joiners' Company in November 1687.  As the spinet carries his name, we may assume that it was made after that date.  It is notable that it does not have the divided C#and D# keys of the broken octave, and that the compass, although apparently up to d''', was originally just to c'''.

 

It was an attractive little spinet, with a beautiful nameboard, but closer inspection did reveal considerable complications for any possible future restoration.  It did raise again the question of whether it is sometimes better to leave these rare survivals as they are, as an historical record of all they have been through.  Once this is disturbed, it is lost for ever.

 

As expected, this spinet attracted considerable interest, and was sold for a hammer price of £5,500 (nearly £7,000 including costs).

 

I wonder if we will ever see another spinet by William Hewet?

After spending some time in Chelveston for rebuilding of the soundboard, the famous Keene and Brackley spinet has arrived safely at its new home in South Carolina.

 

There were some anxious moments (to put it mildly) with the Port Authorities in Baltimore, but after skilful negotiation by Myrtle (of G&R Removals) and Tom Strange himself, the problems were overcome.  However, the prospect of getting antique ivory keyboards into the USA is looking increasingly difficult and risky.

However, all is well now, and after careful packing and shipping by G&R, the spinet needed only minor adjustments to the tuning to play again.  It sounds lovely, with a lyrical rather solemn tone, and is now set for a long and active future with the Carolina Music Museum.

De-Ivorising

  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.  

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; a second replica has joined the Carolina Music Museum.   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.

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