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, possibly 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 21st July
A Beautiful Rolfe For Sale
Farewell to a Blunt Spinet
Tomkison 1816 For Sale
Collard & Collard 1833 For Sale
Collard & Collard 1836 For Sale
I am happy to be able to support the new Carolina Music Museum, and to this end I have been building a second replica of the beautiful 1704 Edward Blunt spinet, the orginal of which is in my care.
It has just been collected by G&R Removals, and is now on its way to its new home in Greenville, South Carolina. There it will be used to make music, and to encourage young players and (I hope) builders.
The story of the construction of the first replica is detailed on the Spinet Page of this website. It's always good to learn, and there is no finer way of learning than to build an instrument. I like to think that this second replica is an improvement on the first in some small ways; I am certainly happy with the sound, which stands comparison with the original (just visible at the extreme left of the first picture).
The original spinet is perhaps notorious as the origin of the false statements, repeated by the highest authorities for many years, that Thomas Hitchcock was making spinets as early as 1664, and indeed led to the invention of 'Thomas Hitchcock the Elder' as a spinet maker. The re-emergence of this spinet in 2014 enabled the history to be corrected. The tale is recorded in the PDF below.
We wish this spinet a safe journey, and a happy life in South Carolina.
A Beautiful Rolfe For Sale
With its beautiful hand-painted flowers on the nameboard, and the elegant edge-banded case and French stand, this is one of the prettiest of all square pianos. It was restored by Lucy Coad in 1995, and remains in good condition. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Tomkison 1816 For Sale
Restoration of this one will require quite a lot of work, but it looks like a good prospect to me. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Collard & Collard 1833 For Sale
Another one where the pedal is not shown, but does survive! This one is unrestored, but still in original condition and working order. It would surely benefit from some careful work now, but it is another tribute to the stadards of quality and reliability that Collard & Collard (and Broadwood...) had achieved by the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Please see the Sale Page for details of this one.
Collard & Collard 1836 For Sale
This exceptionally attractive Collard and Collard has been restored, and is in working order. The pedal is not shown in the photograph, but is present; the stool is included in the sale. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Parts from an Early Clementi For Sale
Sadly, it sometimes happens that a square piano is simply beyond realistic hope of repair. Sometimes, the best we can do is to rescue as many parts as possible, and give these a new life. The items listed below are from an early Clementi, with one of those beautiful painted nameboards. It appears that at some stage a former owner was attempting a restoration; the keyboard and action were removed - and lost!
Please see the Original Parts For Sale page for details (email address now corrected).
Early Piano Course - Benslow Music
The Pianos of Adam Beyer - A Call to owners
The Adam Beyer piano above, formerly at Finchcocks, is now part of the collection of the Horniman Museum in London, where it will continue to be used for regular music-making. It is currently being restored by Lucy Coad, and as part of the documentation of the project, Lucy is endeavouring to compile as complete a record as possible of the surviving examples. So far, about fifty have been identified.
If you are the owner of one of these lovely pianos, or know of one that might not be 'on record' (e.g. in the Clinkscale-on-Line database) would you please let Lucy know? Your name and location will not be divulged unless you wish - the piano could be credited as 'Private collection' and your country. It would be very helpful if you could send a photograph, as this is the best way of avoiding double-counting. Please email Lucy,
A Little Bit of History
I’m happy to say that I’m now the proud owner of a spinet by Keene & Brackley.
No, not the famous one formerly owned by John Barnes, but a lesser-known example. Admittedly, there are a few bits missing, like the keys, soundboard, lid, case… well actually it’s just the nameboard that has survived. The one that was in the Colt Collection for many years, and sold in the recent auction. According to the writing on the back, it had previously belonged to Taphouse of Oxford, who gave it to A J Hipkins. Boalch says that it then belonged to Henry Tull, who presumably gave it to Colt. Also on the back it says “Date written on key 1719.” This is interesting, because presumably when that was written more of the instrument survived. And also because Stephen Keene’s will was proved in 1712 (and he would have been about 80 in 1719 anyway.)
Another interesting point is that the design of the marquetry on this nameboard, characteristic of the period, was used as the pattern for the nameboard of the 1973 ‘D A’ harpsichord, also in the Colt Sale.
Beautifully done, if not entirely appropriate, as the harpsichord is in the Italian style. More about this later…
The Colt Collection -
The 'Missing' Instruments
At the final viewing of the Colt Collection, some of us had the feeling that we had not seen some of the instruments before. Indeed, it was widely known that at various times some instruments had been on loan to museums in Germany or Switzerland.
Sabine Klaus made a study of seventeen instruments which were on loan to the Stadtmuseum in Munich, and wrote a book about these. Copies are now available at the very reasonable price of €6 or £5, plus postage from Germany.
Please note that the book is in German, but there are pictures! If you would like a copy, please contact Sabine email@example.com
She will soon be going to Germany (where the books are) and she will send them out then. So please send your orders to Sabine before the middle of July.
Colt Collection Booklets - Available Now
Amongst the lots in the sale of the Colt Collection were the remaining stocks of the two booklets about the instruments, published in 1969 and 1981. Why the second of these, 1944 - 1981 is called the 'Golden Jubilee' edition remains a mystery to me! Do please let me know if you have any ideas.
Anyway, our friend Luke Bradley was the successful bidder for the remaining stocks, and he now offers these for sale at £5 each or £10 for the two. Postage (the same for one or two) will be £2.00 UK, £4.50 Europe, £5.50 World. Please contact Luke firstname.lastname@example.org
Sale of the Colt Collection
Thursday 7th June
Well, it's all over now. The hammer has fallen on the last of the 187 lots, and the prizes are being taken away by all means of transport. The instruments have new owners, and the Colt Collection is no more.
As predicted, there was considerable interest from all over the world, and keen bidding in the room, on the phones, and on the internet.
Also as expected, there was considerable competition for the 'Clavecin Royal' (above). Against an estimate of £3,000 - £5,000, it achieved £18,500 - nearly £23,000 with buyer's premium.
The squares generally did well, certainly bearing in mind that most of them required substantial restoration. One of my favourites was the elegant c.1790 Ganer. Estimated at £1,500 - £2,000, it sold for £5,300 (£6,572).
There were, I think, seventeen Broadwood grands in the sale. Was this too many to hit the market all at once? One or two were passed, and prices were perhaps rather less than we might have guessed. My favourite, one of the earliest Broadwood grands from 1787, did not quite reach its estimate of £18,000. Similarly, the bids for the Kirckman and Shudi & Broadwood harpsichords were nowhere near what they would have been twenty years ago. But the star of the show was the beautiful harpsichord by the Royal maker Joseph Mahoon (above) which deservedly achieved the top price of £85,560.
Some of the sundry items did better than expected; the most remarkable was a small collection of early music books, estimated at £60 - £80. Including premium, they sold for just short of £4,000!
So many pianos - too many to cover in a short review. Please look at the full results on the auctioneers' websites:
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. Undoubtedly Pepys bought a spinet from him. However, one of the strongest links with the virginal 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 at the end of the seventeenth century. 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 involved) 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, now in the care of the Horniman museum. 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.
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.
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.
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..