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 22nd July
An Early Clavichord by John Barnes
The David Winston Collection
An Early Clavichord by John Barnes
John Barnes was an important figure in the development of interest in early keyboard instruments in this country, not least for his designs for the plans and kits formerly sold by the Early Music Shop, and still available from The Renaissance Workshop Company. His plan of the famous Keene & Brackley spinet was the basis of the very successful kit for what is now probably the world's most popular spinet ever!
On August 28th, a very early example of his work will be at the Great Western Auctions sale in Glasgow. Made in 1963, this instrument (listed as a teak table piano...) comes from the collection of William Hardie.
This lovely little clavichord instrument is an important part of our history. Surely it deserves to be in the Edinburgh Museum?
Images by courtesy of Great Western Auctions
Auction News -
The David Winston Collection
Image by courtesy of David Winston
Dreweatt's auction on September 23 will feature Twenty-six pianos and other keyboard instrument from the collection of the well-known restorer, David Winston. the full catalogue will be released nearer the time, but in the meantime the instruments may be see on David's website www.periodpiano.com
We have plenty of notice for this major sale, so let's check our money-boxes!
We are happy to offer the reassurance that David will be continuing his work as a restorer.
Clementi 1824 - Free to Good Home
This lovely piano is one of the last style to bear the Clementi name, before the firm became 'Collard & Collard late Clementi & Co' c. 1831. That said, it might be one of the 'first of the last'. Clementi/C&C numbers become a bit confusing after this time, but the stamped 461 is clear enough. This one does appear in Leif Sahlquist's database, as one of the early 'Grand Squares', dated to 1827. This was the first year when the Clementi 'Stewart Patent' was employed, by which all the plain wire strings were looped around a single pin on the iron plate, and returned to a second tuning-pin. Before this, each string had its own individual 'eye', as the covered bass strings still do. This system is universally employed up to the present day.
The owner is generously offering this fine piano Free to Good Home. Please see the Sale Page for details.
John Storrs Spinet for Sale
In the old days, when we were allowed to have parties, this spinet came to Chelveston 2020, where Lizzie delighted us with her spirited playing. So I can say that I have seen and heard this one, which was recently constructed from the kit by a professional maker. This attractive and practical spinet, in excellent playing order, is now offered at a very reasonable price. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Piano Auctions June 29th - Results
The Piano Auctions' sales at the spacious G&R premises at Langley, Buckinghamshire, are proving to be very successful, and there must be enormous logistical advantages in not having to transport 100+ pianos from the warehouse to central London and back again. Much as we miss our Friends of Square Pianos meetings at Conway Hall, we wonder if the move to the G&R premises might be permanent?
This fascinating 'Chimera' did attract a lot of attention and enquiries, but sadly not much in the way of actual bids. I would have bought it, just for fun, if only I had enough room...
The results for the 'modern' pianos were good, and confirm the success of the sales at Langley, but to be honest the prices achieved by the early keyboard instruments were disappointing.
Please see the Auction Page for the prices realized for the Chimera, the Tomkison piano, the very pretty Alan Whear spinet, and the two Goff clavichords.
Broadwood c.1822 For Sale
This handsome piano is in a fine case, with brass inlay to the nameboard. The serial number has been lost, but it is believed to date from 1822. The 5½-octave compass, the style of the veneering and layout of the soundboard are consistent with this.
Please see the Sale Page for details.
Broadwood 1786 For Sale in Italy
These first-generation Broadwoods are my favourite square pianos, and it's not often that an example is offered for sale in mainland Europe. This one is the 'Elegant' model, with inlay-bandings and a French stand. This one is in Brescia, Italy. Please see the Sale Page for details.
Gardiner Houlgate June 18th - Results
The highest price for a keyboard instrument in this interesting auction was £1,350 (c. £1700 with costs) for this beautiful 1776 Beck. As ever, it is the eighteenth-century instruments that achieve the best results. Please see the Auction Page for pictures and details of the eight early keyboard instruments in this sale.
Early Rolfe Piano at Toovey's, June 24th
Please see the Auction Page for details of this pretty piano and the price achieved.
Summary of discusson transferred to the Ivory Page
A Very Interesting English Spinet
Our highly-trained specialist spinet-hounds (Lizzie and Chris) visited Dreweatt's to view this one. Despite their very best efforts, we have really only confirmed what we thought originally - this instrument was almost certainly made between 1710 and 1715, and the musical specification has not been altered. (The keyboard compass is highly characteristic of this short period.) However, the veneering scheme is probably not original, and there is no trace of a maker's name anywhere, including internally on the keys.
It appeared to be mostly original, except for a set of modern jacks, and the strings of course.
In the picture above, we see that the inside of the left cheek is plain wood (it really does look like mahogany) and does not match the scheme of the nameboard (below). This is very odd, and something we have never seen on any other spinet, supporting the proposition that the veneering is not original. Could the entire nameboard be an early replacement?
The picture below shows what is almost cetainly the original (mahogany?) lid and hinge, indicated by the fixing of the hinge with brass pins, rather than screws. However, shrinkage and warping of lids is common, and we see that a batten of a different timber has replaced the back edge, and the hinges have been fixed to this by means of screws. The appearance of the spine, made from common softwood, is typical.
This interesting spinet does have 'issues', but the bidding was very brisk, and it achieved a hammer-price of £6,000 - well above estimate.
Images by courtesy of Dreweatt's
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.
A Guide to CITES
It is encouraging to report that after a slow start, sales to the EC are starting to pick up. These sales do of course require CITES certificates for pianos with ivory keys, and experience is good. We just need to know the codes to put in the boxes, and which boxes should be left blank. The attached PDF is based on successful applications, and model answers offer guidance on filling in the form correctly. A blank form is also attached. These are for applications to APHA in the United Kingdom; it is my understanding that application can also be made in the destination country. For practical reasons, it is usually simpler for the seller to complete the form and make the application, but the cost should be passed on to the buyer. The fee is currently £37 in the UK.
APHA aim to give clearance within 15 working days of receipt of the application.
Please note that from a UK perspective, CITES approval is needed for transfer to the Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man - these are Crown Dependencies and not part of the United Kingdom nor of the European Community. Also, by an anomaly, CITES is required for transfers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland - but not between Northern Ireland and The Republic.
I hope these notes are of some use, but please let me know if I can offer any more help.
Ivory Sales in the European Community
The UK Ivory Sales Bill received the Royal Assent and became law in December 2018, but there is still no news of the implementation plans. This delay between Royal Assent and implementation must surely be a record, but perhaps the government has other things on its mind. Please see the Ivory Page for more details.
Meanwhile, there is activity in the EC which looks likely to bring about a similar situation for musical instruments at least. The Commission proposal effectively bans the trade in ivory with limited exceptions for musical instruments legally acquired before 1975. The period for consultation and feedback ended on 25th February, and we await the next announcement.
Please note that the legislation in both cases concerns the date that the instrument was made, not the date that the ivory was taken from the wild. So the use of stockpiled or re-cycled ivory does not get round the law.
Square Piano Hammer Alignment
The lowest hammer of the 1777 Pohlman now offered for sale exhibits an interesting detail. It is evident that the hammers were made over-length, including the wrapped leather coverings, and then trimmed to register accurately with the oblique strings. Anyone who has made or restored a square piano will understand how tricky this can be. On this example, uniquely in my experience, the lowest hammer has not been trimmed on the front edge. Obviously as these are the lowest strings, there is no lower neighbour to make this necessary, but I have never seen it before. Little details like this tell us more about how our pianos were made.
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
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!
Sadly, we had to cancel our party in April 2020, and now we have had to abandon plans for April this year as well.
We all look forward to the time when we can meet again, but an informal event such as this in a small hall won't work with anti-social muzzles and that dreadful phrase 'social distancing'.
"Tomorrow will be a Good Day."
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..