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  20th September

 

Clementi 1811 For Sale

 

John Geib and Longman & Broderip

 

The UK Ivory Sales Bill - Latest News

 

CITES - Latest News

Clementi 1811 For Sale

This Clementi is number 10400.  Coincidentally, the second square piano that I owned many years ago was number 10440, identical to this one.  Also like this one, it did need a fair amount of work, but after restoration it was a lovely little piano.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

John Geib and Longman & Broderip

We know that Joh Geib was one of the most important makers for Longman & Broderip, an it was his 1786 patent for the escapment double action (licensed to L&B) that was important for much of the success of the brand in the later years of the century and beyond.  It is a valuable historical detail that when it is necessary to remove the soundboard of one of his pianos for restoration that his signature and the date are occasionally found underneath.  That is the case with this single action example, sold via this website, and now lovingly restored in Spain.  

However, this one has an additional detail - the cardboard shape of a key.  Could this possibly have been a 'trademark'?  has anyone seen anything like this before?  Please let me know.

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.

Auction News

There was the usual wide selection at Gardiner Houlgate on 11th August, but sadly no keyboard instruments.   However, there are three lots of interest at Piano Auctions on September 24th.

The best of these is a very desirable 1816 Broadwood grand - truly a 'Beethoven' piano.  The pedal lyre is a somewhat unsatisfactory replacement, and with these early grands we can never be sure how much restoration will be necessary, but this one is surely worth it - it could be a very fine piano indeed.  The estimate is £7,000 - £10,000.

Lot 47 is a reproduction of a 'Viennese' grand by an unknown maker.  Estimate £3,000 - £5,000.

And something a bit different - an unstarted kit to build a clavichord, complete with  all strings, tangents, etc.  Sadly, we do not know the maker of the kit - has anyone got any ideas?

Images by, and by courtesy of Piano Auctions Ltd.  Please note that as last time, the auction will not take place at Conway Hall, but on-line only.  Viewing will be by appointment only at the premises of G&R at Langley.  Details on the website   www.pianoauctions.co.uk

1858 Collard & Collard - Free to Good Home

This is the first time that I have used an image of the lid as the lead picture, but this is such a stunning piece of wood that I just had to share it.  Underneath the lid is a magnificent 6¾-octave Collard & Collard Grand Square in playing order.  We are happy to say that this magnificent instrument now has a new home.

Please see the Sale Page for details.

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).

CITES leaflet stakeholder version 202009[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.2 MB]

There are some more notes on the Ivory Page.

L&B at Auction 10th September - Sold

The pianos of Longman & Broderip are always sought after, and this five-octave example is well above average.   It was in the sale of Andrew Smith and Son, Alresford, on 1oth September as lot 871.

It has evidently been carefully restored; good to see original wrestpins.

Against an estimate is £800 - £1,200, it sold for an encouraging £2,600 hammer price - £3,224 total.

 

Images by courtesy of Andrew Smith & Son www.andrewsmithandson.com

Dulcitone For Sale

Machell of Glasgow introduced the Dulcitone in the early 1860s, and production continued into the twentieth century. 

Please see the Sale Page for details of this charming and practical instrument - guaranteed never to need tuning!

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.

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.

  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

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.

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]

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