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 4th June

 

Piano Auctions Sale 9th July

 

Bespoke Tuning Hammers

 

Good News for Elephants

 

Piano Auctions Limited - Sale July 9th

Regency Tomkison Cabinet Piano - Picture courtesy of Piano Auctions Ltd

 

Auction rooms are amongst the businesses which will be allowed to open on June 15th.  Piano Auctions will be having a sale on Thursday 9th July.  For practical reasons this will not be at Conway Hall as usual, but at the premises of G&R Piano Removals at Langley, Buckinghamshire.  The sale will be on-line only, and there will be no viewing on the day of the sale, but viewing (by prior arrangement only) will be extended to cover the five days before.  

 

Appropriate safety measures will be in place; we cannot have groups of people crowding round instruments and multiple hands on keyboards.  The full details of Piano Auctions' precautions are published on 

http://www.pianoauctions.co.uk/news.php

 

It will be good to start to move towards normality! Please see the Auction page for details of those instruments of particular interest to us.

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!

 

Medea Bindewald's Newsletter

Picture by courtesy of Stuart Hollis

 

Medea is the artist who made what was probably the last recording at Finchcocks, of music by Jacob Kirckman played on the Kirckman harpsichord.  She writes:

I am going to start my own series of occasional newsletters, and I invite you to be amongst my first subscribers. The next couple of weeks will bring some exciting news, that I don’t want you to miss! My subscribers will be the first ones to learn about any of my musical projects.

Please click on the link below to register:

NEWSLETTER MEDEA BINDEWALD (no charge)

IMPORTANT: After signing up, you will get an email prompting you to confirm your subscription. Please click on the link in that email or your subscription will not be complete. If you can’t find an email in your inbox, please check your spam folder as well. In case of any problems with the registration, please get in touch directly with me by answering to this email: medea.bindewald@web.de

Good News for Elephants

It seems a long time ago, now.  On 20th December 2018, the UK Ivory Sales Bill received the Royal Assent, and became law.  It banned all sales of ivory, and items containing ivory, with very limited exceptions.  Fortunately for us, as a result of lobbying and responses to consultation, pre-1975 musical instruments containing less than 20% ivory is one of these exceptions.  The law was not enforced immediately - time was necessary to put in place the necessary certification procedure.

 

However, a challenge was made that the bill was unlawful, and permission was granted for a judicial review.  This took place on 9th July 2019, when the challenge was rejected, but leave was granted for an appeal by a group called Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures Ltd.  This was heard by the court of appeal 0n 24th/25th February this year, when 'judgement was reserved'.  The approved judgement was published 0n 18th May.  The judgement runs to 35 pages (I have a copy if anyone is interested) but the short answer was that the appeal was rejected.  FACT could appeal again to the Supreme Court, but it might start to get expensive.  If not, we await details of the procedure for certification, and the timing of the enforcement.

Broadwood Names and Numbers

  The first pianos that John Broadwood made, in about 1780,were squares.  From the start, they featured the beautiful and efficient brass under-dampers, and unlike those from other makers, had the tuning-pins at the back.  He registered his patent in 1783, and it seems that real production began in 1784, with N° 200 (which still survives).  Pianos made before this were not numbered, but it is unlikely that there were as many as 199. 

  My own N° 697 was made in 1787, and by the end of the century, about 5,000 had been produced.  The first 2,000 or so were inscribed in Latin 'Johannes Broadwood Londin Fecit 17--' but after 1793 the inscription changed to English, and included his eldest son (James Shudi Broadwood) who had been made a partner in the business. 

  How many of these eighteenth-century Broadwoods have survived?  Since (from 1784 onwards) they are all numbered as well as dated, it is easy to avoid double-counting, which is a problem with other early makers who did not number their pianos.  

  Maxime Schleyer is compling a list of all known Broadwoods up to the year 1800, and is appealing for our help.  If you own one of these lovely pianos, or if you have seen and recorded one - at auction perhaps - do please send Maxime an email to help him to build the list.   

 

maxime.schleyer@gmail.com

 

  The essential information is the number, and the date to help verify that neither has been misread or altered.  Max would also appreciate pictures if possible, of the whole piano and the nameboard inscription.  Your name will not be included in the record unless you give permission.

 

Thank you.

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]

Results of Gardiner Houlgate Sale 13th April

Against an estimate of £700 - £1,000, this pretty piano achieved a hammer price of £2,100.  Please see the Auction Page for other results.

George Dettmer c. 1830 For Sale

George Dettmer is more frequently encountered as the maker of fine pianos for Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter and others, as indicated by the intials 'GWD' on the soundboard (see the Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter for sale on these pages).  It is less common to see a piano that was sold under his own name; this handsome example dates from the 1830s, after he had been joined by his son in the business.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

A Fine 'Flemish' Harpsichord For Sale

This beautiful  harpsichord is in Germany, near Hannover.  It is modelled after one of the earliest Flemish Harpsichords, made by Hans Moermans in 1584.  The original is featured in Frank Hubbard's ground-breaking book 'Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making', and as of 1995 was owned by Mrs Diane Hubbard.  The compass of this reproduction has been extended to increase its musical versatility.  

 

Please see the Spinets, Harpsichords and Clavichords For Sale page for details.

Alec Hodsdon Virginals 1952 For Sale

 Sound-clip added

We don't seem to know very much about the Suffolk maker Alec Hodsdon (1900 - 1986) but he was an important figure in the revival of early keyboard instruments just before and after the Second World War.  He made clavichords, spinets, and virginals.  This good example, in playing order, is now offered for sale. Please see the Spinets, Harpsichords and Clavichords For Sale Page.

Goulding, D'Almaine & Potter c. 1815

For Sale

With its handsome cross-banded case, gilt-brass ornamentation, and apparently good and mostly original internal condtion, this piano is better than most.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

William Rolfe & Sons c. 1815 For Sale

Fortepiano in mogano da restaurare, costruito tra 1810 e il 1815 da William Rolfe & Sons, Londra. Ha un'estensione di cinque ottave e mezza, dal FA1 al DO6. La tastiera originale, di 68 tasti è completa insieme ai frontalini e le parti in avorio. Sono presenti due bei leggii, tre cassetti, sei gambe tornite, con ruote e parti in ottone originali.

 

As you may have guessed by now, this handsome piano is in Italy, offering an advantage for friends in that country. 

Please see the Sale Page for details

Broderip & Wilkinson c. 1805 For Sale

It's not often that we lead with an image of the back of the piano, but in this case it is an indication that this is a very special piano, intended to be placed in the middle of a large room, for a better experience for  the performer and her admiring audience. (Remember that pianos were always played with the lid down.)

 

From the wreckage of Longman & Broderip in 1798, as well as the more famous firm of Muzio Clementi & Co., there also emerged another firm, Broderip & Wikinson.  Francis Fane Broderip (the original 'Broderip' from 1774) died some time before February 1807, So we can date this piano to  the first few years of the nineteenth century.  This piano carries the Haymarket address, the 'additional address' of Longman & Broderip from 1782.

 

Please see the Sale Page for details of this special piano.

Discovering the Piano - Cristofori Style

OK, so this is not a square piano, but as I said, I make the rules, and this is a recording that every early piano enthusiast should have.  It features spirited playing by Linda Nicholson on a beautiful replica of a 1730 Cristofori-Ferrini piano made by Denzil Wraight.  None of the few surviving Cristofori pianos is in a condition to give us any idea of how they sounded originally, so rather than copy an original, Denzil has based his instrument on all known sources of information.  The result is a truly delightful and expressive sound, very far removed from what I was expecting.  Comparison with Zumpe's diminutive squares is hardly fair, so let's just say that this is a lovely sound, which we all should enjoy.  The recording is Passacaille 1024, which deservedly received the Diapason d'or award in 2017

 

Denzil has very kindly provided a download of the English part of the CD booklet.

CD booklet Passacaille 1024 English.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1.4 MB]

These notes will remain on the Friends' Recordings page.

Original Spinet by Longman & Broderip

For Sale

We are happy to present a rare opportunity to buy an original English spinet, recently restored and re-quilled, and in full playing order.

This is one is bears the name of Longman & Broderip, and dates from probably about 1785.  Please see the Sale Page for details.

Jane Austen and her Broadwood 

It's always good to hear news when something has worked out well.  This handsome 1812 Broadwood was sold a little while ago through this website, and the new owners are using it to perform pieces from Jane's music book in authentic style.  This is not her own piano, of course - we don't know exactly what that was - but it is a Broadwood that she writes about in 'Emma'.

 

Please click on the image above to hear one of Jane's favourite pieces played by Ros Oswald (perhaps the tune might surprise you) and don't miss the beautiful cat and the dog!)

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