The Auction Page

Please remember that, as with 'Pianos for Sale', I have not usually seen these pianos, and any comments I make may be based entirely on information supplied by the auctioneers, or what we can see from the pictures.

Gardiner Houlgate March 17th

Lot 826 is a very nice-looking Longman & Broderip square piano, c.1785. Serial number 380. 

Described as being fully restored to playing order.  Estimate £1,000 - £1,500

Lot 827 is a very pretty Longman & Broderip single-manual harpsichord, made by Thomas Culliford in 1785.

This one has had an amazing history with many adventures.  Our standard reference work, Boalch III  tells us that it was formerly owned by Violet Gordon Woodhouse, for whom Arnold Dolmetsch converted it to a two-manual instrument in 1899.  Alexander C N Mackenzie of Ord acquired it in 1965, and commissioned its restoration to its original configuration.   The work has been beautifully done, and it is now stated to be in excellent playing order.   

A rare opportunity to acquire a fine harpsichord with a distinguished provenance.  Amongst the many adventures  of a remarkable life, Violet Gordon Woodhouse was the first person to make a recording of the harpsichord, and the first to broadcast harpsichord music.


The estimate for this beautiful instrument is £5,000 - £8,000.

Finally, the most amazing of all.  This is a harpsichord that was built by Giovanni Battista Boni c. 1620, and it was unusual when it was made. 

The keyboard is unique in my experience, and is partly enharmonic.  Our information is that the notes are FF, GG, AA, BB (via keys divided laterally) then C/E to c3, with broken octave and divided accidentals for d#, g#, a#, d1#, g1#,and a1#.  I think that's right.  But please don't ask me to play a tune!

Like the L&B above, this one was also converted at some time to a two-manual arrangement.  Probably not something we would do today.  The names listed in Boalch and elsewhere as having been associated with this instrument read like a 'Who's Who' of the harpsichord world, and include Alec Hodsdon, Michael Thomas, John Barnes, Andrew Garlick, David Law, and most recently Malcolm Rose.  Boalch even mentions Franciolini, but it does not appear in any of his published catalogues.

After all those adventures, it has now been returned as nearly as possible to its original configuration, with a single 8' string for each note.  the picture below shows traces of the 2 x 8', 1 x 4' arrangement.

Perhaps not the easiest instrument to play, although it is described as being in basic playing oder and structurally sound.  But a very rare opportunity to own a 400-year-old harpsichord, and to experience the sounds available from enharmonic tunings.


The estimate is £8,000 - £12,000.


All images by, and by courtesy of, Gardiner Houlgate.

Piano Auctions Sale Thursday December 15th, and Meeting of Friends of Square Pianos Wednesday  December 14th

We enjoyed our traditional gathering of Friends of Square pianos on Wednesday 14th December, the viewing day before the sale, when eight or nine of us enjoyed a chat, coffee, and lunch at the pub.  Oh, yes, and we enjoyed looking at the pianos as well.  


Special thanks to Hatice Gunes, of the Park Cafe in Red Lion Square, who remembers us and looks forward to our visits.  


Our friend Luke Bradley has just moved into a flat quite near to Holborn, and he very kindly invited all of us to accompany him to his new home for aftenoon tea.  

Amongst the pianos, the higlight for us was the Beyer.

This example dates from 1779, and it is an encouraging sign that it was restored by Andrew Lancaster some years ago.   The estimate for this one was £1,500 - £2,000, and after brisk bidding it was sold for a hammer-price of £3,300 - just over £4,000 including costs.



Then there was  a clavichord by Thomas Goff and Joseph Cobby, made in 1934.  The quality of Cobby's cabinet-making is in a league of its own.  It was situated next to a magnificent eight-octave Bösendorfer Imperial Grand, but even so we were able (just about) to hear its gentle voice.

The estimate for this one was  £800 - £1.200, and it just made the lower figure.  For the quality of the woodwork alone, surely these instruments are under-valued?  



For some unexplained reason - unknown to the auctioneers -  the Hodsdon virginal failed to put in an appearance. (The owners were supposed to bring it to Conway Hall).  

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© David Hackett