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 Friday 13th March
Gardiner Houlgate have assembled the usual fascinating array of musical instruments of all kinds.
Well, it is square, and it is (sort of) a piano - one of Chappell's little 'Pianini' or conductors' pianos. Instead of strings, the hammers struck tuned glass bars. Sadly, they are missing in this example, hence the very modest estimate of £150 - £250. Surely someone can restore this charming little instrument?
It looks as if someone is selling a collection of miniature keyboard instruments. This one is described as a 'Pianioni' (Pianiono?) c. 1875. This one has metal tangs struck by hammers. Estimate £400 - £600.
...and an instrument descibed as a 'Keyed Glockenspiel'. The organ pipes are dummies; the tone comes from a set of concentric tuned brass bowls (seen below). Estimate £1,500 - £2,000.
But there are real square pianos as well. Firstly an elegant Ganer dated 1784.
The estimate for this one is £700 - £1,000.
The second square piano is by the innovative maker James ('Jacobus') Ball. This one, dated 1792, has an unusual under-damper action, presumably the one illustrated and described on page 100 of Michael Cole's book 'The Pianoforte in the Classical Era'. This action was patented in 1790, and is completely different from the Broadwood design.
The cut-down nameboard was to accommodate a folding music-desk, now missing.
All images by courtesy of Gardiner Houlgate.
Piano Auctions Sale December 12th - Important Update
The modern replica of a Stein-type 'Viennese' piano had indeed had its ivory sharp-tops removed before the sale - a wise move for its future career. This perhaps left it looking a little scruffy, but fitting new tops from e.g. Elforyn or casein will be a simple matter. A report from our roving secret agent said that it played nicely, and against an estimate of £1,500 - £2,000, it achieved an encouraging result of £8,000 (very nearly £10,000 with premium).
There has been some criticism on another website about the 'disgraceful vandalism' in removal of the keytops on this piano. We should remind ourselves that it is already illegal to sell a post-1947 piano with ivory keys without an Article 10 certificate. Without firm provenance of the origin of the ivory, such a certificate could not be obtained, and the penalties are substantial.
I risked being in the same position with my own grand piano, originally built with recycled-ivory sharp tops, but now with Galalith.
Against the estimate for this interesting instrument of £1,000 - £2,000, it achieved a very encouraging £8,000 - £9,920 including buyer's premium.
Picture by courtesy of, Piano Auctions Limited
A 1790 Broadwood at Gardiner Houlgate
Everybody knows that these 'First Series' Broadwoods with their straight brass dampers are my favourite pianos. This example, number 1232, was in Gardiner Houlgate's sale on December 13th.
According to the auctioneer's notes, it is internally complete and original. The soundboard will need some attention, but when carefully restored, this will be a lovely little piano.
The elegant calligraphy on the nameboard reads: 'Johannes Broadwood Londini Fecit Patent'. After 1793, when his elder son James Shudi Broadwood became a partner in the business, this changed to the English form 'John Broadwood & Son'.
Evidently it has been carefully re-strung fairly recently; the wrestpins look original. The original label has instructions in English and in French in case the dampers should rattle. Against an estimate of £1,000 - £1,500, it achieved £950.
Also in the sale is a later Broadwod square, N° 45,649, dating from 1835.
From what we can see, this one appears to be in very good condition.
Forty-five years younger than the first one, this piano has an extra octave, thicker strings with softer hammers for a much bigger and rounder tone, and the innovation of an iron plate and reinforcing-bar to resist the greater tension. It is one of the last to have brass strings in hte bass, and a divided bridge to give a better scaling and hence a more even tension for the first plain iron strings.
The estimate for fine piano was just £100 - £200. It is surely worth more, but harsh reality saw it only achieve £45. This does reflect the greater demand for the earlier pianos, but it is a sad situation all the same.
Pictures by, and by courtesy of Gardiner Houlgate
The third early piano in the sale was also a Broadwood, but inscribed
'T. Menzies from Broadwood & Sons'.
The estimate for this 5½-octave piano was £200 - £400; again it fell just short at £180.
Piano Auctions September Sale and
Meeting of Friends of Square Pianos
We enjoyed an informal gathering of Friends of Square Pianos on the viewing day before the sale, Wednesday 25th September.
There was just one square piano there this time, an 1820s Broadwood. Against an estimate of £600 - £800, it achieved a hammer-price of £820 (total cost to buyer just over £1,000.)
and also a 1960s Morley spinet (estimate £800 - £1,200).
The result for this one was a somewhat disappointing £400.
Images by, and by courtesy of, Piano Auctions Limited
A Beautiful 1803 Clementi
at Gardiner Houlgate September 13th
Just one keyboard instrument in Gardiner Houlgate's sale on Friday, 13th September, Clementi number 3359.
The beautiful nameboards were individually painted, so no two are absolutely identical, but they do conform to a number of standard designs. This one is a garland of Sweet peas, the design I borrowed for the heading on the pages of this website. Condition does matter, and this one looks good.
Because the 'Irish' dampers are hinged directly to the far ends of the keys, when the pedal is depressed, the keys dip slightly. This sounds disconcerting, but if the mechanism is correctly adjusted, the dip is very slight, and only really noticeable because the keys for the top few notes (which have no dampers) do not move! The benefit is a very light touch, as the dampers need no extra weights of their own, and the touch is very light and unaffected by the use of the pedal.
Good to see the green 'passive soundboard' still present, the generally excellent condition, and the appropriate numbers of covered, brass, and steel strings.
Pictures by, and by courtesy of, Gardiner Houlgate
The estimate for this lovely piano was £1,000 - £1,500. It was sold for £3,000 hammer price.
Piano Auctions June 27th, and Meeting of Friends of Square Pianos June 26th
Piano Auctions' June sale was held as usual at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, and we enjoyed the customary informal gathering of a few Friends of Square Pianos on the viewing day before the sale.
Good to see three square pianos in this sale, as well as a clavichord and two spinets.
First of the squares was one from c. 1800 by Henry Hardy of Oxford. Not a name that is well-known to us, but a typical piano of its time. Unfortunatately not in good condition, and it did not sell. (Estimate £300 - £500.)
Then two which were formerly in the Colt Collection. Above we see a fine-looking piano named for Dörner of Stuttgart, but possibly made by the famous firm of Schiedmayer in the same city. Anglo-German action with check, and pedals for dampers and moderator. Estimate £600 - £800. In need of some attention, but it could be a very handsome piano indeed. Sold for £550.
The other ex-Colt piano is splendidly-decorated example by I H R Mott, c.1825. Estimate also £600 - £800. Also in need of attention, it sold for just £100.
Morley clavichords are well-made and dependable, and a 'first clavichord' for many people. This one wass estimated at a very affordable £200 - £400, and sold in the middle of the range at £280.
Then a return of the interesting spinet by the pioneer maker Henry Tull, probably made between the wars.
A remarkable feature of this spinet is the brasswork, which was probably copied from an early eighteenth-century English instrument.
The soundboard carries an attractive painting of flowers.
We know very litle about Henry Tull, one of the first of the twentieth-century English makers. He deserves more recognition.
The estimate for this one is £1,500 - £2,000 but it achieved just £520.
But for me, of course, the star of the show was the English spinet, inscribed 'Wison Whitby Fecit'.
The maker is known for a few early nineteenth-century pianos, but this is the only spinet that I know of to carry this name. As is usual for these later English spinets, the case is the by then fashionable mahogany, with stringing and cross-banding, and the compass is FF -f3, without FF#. A design feature that it shares with the spinets of Baker Harris is the deeply-curved nut (seen below) which results in a delightful flutey tone, almost approaching the sound of a Flemish muselaar.
This one was in tune, very nearly at A415, and a pleasure to play. The estimate was £3,000 - £5,000, and it achieved the top of this - a very fair price in my opinion.
All images by, and by courtesy of, Piano Auctions Limited.