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 Gardiner Houlgate

Specialist Musical Instrument Auction

June 12th

The firm of Gardiner Houlgate is established at Corsham, near Bath, and is becoming well-known for specialist musical instrument auctions.

Gardiner Houlgate describe this fine instrument as follows:

Square piano by Christopher Ganer, London, 1783, the mahogany case with satinwood crossbanding, the lid further embellished with multiple bands of chevron stringing and a wide kingwood band, inlaid with floral spandrels in each corner, the fascia board of satinwood with chevron stringing and kingwood crossbanding, the name plaque flanked by musical trophies, the five octave keyboard, FF to f3, with ivory naturals and ebony accidentals, three brass-knobbed hand levers controlling the damper lift above and below c1 and the buff stop, single action with over-dampers, on frame stand with square tapered legs, inscribed on a boxwood plaque on the fascia board Christopher Ganer Londini fecit 1783, Broad Street, Soho, length 5' 1", 

Restored by Lucy Coad in 1999 and accompanied by her pre-restoration report dated 1998.  There is some fading of the lid veneers and some old water damage.  Some key ivories are worn and most are yellowing.  The hammer covers have been replaced and the instrument re-strung.  The e3 key shaft is broken.  Both the soundboard and the bridge have just a very few old worm holes.  The buff stop which was replaced by Lucy Coad is currently jammed.  There are traces that a lid swell may once have been fitted, ie there is a hole in the soundboard just inside the right keyboard cheek.  All parts replaced by Lucy Coad, such as the hammer covers and damper springs have been retained and accompany the instrument.54.5cm; width 1' 9", 53.3cm.

The estimate for this one is £1,800 - £2,500.


Sold for £1,800

There was also another Ganer, 1784, which did need considerable work.  There is no stand, but a plain trestle would be entirely appropriate for this instrument, and wood look well.  In fact, although the elegant 'French' stands cost more originally, many of us these days prefer the simpler style.  Friends of Square Pianos can supply a design, and authentic castors and bolts are available.  

  The estimate for this one is a modest £200 - £400.


  A nice little piano - Sold for £780

The third square piano was a Broadwood serial number 19,899, corresponding to a date of 1815. Good to see the original cream-painted inner board has survived, as has the pedal.  

The estimate for this one is £250 - £450, but sadly it failed to reach that, and was not sold.  Surely it was worth more than that?


 Piano Auctions June Sale and

Meeting of Friends of Square Pianos

 We enjoyed our usual informal gathering of Friends of Square Pianos on the viewing day before the sale, Wednesday June 11th.  There was a good turnout - well inot double figures - and it was good to meet some new Friends.

As it was a beutiful sunny day (as I promisd) we spent much of the time in the café just outside, in Red Lion Square garden.

  It is rare for an eighteenth-century grand piano to turn up at all, and this time there are two!  The first is a very fine 5½-octave grand by Matthew and William Stodart, dating from 1796. This one was partially restored by The Music Room workshop in 2010, and is in full playing order.  It was beutifully presented, and a pleasure to play.

  The estimate for this one was £10,000 - £15,000.  It did not reach the reserve in the auction itself, but was sold privately afterwards. 


  Then we have one of the very first English Square Pianos, a Pohlman dated 1769.    I think this is the only '60s' piano I have ever seen at auction.  It had evidently had more than its usual share of adventures; a satisfactory restoration would be a major challenge.  In view of this, the highest bid was £1550, just short of the reserve.  (The estimate was £2,000 - £3,000)

  Somewhat later is a 6' 6" Pleyel grand c. 1841.  Chopin would have loved this one!  

  The estimate was £3,000 - £5,000, and it just exceeeded the top end of this at a hammer price of £5,200.  A lovely piano.

  Lot 53 is a six-octave square piano carrying the name James Rigg, but possibly made by Rolfe, with the characteristic double music-rest.  This is a fancy piano in mahogany and rosewood, with three drawers and six spirally-tuned legs with brass collars and casters.  

  The estimate was £700 - £1000, but the highest bid fell some way short of this at £420.  We note that the contemporary Broadwood at Gardiner Houlgate did not sell either, despite a lower reserve.

  Another square, from the 1790s by Longman & Broderip.  Sold by Christies in December 1975, and restored by Andrew Lancaster in 2011.

  Estimate £1,000 - £1,500.  A good-looking piano in playing order.  The highest bid was £580, but apparently this was sufficient to ensure a sale (we never know what the reserves are).  Surely a real bargain.

  A fine-looking six-octave 'Viennese' grand, by Carl Kolbe, of  Gotha, Thuringia (one other piano known, a square, in Canada).  Pedals are una-corda, sustain, moderator, and Turkish music.  Restored by George F Senn in 1978; reported association with Johannes Brahms.

  This was a truly stunning piano, in perfect playing order, and delighful to play.  Perhaps its generous appearance, in the fashion of the time, led us to expect a 'big' sound, but it was delicate and delightful.  

  Against an estimate of £15,000 - £20,000, it sold for £19,000, and was surely good value.  It is rare to see such a fine instrument from the Beethoven era.

  A point I have made before: when instruments like this are in public museums, we are not normally allowed to touch them, and when privately owned, they are not accessible.  Auctions such as this present a rare opportunity to study, touch, hear and play them.  We are very grateful to Piano Auctions for their welcome and tolerance.

An early grand by John Broadwood, number 426, dated 1792.  This is the earliest 5½-octave Broadwood known; a letter dated 13 Novemember 1793 from James Shudi Broadwood to Thomas Bradford of Charleston says:

  "We now make most of the grand pianofortes in compass to CC in alt.  We have made some these three years past, the first to please Dussek."   

   This was for us surely the Star of the Show (yes, I know it's not a square piano).  We could not hear this one (just a few notes still made some sound) and it need a considerable amount of work to restore it to its former glory, but everything seemed to be original: this was a real Sleeping Beauty, and a remarkable discovery for Piano Auctions.  Subject to such minor considerations as space, time, and money, this was the one we all wanted.  The estimate was £6,000 - £8,000, and it comfortably exceeded this at £10,500.  Surely well worth it.


  Good news is that Piano Auctions hope to have another early Broadwood grand in the September sale.

  Finally, there was a five-octave English spinet after John Harrison, made by Robert Goble in beautiful figured mahogany.  

  I love English spinets, with their graceful appearance, elegant and robust design, and simple maintenance and tuning.

  This was a beautiful and practical instrument in perfect playing order.  Against an estimate of £2,000 - £3,000 the hammer fell at  £2,400: surely another bargain.

All pictures courstesy of Piano Auctions Limited.

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© David Hackett