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.

Piano Auctions Limited April 6th

Instruments from the Colt Collection


  We were sad to report the recent death of Lore Barbara Colt, widow of the founder of the Collection, Cecil Colt.  We all know that the collection has been undisturbed since the founder's death in 1985, and it has always kept a low profile, with no website or email.

  Some of the instruments at Bethersden were the personal property of Barbara Colt, rather than belonging to the charitable trust, and five of these were sold at Piano Auctions' April 6th sale.


  First of these is perhaps my favourite piano of all time, and the inspiration for my own grand piano.

  This is the beautiful Heilmann grand, said to date from c. 1775, but probably nearer to 1785.  I like to describe this as a 'friendly' piano; not showy, and made from plain walnut, but a lovely instrument to play. Not loud, but beautifully sensitive, and perfect for the music of Mozart and Haydn.


  Against an estimate of  £30,ooo - £50,000, the hammer price was £48,000 (just under £66,000 with commission).

  Then a very fine harpsichord by Joseph Kirckman 1800.  One of the last harpsichords made in England before the revival a hundred years later.

Unstrung at the time of the auction.  The hammer-price just reached the low estimate of  £20,000 .  

  One of the most famous grands of all time is the 1821 Tomkison, believed to have been made specially for the newly-crowned George IV for the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.  A splendid piano in rosewood and ormolu.

Brisk bidding for this one.  Against the estimate of £30,000 - £50,000, the hammer fell at £62,000 (£76,880 total).

Also in the sale is a large clavichord, probably Swedish or German, in the manner of Lindholm.  Perhaps not the prettiest of instruments; a bit Scandi-noir for my taste.  The top bid of £11,500 was some way short of the estimate of £15,000 - £20,000.

And finally a grand c. 1830 by the famous maker Conrad Graf of Vienna, who may have supplied Beethoven's last piano.

  Estimate £30,000 - £40,000.  Again the bidding fell a bit short, only reaching £25,000. 


  In cases like these last two, we cannot be sure if the instruments sold or not.  The lots were presumably protected by a reserve; this cannot be more than the low estimate, but it can be any amount less.  In some cases, as subsequent deal can be made with the highest bidder.

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.  Against an estimate of £1,000 - £1,500, this one sold for £4,400 hammer price.

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 was £5,000 - £8,000; the hammer fell at a strong £24,000.

And now 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 was £8,000 - £12,000, the hammer price was £34.000.  


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

Also in the sale is a repeat appearance of a square piano by the little known maker 'Faveryear'.

Estimate £300 - £500 for this one.  Unsold last time, the hammer fell at £240.


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

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© David Hackett