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.
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Piano Auctions Limited
Sale September 20th
There were be two square pianos in the sale; firstly an elegant and rare Érard, c. 1803.
Estimate £1,o00 - £1,500; hammer price £1,300.
Then a 1799 Broadwood, number 4595.
This one was beautifully-restored about 25 years ago by David Hunt, and still looks good.
This piano has a detail that I have never seen before in an English piano.
If we look carefully, we can see the usual pattern that the wrestpins for the C# strings are behind the C. Then moving to the right, the D-pair in the expected position. But where we would expect to see the E-pair, we see D#. The pair behind the D (with green collars) do not belong to any note! This is a dummy pair, to fill the gap that normally occurs between the strings of the main section and the 'additional notes' at the top. A similar device is sometimes seen on late eighteenth-century Viennese pianos over the gap-brace, but I have never seen it on an English piano.
The estimate was £1,000 - £1,500; hammer price £1,550.
So, two square pianos of about the same date, the same auction estimates, and both sold near the upper estimate. The difference was that although the Broadwood played very well indeed (Luke Bradley gave us a mini-recital while Séan held the Grand Piano Heroes off for a few moments) the Érard, despite its handsome exterior appearance, could only be described as a challenging restoration project. After a lot of expensive work, the Érard will be a splendid piano, complete with four pedals, but the Broadwood can make beautiful music now. However, the inescapable fact, demonstrated yet again, is that buyers do not give credit for recent high-quality restoration.
Two things follow from this: if you are selling, do not even think about spending money on restoration work. But if you are buying, a recently well-restored piano is usually very good value indeed!
Then there were three twentieth-century instruments of interest. This clavichord by the famous maker Michael Thomas had an estimate of just £300 - £500. It is usually very difficult to hear a clavichord in Conway Hall, with so many enthusiastic grand-piano players, but this was a good-sounding instrument that played well, even if it needed minor attention.
But it struggled to reach a hammer price of just £110.
This small Dolmetsch harpsichord, c. 1953, is gradually becoming part of harpsichord history. Estimate £400 - £600. This one needed some work, but probably nothing major. Instruments like this remain deeply unfashionable, though, and the hammer-price was just £100.
And something new to me, a 1970s 'Hammerspinet' made by Steen Nielsen of Denmark. This was described as a single-strung piano with a hammer action, incorporating a 'harpsichord stop'. Attractively finished in rosewood, this one deserves to be approached with an open mind!
I liked this one, even though I could not manage to get the pedals to give me the 'harpsichord sound'. I think that someone else did manage it later, though.
Neither a piano nor a harpsichord, but it did not pretend to be. A compact, attractive and practical instrument with its single stringing, and a pleasant sound, not too loud.
Against an estimate of £1,000 - £1,500, it sold for £700 - surely well worth that.
Six interesting instruments at Gardiner Houlgate's September sale!
Perhaps the most important, this harpsichord by Garnier, Paris, dated 1747, formerly in the collection of Michael Thomas.
The estimate for this one was £40,000 - £60,000; the bidding did not reach that, and it did not sell.
A 5½-octave square piano by Longman & Broderip, serial number 514 dating it to 1796.
An early appearance of frets? Or possibly an early alteration?
Estimate £1,500 - £2,500; Not sold.
An early Thomas Tomkison square piano, number 1615.
This one sold for £480, a little abov the estimate of £200 - £400, and surely very good value in view of a recent high-quality restoration.
This one is my favourite, of course, a nice-looking spinet after Keene & Brackley, the original made c. 1710. This replica was built by Anthony Calvert in 1995.
Deservedly, this one sold for £1,750, well above the estimate of £300 - £500. Let's bear in mind, though, that the kit for this spinet (formerly sold by The Early Music Shop) is still available from The Renaissance Workshop Company, at something over £5,500 including VAT and carriage.
Two 'modern' harpsichords - the first a compact model by William de Blaise.
Estimate £200 - £400. These modern harpsichords, expensive in their day, rarely do well now - this one failed to reach even that, and did not sell.
...and a full-sized Morley.
A lot of harpsichord at the estimate of £400 - £600, but again not sold.
All images by, and by courtesy of, Gardiner Houlgate Ltd
Piano Auctions Limited
Next Sale September 20th