Piano Auctions December Sale
and Meeting of Friends of Square Pianos
The Piano Auctions sale on Thursday, 11th December featured a splendid line-up of historic pianos, and we were happy to welcome a good informal gathering of Friends of Square Pianos on the viewing day before, Wednesday 10th.
There was some brisk bidding at the sale itself. There were a good number of card, telephone and internet bids but the majority of the items being won by bidders actually in the room.
Lot 50 is a William Stodart grand from 1821, 6½ octaves, with the beautiful compensation frame. These had brass tubes in the bass (over the brass strings) and iron over the iron strings. Whether the elegant idea of differential expansion really worked or not is a moot point, but the logic is good, and in any case the frame makes the tuning much more stable than the average piano of its time. The brass tubes are also very pretty. These can be fine pianos.
This one was mostly in original condition. It had a problem with the wrestplank, but will be a truly splendid instrument when rebuilt Against an estimate of £1,500 - £2.000 it sold for £2,900 (hammer-price).
Next we had a beautiful 6½-0ctave 'cabinet' upright, by John Broadwood and Sons.
These pianos have the advantage of a closed frame (the 'back') which is resistant to twist and collapse - from an engineering point of view much bettter than a square or a grand. There is also a good string-length in the bass. The action is at the top, controlled by long 'stickers'. These are not easy to adjust, but we are learning more about them. Having said that, this one was remarkably responsive - the best I have seen. A fine looking piano, estimate £700 - £1,000. Sold for £520.
Then a handsome square (c. 1793) by Schoene & Co. This firm were very keen to emphasize that they were successors to Johannes Zumpe, whose name occupies the centre of the name-cartouche. This one has three pedals, including a lid-swell.
After 1788 some, but not all, Schoene pianos featured his double action, and this is one of them. This had no escapement, but the intermediate lever reversed the arcs of rotation, and gives an action which seems to be mores responsive, less prone to bounce, and easier to set up than the single action. And of course, unlike the escapement action, the repetition is unbeatable.
Condition was generally good, but there was a problem with the soundboard (and possibly wrestplank?) which will require this end to be rebuilt.
Against an estimate for this one of £700 - £1000, it sold for £800.
Lot 55 is stunning - a beautiful lyre piano by F A Klein of Berlin, c.1830, with an unusual compass of DD - g4. The action of these is at the bottom of the strings, which do not go down to the floor. Please check your ceiling height before bidding!
This was even better than my expectations, and in working order. The bass strings are quite short (especially for a compass down to DD) and so the bass tone was nothing special, but for the most part the tone was delightful. I must admit to being very tempted, but my 'piano room' is too crowded already, and in any case the ceiling is too low! So this one has a lucky new owner.
A rare and beautiful piano - estimate £2,500 - £4.500. Sold for £4,100.
A Georgian square carrying the name James Rigg, but showing characteristics (including the twin music-desks) that remind us of Rolfe. Six octaves, pedal missing.
The estimate for this one was just £200 - £400, but bidding took it up to £600.-
Another rare and beautiful piano - a 'giraffe' believed to be by a Viennese maker. Like their namesakes, they do need a tall enclosure. Walnut case, five pedals. This one was not in working order. Against an estimate of £8,000 - £10,000, the bidding reached £5,800.
A pretty late eighteenth-century square by Bland & Weller. Ann Bland was one of the very few ladies in the business, but despite earlier speculation, it now seems that Weller was a gentleman.
Five octaves, Attractive trestle stand, two handstops, and evidence of a careful restoration. This was a very tidy piano, in good playing order. Estimate £600 - £800; sold for £1,000, and well worth it in my opinion.
Then we have a 5½-octave John Broadwood & Son grand piano from 1801. Just think of the composers who were writing for the piano then, Haydn, Beethoven, and Clementi for a start. Truly a piano from the Classical period.
A fine piano, in remarkably original condition, except for a major problem with the hitchrail. This will require a careful and robust repair.
Estimate £4,000 - £6,000; Sold to an internet bidder for £5,200
Lot 61 was a single manual harpsichord, made from a Bexley kit.
Single register, plywood construction. Reminding me very much of some of my earlier efforts. This was surely a lot of fun at the time, and good learning for its builder. Very much a product of its time, it was perhaps a little bit sad that it failed to find a new home.
A John Morley Clavichord c. 1982. Always practical and well-made, this example is in a particularly handsome case, and complete with stand.
Estimate £600 - £800
It really is difficult to make a fair appraisal of any clavichord in the busy surroundings of an auction room. But this one seemed to be OK, and was certainly very handsome. Sold to a buyer in the room for £450.
And finally, a big harpsichord by Hugh Craig for Dolmetsch, c. 1983. The instruments of the 'revival' makers have not been fashionable for some years, but they are well made, and potentially offer a lot of harpsichord for your money. And they are, of course, a vital link in the history of keyboard instruments. Estimate £1,500 - £2,000.
I spent quite a bit of time with this one, and it was indeed a lot of fun. Everything worked pretty well, although of course it needed a considerable amount of regulation and adjustment, as well as tuning.
Beautifully made, and in very good condition. It is, and always will be, a late example of a 'revival' harpsichord, and not many people have the necessary space for such a large instruments. For a church or school, though, a harpsichord such as this, with its plastic jacks and metal registers, might have advantages of reliability. However, as expected, the bids were modest, and the hammer fell at just £1250 to an internet bidder.
Specialist Musical Instrument Auctions
The firm of Gardiner Houlgate is established at Corsham, near Bath, and is becoming well-known for specialist musical instrument auctions. www.gardinerhoulgate.co.uk
The Hogwood Collection