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 Thursday 23rd June
and Meeting of Friends of Square Pianos Wednesday 22nd June
For various reasons, some of the usual Friends were unable to be with us this Wednesday, but we enjoyed a gathering of half-a-dozen or so. We spent most of the time chatting as usual, and were pleased to be joined for coffee by Sean the Auctioneer, with many tales from behind the scenes.
We don't often see these at auction on this side of the Atlantic - a magnificent Steinway square piano. One of our Friends tried to lift one end; we hope that he will be better soon.
As regards its condition, the expression we experts use is 'needs tuning': the only sounds it would make were occasional thuds when hammers contacted broken strings. That said, the insides seemed to be mostly there, and a restoration shold be possible, if challenging.
Against an estimate of £800 - £1,200 (which to be honest I felt was optimistic) this one sold for a rather surprising £1,300.
The lid alone was incredibly heavy, though - I wonder if it was solid rosewood?
This 1835 Broadwood was interesting for carrying the signature W H Elgar, father of the great composer, who ran a music-shop and tuning business. There was a very indistinct signature on the wrestplank but a much better one on a key.
"Repaired by W H. Elgar 1/4/46 /????/Worcester"
Since the baby Ted was not born until 1857, it is perhaps unlikely that he played this one.
As regards condition, I'm afraid another one that 'needs tuning'...
... but it sold for a somewhat surprising £380 hammer-price (£471 total).
A lovely little piano; fairly recently restored, this one played and sounded beautifully. It is rare to find such a fine example of an eighteenth-century piano at auction.
The maker's number and the date on the lowest key.
A repeat of the number, and evidence of an earlier restoration by Legg of Cirencester.
Against an estimate of £700 - £1,000, this one sold for £2,000 (£2,480). Bearing in mind the work that does not need to be done, and the cost of such professional work, this is still excellent value.
Lot 43 was a two manual harpsichord by the respected maker Michael Thomas, c. 1973. Two 8' stops, 4', and lute. This is said to be based on the Thomas Hitchcock in the V&A collection (where is it now?) and came with a made-to-measure travelling cover.
As is usual for harpsichords, this one needed a little adjustment and regulation, but essentially it played very well. Following the practices of the time, it did have rather complicated jacks with floating wedge dampers and many adjusting screws, but they did work well.
This harpsichord was beautifully made, with some fine inlay. Against an estimate of £800 - £1,200, it was encouraging to see it do rather better at £2,800 (£3,472) but it was still surely remarkably good value.
Finally, there was a little fretted clavichord (with a short-octave bass) by the well-known maker John Rawson, commissioned in 1984. This one really is portable! Inevitably, in a room with twenty grand pianos, it could not make its voice heard, but it was a lovely little thing. Against a revised estimate of £200 - £400, it achieved £680 hammer-price.
Thanks as ever to Piano Auctions Ltd., who always make us so welcome.
Specialist Musical Instrument Auction
Thursday 16th June
There were four square pianos in this auction - three of them from the eighteenth century.
Broadwood N° 31379, dates from 1825/6.
Please note that the pedal is present!
Generally it seems to be quite good condition, a few detached hammers, and needs a re-string.
These are much under-rated pianos, dating as they do from the end of Beethoven's life. With a full six octaves, they can accommodate all the music of the time, and enable its interpretation at a domestic scale. My first piano was very similar to this one (but not in such good condition) and I was very fond of it.
Against a very modest estimate of just £50, I believe that a bid of £50 was accepted.
Next we have an interesting Ganer from the 1790s. The more I look at this one, the more I think that it is historically very important.
It is very unusual to find a Ganer piano with 5½ octaves. I think I only know of two others. From the pictures below, it seems as if this one uses the 'additional notes' system, which was of course the basis of the Southwell patent of 1794. But from the appearance of this piano, it can hardly be much later than that. So what was the arrangement?
Internally, this piano needs a major rebuild. The damper-cover is there, but it needs a good few dampers, and at least a couple of hammers. With a bit of luck, though, these could be rattling about inside.
The soundboard and bridge look OK, but it seems as if the wrestplank has come loose.
There is evidence that there was a lid-swell, and presumably a damper-lift and buff. There is no sign that there ever were hand-stops, so all three would have been operated by pedals.
This one is very much a 'project', but that's what we like. The estimate was a very modest £50 - £80, and it did rather better than this at £200.
Schoene and Company were very keen to emphasise the fact that they were successors to Johannes Zumpe - to the extent that Zumpe's name was the more prominent! According to Cole, with the consent of his former partner Gabriel Buntebart, Johannes Zumpe put the business in the hands of two journeymen cabinet-makers from his home town, Frederick and Christian Schoene.
The firm were the first to introduce the double (but non-escapement) action, the earliest known example of which is dated 1788. It was used in England by some other makers, including Christopher Ganer, but was more widely adopted in France, notably by Érard. It certainly has advantages over the single action. Having said that, we do not know if this piano has the double action or not.
The three pedals operate the dampers, a buff-stop, and a lid-swell.
The internal condition looks quite good.
This one achieved top estimate of £3,000 - a sensible price if it is indeed 'Ready-to-Play'.
Finally, we have one of my favourite pianos, an early Broadwood square with the beautiful brass under-damper action.
This one is dated 1792, and is therefore one of the last with the inscription 'Johannes Broadwood Londini Fecit'. The following year, his son James Shudi Broadwood was made partner, and the inscription changed to 'John Broadwood & Son'.
These early pianos are also distinguished by their straight dampers, directly in between the hammer-heads. In the following year also, the design was changed to a cranked pattern, to take the damper-cloth away from the hammer, and so to allow for bigger hammers. This was all part of the inexorable march towards thicker strings and more noise. Forgive me if I prefer the gentle silvery tone of these earlier pianos.
Against an estimate of £300 - £500 the hammer-price was £980