Clementi Small Cabinet Piano           c. 1810 - Sold

The seller writes:

This instrument was formerly in the Colt collection and is one of probably only two surviving Clementi pianos of its type. It is catalogued by Leif Sahlqvist [ 2014-pdf on this website] as a 'cottage piano'.*  The instrument was given to the Colt collection by Rosamund Harding, author of the the pioneering history of the Piano-Forte [1978], who refers to it as a 'pianino'.  Colt lists the instrument [ U430C] in his Silver Jubilee [1969] and Golden Jubilee [1981] volumes and remarks [1981] that it has a 'very good tone'.


The instrument is charming and appealing. Its compact dimensions [w.109cm, d. 52cm, case ht 136cm] and refined casework would seem to make it the ideal domestic instrument.  It is an early precursor of the modern upright. It is hard to know why the design of the early years of the 1800's, did not catch on then, and was temporarily forgotten in favour of mass-produced squares. The 5 and a half octave compass, FF-c4, is the same as that of squares of this period.

From Rosamond Harding's book.

The instrument was restored by Colt, but he appears to have made minimal alterations to the original. The English sticker action is intact and the casework is in beautiful condition. The piano has two pedals, Una Corda (keyboard shift) and Forte (dampers).


As can be seen from the illustrations, the mahogany case is quite plain and simple, in early Regency style. The internal and external casework is inlaid with ebony lines and the curved fall-board has rosewood crossbanding.  The interior is veneered in satinwood, with the nameboard inscribed 'Clementi & Co, London' inside a gilded floral plaque.  The two turned and reeded legs with gilded metal collars are typical of Clementi pianos of this period.

Other decorative details are two pierced gilded brass rails and two lovely little carved knobs to lift the fall-board and open the piano.  The piano originally had two pairs of candleholders.

There survive  two delightful concealed candle-holders on wooden pivots inside the nameboard.  Plate IV in Harding shows two additional decorative brass candle-holders, now lost, attached to the pleated silk front panel above the keyboard.  Colt replaced the pleated silk with a plain cream silk panel, which the purchaser might wish to restore to something more like the (presumably original) pleated silk.  

This then is a unique and historically significant instrument, which was clearly esteemed by its two previous distinguished owners. It marks a particular moment in the story of the nineteenth century evolution of the piano. It is has the elegance and meticulous quality associated with Clementi.  It deserves to be preserved for posterity in a public or private collection. There do not appear to be any major structural problems which would stand in the way of restoring it to full playing order; it would be wonderful for this instrument to be heard again.  



* Footnote- Dating of Clementi Instruments


Sahlqvist [2014] has attempted to reconstruct Clementi's production sequence and to attribute dates, using four sets of stamped and handwritten serial numbers typically found on Clementi piano frames.  The Colt cottage piano bears two such stamped serial numbers, 114 and 1156, on the frame above the wrestplank.  The other surviving cottage piano listed by Sahlqvist is a 6-octave FF-f4 model, formerly in the Finchcocks collection. It is instructive to compare these two pianos, which bear a striking family resemblance. Sahlqvist attributes a date of 1812 to the Finchcocks instrument and a later date of 1815 to the Colt. The reasons for this are unclear. The lower 'C' serial number, smaller compass and more slender dimensions, particularly of the legs, would seem to support the attribution of an earlier date to the Colt instrument.


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© David Hackett