Wornum Piccolo c. 1830

Other images are after the text.


The Seller writes:


Wornum 'Piccolo' upright piano, circa 1830. 

This diminutive piano, by the ingenious inventor Robert Wornum (1780-1852), was formerly in the Colt Collection. It was, for its time, the ultimate compact piano for a domestic setting.  

The instrument appears to be an example of Wornum's 'cottage piano' patent of 1828. The piano has the serial number 35, which puts it early in the Wornum Piccolo series, at circa 1830.  The piano has Wornum's novel tape-check action, which is famed as the direct forerunner of the modern upright action.  
The dimensions are very small, only 115 cm in width, 104 cm height, 50 cm depth. Wornum squeezes in a 6-octave keyboard, FF - f4, (ivory naturals and ebony accidentals, reeded wooden key-fronts) and completes this triumph of miniaturisation with a folding keyboard cover.  

The instrument is exceptionally well preserved.  The casework is in immaculate condition, with beautiful matched decorative mahogany veneers, looking almost brand-new; the keys bear almost no signs of wear. One suspects that, maybe in a backroom of some grand mansion, this piano was stored away, forgotten and un-played, for most of its 190-year life.  


Looking inside, we have something of a time-capsule.  

 For the purposes of photography, the action has been lifted out of the piano (it is secured by simple wooden hinges) and rested on the top of the piano, to reveal the strings behind. 
Image 1 shows the action as a whole.  
Image 2 is zoomed-in, to show a closer view of the action, as well as  a paper label  on the action frame, with directions for  changing a string and setting up and regulating the action.
Image 3 provides a close-up of the tape-check mechanism. 

It is evident that Wornum's tape-check action is intact and nothing has been changed or replaced. There do not appear to be any missing parts, save for one or two small action pieces which may have dropped off and lodged in the mechanism.  

The hammers are leather-covered, but some of the hinged parts are secured with metal pins, as in a modern piano action, rather than traditional leathers.  The escapement remains in some aspects similar to that of a square piano. The details are fascinating and this action would repay careful study by the student of pianoforte history.  

The stringing is bichord throughout. You can see from the action illustrations that the bass register has been restrung, presumably by Colt; the other strings are original. There are a few loose or missing strings in the treble.  All but one or two of the keys play.

Another   interesting detail is the paper label on the nameboard, inscribed 'Royal Patent Equal Tension, Piccolo Piano Forte Invented & Manufactured by Robert Wornum, MUSIC HALL, Store Street, Bedford Square, LONDON'. 

See Footnote for Wornum's own enthusiastic description of his 'Royal Patent Piccolo Pianoforte'.

This then is a most attractive instrument.  It would fit neatly into a domestic space, just as it was designed to do in the 1830's. Colt appears to have minimally interfered with the instrument, merely replacing some bass strings and replacing the silk covering on the front panel.   It is reasonable to presume that the instrument was in playing order at some point during its life in the Colt Collection.  In principle, it merely requires small works in order to play again.  

However, the original action parts are clearly fragile and the instrument will require respectful handling and good climate control.  There is a case here for conservation, rather than over-aggressive restoration.   There are quite a few similar Wornum Piccolos in circulation, but there may not be another in such immaculate case condition, as well as with an almost intact original action. This particular piano should ideally have a place in a historical keyboard collection.  

The piano provides a window into the past, at a key moment in the evolution of the pianoforte.  It bears witness to Wornum's tremendous innovations and technical ingenuity.  I am asking £800 for the instrument, to a loving and responsible purchaser, who will preserve it for posterity.

Please express your interest by email to readingwoodpigeon@gmail.com
The instrument is currently stored in a rural Cambridgeshire location and can be viewed by appointment once Covid lockdown regulations are eased.  


Robert Wornum's Royal Patent equal tension Piccolo Pianoforte 
  Patent of 1834 ?? : "R. WURNUM [sic], Manufacturer or Patent Double-Action Piccolo, and Grand Pianoforte, Music-Hall Bedford-Square, London, HAS now forwarded to 4 High Street; Dundee, an assortment of Piccolo and Piccolo Grand PIANO-FORTES. 
The Royal Patent equal tension Piccolo Pianoforte is a superior specimen of accurate mechanism. Its simplicity is admirable, perhaps the nimost possible. 
It is highly recommended by the most, eminent professional gentlemen in London, and was the favourite instrument of the celebrated composer Bochsa. 
It has two pedals; stands extremely well in tune; maybe placed in any part of a room, with equal advantage, being highly finished on all sides, and French polished. It possesses all the harmony and richness of tone of the Grand.
 The strings are all of the new Improved Steel, and equal in their tension, — by which arrangement each string has a similar power of resistance against the influence of the atmosphere. 
With respect to the Double Action, it is an invention of the first importance to upright Pianofortes. 
It gives a firmness and certainty of touch hitherto unknown; possesses great excellence in rapid execution, and in no single property regarding touch is it surpassed by other keyed instruments. The above Patent Pianofortes will be sold in Dundee, at this manufacturer's printed list of prices, by Mr. Alexander Cameron, Agent for the Patentee." Dundee Directory and General Register, 1834, p. 34 (digital.nls.uk)


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© David Hackett