Welcome to

Friends of Square Pianos

This is a website for anyone who owns, or would like to own, a square piano, or possibly a spinet. Or anyone who is just interested, and would like to learn a little more.

 

Please get in touch with me, David, on friends.sp@btinternet.com with questions, comments, or just to say 'Hello'.  This is a site for everyone, especially those new to the world of Square Pianos.  And of course, we very much appreciate the support of those with more experience.

 

Update March 1st

An Original English Spinet

by John Kemys of Bristol, c 1770

For Sale

 

An Early English Grand and a Pretty Clementi Free to Good Home

Harpsichord by William Watson 1981 for Auction 2 March at Ramsay Cornish

An Original English Spinet

by John Kemys of Bristol, c 1770

For Sale

Original English spinets (my favourite instruments) do not often appear for sale, and it is my privilege to present this 'long lost' instrument by John Kemys of Bristol for sale. Please see the Sale Page for pictures and details.

An Early English Grand and a Pretty Clementi Free to Good Home

Something a bit different today -

two challenging projects Free to Good Home.

Please see the Sale Page for pictures and details.

Harpsichord by William Watson 1981 for Auction 2 March at Ramsay Cornish

This is the finest marquetry I've seen on a modern harpsichord; for sale at Ramsay Cornish (Edinburgh) on Saturday March 2.  Please see the Auction Page for pictures and details.  More pictures and sound clip now added courtesy of Arno Proeme.

Broadwood 1835 - Sold

It is rare that we are able to offer a piano in such excellent and fully playable condition.  It is a privilege to present this one, perfect for the music of the early romantic composers such as Mendelssohn and Schumann.  Please see the Sale Page for pictures, full details, and a sound clip.

Sold in record time - minutes rather than hours from listing!

John Hills London Road Obelisk c. 1812

For Sale

There is a group of London square pianos that seem to have something in common.  They all feature an attractive realisation of the Hanoverian coat of arms - appropriate for George III - and share addresses well away from the usual  Soho area - some in Tower Hill, east of the City, and even 'South of the River'.  This elegant piano from  John Hills carries the address London Road Obelisk (Southwark).

The date is uncertain, but the detail of the coat of arms with a ducal cap indicates before 1814, when the Electorate of Hanover became a kingdom.   Please see the Sale Page for details.

Sam Morland (Dublin) For Sale

This handsome piano by Sam Morland of Dublin - a name new to me - is now offered for sale for best offer over £300. The entire proceeds will be divided between two good causes: Leukaemia Research at Bart's Hospital, and providing an instrument for a young aspiring musician, so this is an occasion when we can please be generous.  Please see the Sale Page for details and pictures.

Anton Walter c.1790 Grand Piano at Piano Auctions Sale in the Netherlands, March 5th

There will soon be a rare opportunity to buy a 'new discovery' -  an Anton Walter grand very  similar to the famous example that was Mozart's own piano, now part of the permanent exhibition at the Mozart family home in Salzburg.  Please see the special Anton Walter page for pictures and full details

A Unique 1777 Square Piano

by Johannes Plenius in Semley's Auction

Sold for £1,900

Roger Plenius (Johannes' father) is well-known as an innovator in harpsichord development.  There is a good biography section in Boalch-Mould Online.  Two spinets by Johannes Plenius are recorded, one (1768) in the Methven Simpson collection in Dundee. 

There are no data in Clinkscale, and no pianos are recorded.  So it's fair to say that to the exent of available data, this piano is not only rare, but unique!

A Friend has been to view it, and reports that despite its distressed appearance, there is evidence of a attempt at restoration in the distant past, so perhaps the historical record is not as intact as we might have hoped.  However, it remains the only known example to bear the Plenius name.

It will be in the auction of Semley's (Shaftesbury) on 27th January; no reserve is listed. 

 

The Auctioneer opened the bidding at £10, but it immediately jumped to £1,20o; steady bidding thereafter, and the hammer fell at £1,900.

 

 Images by and by courtesy of Semley's Auctioneers 

www.semleyauctioneers.com

Harpsichord by Miles Hellon 19776

after Dulcken 1745

This splendid harpsichord was made by Miles Hellon in 1977, a copy of the 1745 original by Dulcken in the Smithsonian Institute.  It is now offered for sale.  Please see the Sale Page for pictures and details.

Harpsichord after Ruckers

from a John Storrs Kit 1984

John Storrs was a leader in employing innovative techniques to ensure the accuracy of his drilling, registers, and joints in his kits, and they are fine instruments when well built.

 

We present a double manual harpsichord after Ruckers.  Built from a John Storrs kit in 1984. Compass GG to e3. Two 8’ registers and one 4’.

Ebony naturals and bone sharps.

 

Please see the Sale Page for pictures and full details.

NORVIS 2024

I'm happy to give publicity to this splendid event which is being held in County Durham in August this year.  Please see the Events Page for details.

Chelveston 2024

Our Friends of Square Pianos gatherings, originally held at Finchcocks, have always been well-supported, and since we moved to my home village of Chelveston in Northamptonshire we have enjoyed a full house.  In 2023 for the first time we held the party in our beautiful village church, and the enhanced space does mean that we are able to offer a few more places for 2024, when we will meet on Saturday 6th April.  As usual, there will be an assembly of about twenty early keyboard instruments, some original, the oldest a spinet from 1704.  There will be at least three square pianos, as well as more recently-built spinets, harpsichords, and clavichords.  The day will be informal, with plenty of opportunity to make friends, play the instruments, and enjoy tea-breaks and a buffet lunch.  This year we will welcome Ros Oswald presenting the favourite music of Jane Austen, and the pianos that were an important part of her life.

The event is now fully subscribed.  More details are on the Chelveston  2024 Page.

A Delightful New Spinet Recording

When we consider that, in terms of  practical music-making, the spinet was the principal keyboard instrument for most of the eighteenth-century, there are pitifully few recordings available.  It is therefore a privilege to introduce a delightful new recording of a spinet by Tisseran and Slade c. 1700.  Timothy Roberts plays a selection of contemporary dances and other pieces, perfectly suited to the clear and light tone of this lovely instrument.  For all lovers of the English spinet, including me of course, this is essential listening.  

 

Copies of the CD may be obtained from www.orchardstreetmusic.uk

A New Square Piano Music Release

It’s always good to introduce a new recording featuring a square piano, and this latest release by Marcia Hadjimarkos gives us some delightful music by Hélène de Montgeroult.

The album includes études for the piano, the world premiere recording of her 6 Nocturnes for voice and piano (with the Scottish mezzo-soprano Beth Taylor) and her sonata with violin accompaniment (with the violinist Nicolas Mazzoleni). As far as we know, this is the first recording of Montgeroult's études played on an instrument of her time, a French square piano built by Antoine Neuhaus in Paris in 1817. There is an essay in the booklet about the instrument, written by Matthieu Vion, who restored it. The booklet is in French, but English translations of its contents will be available on the Seulétoile website.

I do not pretend to be a ‘serious’ music critic, but I enjoyed it; perhaps my favourite was Track 16, Étude 60.

 

Anyone in France can order the album from the Seulétoile website. They do not ship to other countries.
The FNAC website, located in France, carries the album and will ship anywhere in the world. 
The album is also available for downloading/streaming on all major platforms. The English translation of the booklet may also be downloaded by following THIS LINK 

A Keene & Brackley Spinet for the Sigal Music Museum

It is now starting to look like a spinet!  The original 1710 Keene & Brackley nameboard has been fitted into its new instrument for the first time.  The new wood (European walnut, like the original) even when finished,will not match the patina of the three-hundred-year-old nameboard, and no attempt will be made to 'age' it.  A new nameboard will be made, as an alternative, and they will be kept together in the Museum.

 

On a small constructional point, the recess for the lock has already been knocked out; this is much easier when the piece is flat on the bench before fitting! 

 

Please see further down this page for the story or how this project started.  

One of our friends has very kindly made a short video of the party, featuring some of the instruments - thank you, Paul.

 

                                  Please click HERE to view.

Boalch-Mould Online - Now Live

'Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440 - 1840' was first compiled by Donald Boalch in 1955, and immediately became a standard reference work, listing about 850 makers and all their known surviving instruments.  Inevitably, such a work quickly becomes incomplete, and he published a second edition in 1974.  The third edition in 1995 was edited by Charles Mould, and very soon copies were almost impossible to obtain.  With remarkable foresight, Charles realized even then that the future for such an evolving work would be digital.  Charles is now in his 95th year, but he graciously released copyright of the data, and since then a team led by John Watson in the USA has done a tremendous amount of work to bring this dream to fruition.  Our thanks are due to the team.   Of course, especially with the growth of the internet a lot of new information has come to light and will continue to do so.  The on-line version does contain some updates, but the work is only just beginning.  

 

The Online version has expanded its scope forwards to 1925, so the pioneering instruments of Dolmetsch, Chickering, Gaveau, and others can now be included.  Another major innovation is the facilty to have a good selection of images, where available.  

 

On a personal note, I am happy to have played a small part, in particular on updating the Blunt and Hitchcock sections.  Those who have read my '1664 and All That' piece (see lower down this page) will understand.

 

So we are happy to celebrate the launch of  the long awaited            Boalch-Mould Online.  Please have a look for yourself, and perhaps look for a favourite instrument.  Perhaps you could try BMO-763

 

www.boalch.org

 

Ivory!

Over recent years, I have given considerable front-page coverage to the news concerning developments in the laws concerning the use and sale of ivory, with particular reference to keyboard instruments.  I have done my best to increase awareness, and to help Friends with the practical aspects of complying with the law.  Now that the UK Ivory Sales Act 2018 is fully in place and being enforced, the situation in the UK at least is now stable.  So unless anything dramatic happens,  everything to do with ivory regulations, including guidance on applying for the necessary permits, will now be on the Ivory Page.

 

Thank you, Jumbo, you can go back to your own page now!

Plans for Keene & Brackley Spinet -

Now Affordable!

The famous Keene and Brackley spinet is rightly the model for many reproductions, both amateur and professional.  I am happy to announce that by courtesy of the copyright owner of John Barnes' original plan, we are now able to offer copies at an affordable price; they are now available through Friends of Square Pianos for just £20, plus carriage at cost.  Please note that this is the original plan taken from the original instrument in the picture, not the EMS kit version which had two added sharps for GG# and d3#.

 

Even if you are not going to build an instrument yourself, anyone with an interest in spinets will find this plan fascinating.  

Please see the new page Plans For Sale for details of plans of spinets, harpsichords, and clavichords offered at reasonable prices.

Bespoke Tuning Hammers

Early keyboard Instruments, whether originals or replicas, do require more frequent tuning than modern iron-framed pianos.   The costs of professional tunings mount up, and it can also be a problem finding a tuner who is happy to work with our ancient instruments.  For this and other reasons, most of us do our own tuning.  To offer some help to those thinking of having a go, I have prepared a short PDF guide, available on request.

  

It is very important to have a properly-fitting tuning hammer, which should bear on a good portion of the two flat faces of the wrestpin (tuning-pin).  If the fit is too sloppy, the corners of the pin and the socket of the tuning hammer will be damaged, and the backlash makes accurate tuning difficult anyway.  If it is too small, it will grip the top of the pin only, with the same result.

 

Tuning-hammers are available from Lucy Coad or David Law - see 'Suppliers' page of this website.  Alternatively, I am now able to offer a limited number of hand-made hammers tailored to your own pins, either directly or via a template.  Please see the Tuning and Tuning Hammers page for details

 

I have made a number of very short and lopsided hammers; these have proved popular with owners of Broadwoods and other pianos with the pins at the back, and also with spinet owners.  In both cases the lid makes tuning difficult (unless it can be thrown right back) and these special hammers can help.  They don’t look as elegant as the long-stemmed symmetrical type, but they are quite practical!

 

The Spinets of the Hitchcock Dynasy - Names, Numbers, and Dates

The second of these two essays builds on the first ('1664 and All That' - see below) and offers a new interpretation of the data concerning the establishment of Thomas Hitchcock as the leading spinet maker.  It explains the somewhat confusing numbering sequences, their relationship to dates of manufacture, and the change on the nameboard from Thomas to John.  As before, the piece is rather long to transfer directly to this page, so please open the PDF below.

The Spinets of the Hitchcock Dynasty Apr[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.2 MB]

1664 and All That 

Some confusion still surrounds the early life and career of Thomas Hitchcock.  When was he active?  Who was ‘Thomas Hitchcock the Elder’?  One of the first histories of keyboard instruments in Britain was written by Edward Rimbault (pub. 1860).  He tells us that “John [!] Hitchcock made these little instruments of a compass of five octaves. Several specimens still exist bearing dates between 1620 and 1640”  It is likely that Rimbault mistook front numbers for dates, and numbers as high as this would indeed have carried the name of John Hitchcock, but it seems surprising that he had apparently never seen Hitchcock spinets carrying numbers which could not possibly have been dates, such as 1460.

Perhaps the most important early historian for keyboard instruments was Alfred Hipkins of Broadwoods.  He compiled the catalogue for the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition, and used this experience for his 1888 book ‘Musical Instruments – Historic, Rare, and Unique’.  It is in this book that Hipkins makes the notorious statement “…Thomas Hitchcock, whose autograph appears in spinets from 1664 and 1703.” 

His famous 1896 book ‘A Description and History of the Pianoforte’ repeats this as “Thomas Hitchcock’s written dates found within instruments made by him cover the long period between 1664 and 1703.”  But he then goes on to note that Hitchcock was the first to number his instruments, so he did realise that the numbers on the nameboards were not dates. 

As so often happens, later authors followed these statements as unchallenged facts, and the misunderstanding is repeated in James (1933) and Russell (1959).  Boalch ‘Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord’ (2nd edition 1974 and presumably 1st edition 1956) has a variation of the muddle, ascribing ‘1664’ to ‘Thomas the Elder’, and ‘1703’ to ‘Thomas the Younger’.  Even the 3rd edition (1995) still has the entries, but the editor (Charles Mould) does realise that something is not quite right, and offers the plaintive statement: “…1664 does seem early for a wing spinet in London, and the date may have been misread.  If it were possible to locate this, and the other early Hitchcock instruments, it would be possible to be more precise about the identity and dates of the members of the Hitchcock family in the early years of their workshops.” 

So it was that, having kept a low profile since 1885, the mysterious ‘1664 Hitchcock’ emerged from the shadows.  This is the story of an important little spinet – it is my privilege to be part of the story.

The essay is a bit long to transfer to this page directly, so please open the PDF below.  All comments welcome!

1664 and All That .pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [942.5 KB]

Making a Spinet

  Some of you may have followed the construction - starting from a pile of wood - of this replica of a remarkable and important instrument.  The spinet is now complete and playing well, and has gone to its new home in the Marlow Sigal  Music Museum in South Carolina.   Please see the Spinet Page for the story.

About the 'Webmaster' (David Hackett)

My only claim to respectability is that Carl Dolmetsch once offered to take me on as an apprentice.  This was in 1962, when I had just shown him my first clavichord, and been his guest at Haslemere.  However, he also advised me that it would be better to go to University, and I accepted his advice.  Early Keyboard Instruments have therefore remained a hobby, and now happily retired, I am able to spend a bit more time enjoying them - and encouraging others, I hope..

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© David Hackett