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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 November 24th
Eight Early Keyboard Instruments at
Piano Auctions Sale, December 12th
A New Square Piano Music Release
Tuning Hammers at Gardiner Houlgate
Piano Auctions Sale December 12th
After a gap when there have been no 'Early' keyboard instruments at Piano Auctions specialist sales, it's good to report that there are eight 'items of interest' in the sale on December 12th. Perhaps most important is a Grand Piano by John Broadwood & Son (1808) and there will also be a fine Broawood Square, two harpsichords, a spinet, an original Mustel Celesta, a fine chamber organ, and an early French reed organ by H Christophe et Etienne. First details are on the Auction Page; more pictures and details will be added as they become available after 7th December.
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.
At Gardiner Houlgate 8th December
Gardiner Houlgate have no pianos or harpsichords in the December sale, but amongst the usual amazing array of instruments of all shapes and sizes, here's a truly tempting offer. At least one is sure to fit your instrument, or perhaps a restorer or entrepreneur could see an opportunity. Lot 1563, 8th December Musical Instrument Sale, estimate £70 - £100. www.gardinerhoulgate.co.uk
Clementi at Byrnes, Chester, Nov 22/23
No time for commentary this evening, but this c. 1822 Clementi does seem to be in very good restored condition, and much better than most.
SOLD for £440 hammer-price.
All images by, and by espress permission of Byrne's Auctioneers https://www.byrnesauctioneers.co.uk/
Hodsdon Virginal at Chorley's Auction
Sold for £700
Alec Hodsdon (1900 – 1986) was a remarkable man, and an important part of the early keyboard revival in Great Britain. When he was sixteen, and staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, he held open the door for a fourteen-year old girl, whose name was Margaret Benton. They married and lived happily ever after! She happened to be the niece of Major Benton-Fletcher, and I leave you to guess the rest. Suffice to say that visitors to the house included Peter Pears & Benjamin Britten, Thurston Dart, Basil Lam, and Gustav Leonhardt. Alec and Margaret settled in Lavenham, Suffolk, where they bought an ancient timber-framed house and moved it to the outskirts of the village. Think about that for a minute…
His main passion was perhaps steam-cars, but he also built harpsichords and clavichords based on original instruments, resisting the temptations of plywood, plastic, and metal. His instruments occasionally come onto the market - this virginal, made in 1949, at Chorley’s, Gloucestershire, on Tuesday November 21. It appears to be in pretty good condition, but as is the way these days, the estimate is just £180 - £220.
Pictures by kind permission of Chorley’s Auctioneers www.chorleys.com
Sold for £700 hammer-price. It needed some routine maintenance, but most of the notes plucked, and it had an attractive flutey tone. Surely an ideal first instrument for an owner willing to undertake some routine maintenance, as most harpsichord owners must. Perhaps £700 isn't too bad for these times, but just consider the price of a new one..,.
A Question about Ivory
Here's an interesting question about ivory. Ivory does wear out if a piano is played a lot, and those on this 1797 Broadwood are at the stage when they neither look nor feel good. Broadwoods stopped using double scribe-lines around 1790, and we see that one key has been replaced already with an older piece. So time for action. One option of course is to replace with a synthetic material such as Elforyn, but what if we prefer ivory? The UK Ivory Sales Act explicitly states that repairs are allowed, as long the ivory used is older than the relevant dates stated; we usually use keytops from 'recycled' pianos. But it is illegal to sell or buy such ivory, so what is a restorer to do if he does not have any suitable material? He could of course put out an appeal to ask someone to give him a set, but would other restorers be keen to part with their stash?
The K & B Spinet - Keyboard Detail
My keyboards might not be perfect, but I do the best job I can, and it helps to follow John Barnes' rule to fit the part where there is a choice to the parts that are already fixed. So before the keys were separated from the panel, the positions of the centres of the key tails were marked on the piece that was to become the rear guide rack, and the slots cut in this as accurately as possible. Then the keys were separated and fitted to the balance-rail. The tails of GG, C, and E were then slotted and the wooden guide-blades fitted. In the picture above we see the D key balanced, and spaced exactly centrally between C and E. Next, the position of the guide-blade for D was checked, ready for the key to be slotted, and the blade pushed in.
In this picture the indentations made by the inverted V-shaped foot of the dummy jack may clearly be seen. (Notes from earlier stages are lower down on this page.)
'Grand Compass' Broadwood 1812 For Sale
This handsome Regency Broadwood is in better condition than most, and is now offered for sale. Please see the Sale Page for pictures and details.
Some Thoughts about Auctions
Who amongst us remembers the auctions of the eighties, nineties, and the first few years of the present century? Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonham’s, and others held regular sales featuring original early keyboard instruments, including square and grand pianos, harpsichords, spinets, and virginals. Prices were quite high, and beyond the reach of people like me, but the viewing days offered wonderful opportunities to study and play (if in playing order) these lovely instruments. Probably the high spot for me was the auction at Sotheby’s in November 2004, when there were nine grand pianos, eight squares, three spinets, a virginal, and three harpsichords.
One of the harpsichords was the beautiful 1612 Ruckers, formerly at Dartington Hall. Spinets included the 1703 Blunt, and Hitchcock N° 1460 from 1735 – these two were to be important to me in later years.
Twenty years later – where are we now? Bonham’s lasted longest, with very enjoyable auctions transferred to the delightful town of Knowle in Warwickshire, but after a few years they followed Sotheby’s and Christie’s in giving up. Costs too high, profits to low. Piano Auctions Limited and Gardiner Houlgate continued to include a few early keyboard instrument in their sales, but this September, there are none.
Data from the 1703 Blunt was vital in establishing the truth about the ‘1664 Thomas Hitchcock’ and the combination of falling prices and a favourable retirement settlement enabled me to become the privileged owner of the beautiful 1735 Hitchcock – something I could never have dreamed of in the 1980s.
Occasionally, fine instruments turn up in provincial auctions – such as this1704 Blunt, the notorious ‘1664’ itself - at Anderson & Garland (Newcastle) in 2014, but such opportunities are becoming increasingly rare.
What of the future? All thoughts welcome.
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.
We enjoyed another very successful Friends of Square Pianos party at Chelveston on April 15, in the church for the first time. We did have one square piano - a very fine 1787 Haxby - but as usual it was outnumbered by about twenty harpsichords, clavichords, and spinets. The most memorable part of the day was the closing item, when our lovely soprano Angie Hicks sang Purcell's 'Evening Hymn'. This in memory of our dear friend Malcolm Rose, who died suddenly in December. She was accompanied by David Wright, playing the beautiful spinet that was the last instrument Malcolm made. It was good that his family were able to share the moment.
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
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 -
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.
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.
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!
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..