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Last Update May 11, 2016

The original square piano technical resource website, accurate and informative

As many of you already know, Finchcocks has been a Mecca for many of us to visit every year and share some companionship and great information and music, but that period has now come to a close. All but a core selection of the instruments at Finchcocks were auctioned at Dreweatts and Bloomsbury on May 11. Prices did not disappoint the owners, and if some collectors failed to enlarge their collection due to hammer prices many times the high estimate, many others certainly did. We hope to reconnect with Dick and Katrina in the next year perhaps in Tunbridge Wells, but for 2016, the music has stopped.

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The Charles Tawes (1740/41 – 1833) piano has arrived and already is yielding facinating information. Inside the piano and action we find the number 23 in several places in an ochre cabinet pencil. More importantly is the inscription in the action frame “Elizabeth / Tawes / her Bord (sic)” in an ink that has oxidized with a whitish cast on top (probably lead salts). It is hard to read but in filtered light we can make it out nicely. Elizabeth (1771 – 1869) was Charles Tawes’ wife, and was clearly working side by side with her husband. This is a most interesting discovery! Taws made his own pianos between 1791 and 1794, and almost half (11) are still extant, as testament to their perceived values and historical significance. Taws worked directly for the Washington family while George W was President of the US in Philadelphia, and this piano was made for David Rittenhouse, first director of the US Mint, and America’s most famous astronomer and scientific instrument builder.

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Charles Taws piano

Charles_Willson_Peale_-_David_Rittenhouse_-_Google_Art_ProjectCharles Wilson Peale – David Rittenhouse, circa 1792

Updates!

Ivory Ban as of March 2016 – Still waiting – Some movement towards recognizing keyboards as having an ‘acceptable’ amount of ivory on them has started to occur, State by State laws are being considered, but nothing is settled and the weight limit would still make something like an ivory flute, or even a double manual harpsichord somewhat problematical, or banned outright. In the UK, similar restrictive legal actions are being contemplated.

 

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The Geib family at the collection:

Work is complete on the latest piano from a client in Columbia, so we take a moment to stop and consider this family of builders. Between ~1777 and 1850 they were responsible in part or in whole for the creation of some 7000 pianos in London and New York! A fair number still exist, perhaps between 3-5% of those made, and three examples are in the house at the moment. From 1785 we see this one below, made for Longman and Broderip, which is a fine example of Geib’s ‘fancy’ style of the time, with marquetry on the nameboard and many contrasting veneers in the case and legs.


John Geib Sr 1785

John Sr. moved his family to America, setteling in NY in Sept 1797. Though intent on building large organs, the family returned to piano building to meet the grocery needs, and produced this example from ca. 1810, also a fancy model in the elegant sideboard tradition, and now playing again.

Lastly we have this one below from May 1830 (we found the date), a piano by the youngest son William, once more in the fanciest case of the time. This one had suffered terribly from lead rot, the conversion of metallic lead to lead acetate, with a lower density forcing the lead to swell dramatically. Until recently, the keyboard was completely locked up, nothing moving at all. The sides of keylevers were crushed and split, but all is well again now and everything is playing nicely. Now back home, the piano will enjoy a long life back in operation. We enjoyed a fine concert under the hand of Andrew Willis May 8.


 

 

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As people have had trouble finding me to send an email, please find me at medlytic@aol.com

I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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The ‘Changing Keys’ early piano exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg is in full swing. Plan a trip and go see these great instruments. Additionally, the new book that accompanies this exhibit is available through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation online – http://www.williamsburgmarketplace.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductView?storeId=10001&categoryId=30719&ssr=1&catalogId=12122&langId=-1

 

Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America

At a Glance:

  • By John Watson
  • Features transitions of keyboard instruments between 1700 to 1830
  • Hardcover
  • 8″x10-1/2″
  • 144 pages

More Detail:
The transition from harpsichord to piano and the accompanying shift in taste between 1700 and 1830 was a musical revolution in revolutionary times. So, also, was the transition from London’s monopoly on the manufacture of instruments to a burgeoning American industry. Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America 1700-1830 explores furniture design, regional and political influences, market and demographic shifts, manufacturing technologies, and the competition among makers and merchants during the colonial and federal eras.

Changing Keys:
Keyboard Instruments for America, 1700–1830

Changing Keys

From Harpsichord to Pianoforte

November 22, 2012–September 7, 2014

Explore the evolution of spinets, harpsichords, and pianos in the 18th century in this exhibition of more than 25 instruments. Examine the differences in the various types of keyboards as well as the evolution of the instrument over time.

Keyboard instruments were an integral part of the cultural milieu of Virginia’s colonial and post-colonial period. The second known public performance on a piano in America took place at the Raleigh Tavern.

Featured instruments, ranging in date from 1700 to 1830, are drawn from Colonial Williamsburg’s significant collection of English keyboards. Many have never been exhibited before. Two reproductions are included so that they can be played for visitors. Models of detailed aspects of the keyboard allow visitors further insight into the workings of the instruments.

http://www.jrw1.com/web-jrw1/CK/gallery/

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As we promised, lots of material is being added to to the pages on leather, those interesting sound covers on square pianos, and many other technical items. We will post the pages that are updated here so you don’t have to go hunting.

Clementi – 11/27/2013

Biography – 05/16/2012

Releathering Hammer Coverings – 7/09/2012

Accessories 05/16/2012

Details/Drawings 7/06/2013

Dating Pianos 3/06/2015 Nunns update

Glue 11/5/2012

Soundboards 7/25/2012

Importing Pianos 8/10/2012

Articles 11/22/2013

Announcements 12/12/2012

Wire 10/18/2012

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This site is being developed to help individuals who have (or would like to have!), a working square piano from late 18th or early 19th century, and perhaps would like to know more about how to approach restoring such an instrument. It may also be a place for the more experienced restorer to share their best practices and techniques, and to advance the state of the art in early piano studies.

As such, it will work best with many contributions, so anyone with a subject they would like to address is invited to contact Tom Strange in the contacts box and I’ll happily respond or post your content to the appropriate page! As with all things ‘rediscovered’, the collected wisdom of our contributions may not always be so ‘wise’, so please use this information to make an informed decision for yourself regarding your particular restoration. The Friends of Square Pianos network is always happy to take a question, even if ready answers are not so easy to come by!

 

sheet music with square piano

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