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The most comprehensive collection of early keyboard instruments in the UK is not well-known and although open to the public, it can only be viewed by appointment. The Colt Clavier Collection in Bethersden, Kent was brought together by Cecil Colt from 1944 until he died in 1985 and has continued as the Colt Clavier Collection Trust.
The Collection has not been maintained in recent years and both the instruments and the building in which they are housed have deteriorated. This has been the cause of concern for many people who take an interest in our heritage of early keyboard instruments.
Mr. Colt’s widow died in August 2016 at the age of over 100 and it has been necessary for the Trustees to consider the future of the collection. A few of the instruments are not held by the Trust but were the property of Mrs Colt and it is believed that the instruments that are being disposed of by auction are at the directions of the executors of her estate.
It is very disappointing to hear that it will be necessary to dispose of some of the most historically important instruments that were effectively an integral part of the Collection and that this could not have been avoided. A decision that would have been more welcome would have been to dispose of the duplicate instruments and those that were of less historical merit or in poor condition.
There are five instruments being sold by Piano Auctions Ltd. in Holborn, London on Thursday 6 April 2017. These are: Thomas Tomkison (c1821) grand piano; Conrad Graf (c1830) Viennese grand piano; Joseph Kirkman (c1800) double manual harpsichord; Mathaeus Hielmann (c1775) early Viennese grand piano, and a late 18th century clavichord in the manner of the Lindholm family.
The Thomas Tomkison grand piano is a highly decorative and it is a special instrument made for George IV, originally housed at the Brighton Pavilion. It could be considered as significant within our heritage of early English keyboard instruments. Of the five instruments being sent to auction the Mathaeus Heilmann also has considerable merit as an early example of a Viennese grand piano.
It is believed that there are about 160 instruments in the collection but the sale of these five will devalue the importance of the Collection in view of their historical significance. There are other important instruments remaining but the preservation of all the finest instruments in the Collection could have been considered a priority. There are other ways of raising funds but it is not possible to replace important instruments.