Author Archives: Graham

Rare pianos that have been converted to furniture

It is not difficult to find a square piano that has been converted into a desk, sideboard or dressing table.  Many instruments suffered this fate when they were no longer considered to be of benefit as a musical instrument in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  This enabled them to continue to have a use at a time when there was an attitude to make mend and keep everything for a long as possible.

The shape of a square piano lends itself to have other uses or remain as a piano and used as a side table, but early grands pianos were not adaptable and therefore many more of them have been lost.   Very tall upright pianos, known as cabinet pianos were sometimes converted into bookcases or cabinets, but this occurred less frequently than conversions of square pianos. Fortunately, it is not financially viable to convert pianos today and an increasing interest in them as historical musical instruments has enabled many to be appreciated in private ownership.

Square pianos were made in relatively large numbers and many survive today but it is disappointing when a conversion comes up at auction that if had remained as a piano would been historically interesting or an important instrument.

William Southwell, a maker from Dublin, Liverpool and London was a prolific inventor of the piano and experimented with numerous designs. Many of these were successful and important to the development of the instrument.  Some examples of his work may not have survived accept as a conversion.

Southwell patented an upright piano in 1811 that is referred to today as “a piano sloping backwards”.  It was unknown until recently whether any of these instruments had been made but two conversions to a display cabinet have appeared at auction.  The first was at JS Fine Art Auctioneers, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK, a few years ago and the second example at Adam Partridge Auctioneers, Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK, on 10th December 2015.

“Piano Sloping Backwards” made by William Southwell about 1811 (conversion to a cabinet that was sold at JS Fine Art Auctioneers)

Another example of Southwell’s work that turned up at auction as a conversion was an upright square grand made about 1800.  This was offered at Sheppard’s Irish Auction House Durrow, Co. Laois, Ireland on 28th November 2017 described as a 19th century mahogany and satinwood display cabinet on stand.

Southwell Upright square grand piano

A Southwell upright grand square piano c1800 (conversion to a cabinet)

Frederick Willian Collard of Clementi & Co. took out a patent for an upright square and these were manufactured for a period after 1811.  Two of these instruments survive including one at the Colt Clavier Collection in Kent UK. A conversion appeared at Pump House Auctions, Swanmore Hampshire, UK on 26th March 2018.

A Clementi & Company upright square piano made about 1811 (conversion to a cabinet)


Finchcocks – The tradition of music making continues



The closure of the Finchcocks Musical Museum, Goudhurst, Kent, England was reported on this website in November 2015. This came with much disappointment to people who visited the house and enjoyed music played on early Keyboard instruments.   It is good to know that the tradition of music making in this early Georgian Manor House continues under the direction of its new owners and the following article has been provided by Emma Williams.

“Many people, including myself, were influenced and enriched by listening and playing the wonderful collection of early keyboards and pianos.  Finchcocks, nestled in the Kent countryside in the picturesque village of Goudhurst, offered a tranquil respite from everyday stress.

It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I can announce that the new owners will be continuing the musical tradition by offering residential piano courses

Bosendorfer grand piano

A Bosendorfer grand piano is one of a number of grand pianos at Finchcocks.

Courses range from the beginner level to intermediate and advanced, and will be taught by Musical Director, Dave Hall. Dave studied the piano with Laura Cole and the organ with Anne Marsden Thomas at the Royal Academy of Music. Then in 1996 he was appointed organ scholar at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. David is now the Director of Music at Twyford School in Hampshire, a role he is combining with teaching piano at Finchcocks.

There’s a fabulous range of pianos for guests to play at Finchcocks. In their collection they have Steinway pianos, as well as quite a few grand pianos and Broadwoods. In the cellar, they have eight high-tech digital grand pianos – which have recently been craned in!

From the looks of things, Finchcocks is not your average piano school. The teachers are dedicated to making teaching fun and enjoyable, and guests can enjoy fine dining, luxury accommodation and a really welcoming and sociable environment.

The Coach House

The dining room in the Coach House

You can find out more about Finchcocks here:  ”

Read the original article on the closure of Finchcocks Musical Museum

Carolina Music Museum

Carolina Music Museum

In the rather disappointing outlook for early keyboard instrument museums in the UK it is good to know that in the United States there will be a new museum. The Carolina Music Museum, Grenville, South Carolina will be opened in March 2018 with a wide range of exhibits.  It will include a rich presence of American and English instruments that will be presented in an interesting and accessible way.

Transforming the space for the Carolina Museum Museum to accommodate the exhibits is being undertaken now and Tom Strange the curator of the collection has organised the work necessary to bring the instruments up to exhibition standard. Among these include an American square piano by Robert and William Nunns (1828), a Longman and Broderip grand piano (1795), and a Broadwood upright grand (1805).  It is expected that there will be about 35 to 40 instruments.

In contrast in the UK, we have seen the close of Finchcocks Musical Museum in Kent, England in December 2015 and the close of the Colt Clavier Collection also in Kent.  Even the V&A have withdrawn their musical instruments from exhibition.

We wish all success to the South Carolina Museum.

Royal piano made in 1790 sold for £13,500

It is not every day that a piano made for a king’s daughter comes onto the market but a square piano made in 1790 for Maria Luisa Borbon infanta of Spain was sold by Alcalá Subastas auctioneers in Madrid for £13,591 including premium on 15 March 2017.    Of small size, this piano measures under 42 inches in length and was made by Juan del Marmol in Saville Spain. The keyboard compass is C to f3 (4 ½ octaves).  Marmol was a highly-regarded piano maker and following a special instrument that he made in 1779 was awarded a pension by King Carlos III provided he employed two apprentices.   His pianos were based on the English design of instruments that started to be imported into Spain in the 1770’s.

The nameboard inscription reads: “Para la serenísima señora Doña María Luisa de Borbón Infanta de España. Año de 1790. No 571”.

A paper label attached to the soundboard gives the name Juan del Marmol.

The Auctioneers at first considered that the instrument was made for Maria Luisa Borbon (1745-1792) daughter of Carlos III but later gave this as Maria Luisa Borbon (1782-1824) daughter of Carlos IV. It is confusing when both daughters have the same name.  She would only have been 8 years old at the time but a piano of small size would have been appropriate for a child.  Maria Luisa was married at the age of thirteen in 1795 to her first cousin Louis, Hereditary Prince of Parma and became Queen of Etruria in 1801 and Duchess of Lucca in 1815.  The tuning key shown in the above image is of period design and may be the original supplied with the piano.

Maria Luisa of Spain, Queen of Etruria and Duchess of Lucca

It is known that Juan del Marmol made square pianos of small size as “travelling pianos”. These could be taken by their owners when they moved between properties and it has been suggested that this was the first that he made of these instruments.   The rarity and provenance of this piano no doubt led to keen bidding from an opening bid of 1200 Euros.   It is hoped that this piano has been bought by an institution and will be preserved in Spain.

Historically Important keyboard instruments are sent to auction

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.

Colt Clavier CollectionThe 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.

Tomkison grand piano

The Tomas Tomkison grand piano made for George IV in 1821

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.

Sale of early keyboard cloths

A new damper cloth is available from 15 February 2016 that is even closer in composition to the original used in early 19th century pianos than our previous cloth.  It is made from a finer yarn but uses a courser wool.  The result is a cloth that is slightly firmer but with increased surface nap.  Like the previous cloth, it is of appropriate thickness that is essential.  You will find the new cloth an excellent and authentic replacement of original damper cloth and compliments the existing green Early Keyboard Cloth and the Broadwood type hitch-pin bearing cloth. 

We have also made a changes to the sale of small quantities of cloths.  The green early keyboard cloth is now available 1 metre wide and the damper cloth 50cms wide.  This is a more appropriate cloth width when used for one or two instruments and saves wastage.   This has enabled small quantities of the Early Keyboard Cloth and the single instrument set of cloths to remain at present prices but due to increase in production costs, there is a small increase in other prices. 

New book on an 1804 Broadwood Square Piano

Front cover of book

In Mrs Findlay’s Broadwood Square Piano, author Michael Hannon traces the extraordinary history of his 1804 instrument, originally bought by Mrs Dorothy Findlay, widow of a wealthy Glasgow tobacco merchant.

In 1977 it re-appeared at an Irish auction where the author’s mother bought it. This lavishly illustrated book comes with a specially commissioned CD, including the only publicly available recording of John Donaldson’s Sonata for the Piano Forte [ca. 1822], played on a modern Steinway by Croatian Pianist Inja Davidović.

Inja Davidović

(Inja Davidović – Photo: Janko Matic)

Donaldson ‘ran off’ with ‘The Flighty Dorothea’, Mrs Findlay’s youngest daughter, who had been his pupil; he eventually won the Chair of Music at Edinburgh where he pioneered the scientific study of acoustics and established The John Donaldson [now the Edinburgh University] Collection of Historical Musical Instruments.

Inja Davidović also plays excerpts from Bach’s English Suites and John Field’s Nocturne No.5 on the square piano. Clips from these recordings can be heard at the special website:

This fascinating detective story also reveals uncanny links between Mrs Findlay’s descendants, who made their fortune as tobacco merchants and East Indiamen, and the author’s forebears, the famous shipbuilding Dennys of Dumbarton: it was an entrepreneurial Findlay/Denny partnership that established the historic ‘Irrawaddy Flotilla’, immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in ‘The Road to Mandalay, where the old flotilla lay..’.

With 15 chapters including ‘John Broadwood and the Square Piano’, ‘The Irrawaddy Flotilla’ and ‘Dennys of Dumbarton’, the book, with CD, is priced at £20 plus p&p; for full details, including ordering by PayPal, check the website, through the above link.

Alternatively, for telephone orders, please call Michael Hannon direct on 0114 2302667.
(From outside the UK 44 114 2302667)


Finchcocks Musical Museum to close at the end of December

Finchcocks Musical Museum

News: 29 November 2015

It is with sadness to hear that the Finchcocks Musical Museum at Goadhurst in Kent is to close at the end of December.  Since the early 1970’s the owners, Richard and Katrina Burnett, have opened their grade one listed manor house to the public at regular open days and for concerts and many other events.  Above all they have given a unique experience to the public to play the instruments in the collection.  It was not necessary to show that you were a gifted player to touch the instruments.  I am sure that many people were influenced and enriched by listening and playing this wonderful collection.


The contribution that Finchcocks has given to music in general and the appreciation of early keyboard instruments that the public have gained by visiting the collection over the years has been substantial.   Finchcocks is one of the best known early keyboard collections in the world.  I know that many people have received the news with dis-belief but it can be appreciated that it is not possible to continue for ever.  The time has come for Richard and Katrina Burnett to give up their obligations of operating a public museum.   They will retain some of the instruments but the remainder will be sold at auction in May next year and the grade one listed manor house will be sold.  We wish Richard and Katrina Burnett all the very best for the future.


Graham Walker


An important collection of keyboard keyboard instruments to be sold at auction

The collection of early keyboard instruments of the late Christopher Hogwood will be sold at auction on 12th March 2015 by Gardiner Houlgate, Bath Auction Rooms, Corsham near Bath, England.

This important collection of 26 instruments is expected to generate much interest. The collection includes a number of clavichords, four fortepianos, an early square piano, harpsichords, spinets and an organ in the shape of a writing bureau.

Square piano by Johannes Pohlman 1773

Pohlman square piano 1
This early square piano is in a restored condition.

Pohlman square piano 2

There is another English instrument, a cabinet piano in unrestored condition by John Broadwood and Sons.

Broadwood cabinet piano

There are two original Viennese fortepianos; one by an unknown maker made c1815 and the other by Josef Johann Brodmann also made about 1815.

Vienesse fortepiano c1815

Brodmann fortepiano c1815

There are also two Viennese fortepianos made by Derek Adlam, one made in 1976 and the other in 1987.

Other early keyboard instruments are being sold in this sale this but not part of the Christopher Hogwood collection, including, a fine early English grand piano by Clementi & Co. made in 1804.   Muzio Clementi took over the bankrupt firm of Longman & Broderip in 1798 and newspaper adverts that appeared shortly after reported that he personally supervised the tone and touch of these instruments to equal or improve on any others that were available.

Clementi grand piano 1804

For further information and viewing arrangements please contact the Auctioneers, Gardiner Houlgate, email: or telephone 44 (0) 1225 812912.

Historically important square piano sold at auction

A rare and historically important square piano was sold at Sarl Vichy Auctions in France on 24th May 2014.

square piano 1This square piano Is was of small size with reverse keyboard having a compass of AA to f3 and using a primitive Prellmechanik action. It was probably made in Germany but is difficult to date exactly. It could have been made in the 1760’s but is is more likely to have been made a little later. The primitive prellmechanik action was fitted with over-dampers (now missing). Most of the hammers are broken although most are present.


square piano 2square piano 3square piano 4There is a detached oval retailers label inside the instrument, showing the name Jeune Genoyer in Marseille, that would date to about 1800. This could have been when the instrument was sold second-hand. It is unusual to find a German square piano in France as English instruments were preferred.

Interesting features to note are the floral painted soundboard, rococo scroll at the end of the hitch-rail.  Also, the moulded edge to the top of the case resembles that used on an instrument in the Gemeentemusum , Netherlands that has an unverified label referring to “Sibermann 1749”.