I am currently studying the phenomenon of harp makers who collected instruments (their own—for example, by preserving prototype models—or by other makers), even if these were not always acknowledged as 'collections' per se. I am aware of collections maintained by Erard, Pleyel, Salvi and Camac. I would be interested if in the course of your research any of you have encountered other makers who also collected.
Many thanks for this interesting information about Egan. I have just ordered your new book, and your stories about his studies of earlier Irish harps have made me impatient to read it.
Yes, you are absolutely correct: I am interested more in the idea of ‘collecting’ (in quotes) than collecting (without quotes). My curiosity about this practice came from my work on the Erard and Camac ‘collections’. In both cases, the makers (Sébastien and Pierre Erard, and Jakez François) did not consciously set out to ‘collect’ instruments, but rather preserved and acquired instruments as an intuitive and integral part of their work. The motivations for this practice vary from maker to maker, but include:
1. preserving organological documentation for study
2. preserving prototype models of the maker’s own instruments
3. preserving instruments with original or curious features
4. preserving material that could eventually be useful in trials for patent infringement
In the case of Erard and Camac, the ‘collections’ (in quotes) evolved into actual collections (no quotes) that are exhibited to the public.
Of course harp makers were not alone in ‘collecting’ in this manner. The most striking example of this kind of ‘accidental’ collector is Adolphe Sax, who acquired instruments throughout most of his adult life, even if he never seemed to have considered himself to be a collector per se. (His private collection of 467 instruments remained virtually unknown until 1877, when his dire financial situation forced him to sell it at auction.) However, it does seem to me that harp makers have been unusually active in this kind of unintentional collecting, perhaps because the specific trajectory of mechanical and decorative innovations in the harp’s history has inspired a quasi-museographical attitude to its understanding and appreciation. Harp makers have been singularly aware of their place in the evolution of this highly mechanized instrument. Similarly, they have often demonstrated a keen interest in the decorative history of their instrument, because the harp is one of the few instruments that today that is still highly decorated.
Dear Mike and Nancy,
Thank you for your replies to my query. I had forgotten about Melville Clark. I assume that Egan also might have been interested in older harps, and perhaps collected them for similar reasons as Clark. It seems to me that many harp makers acquired instruments as an unintended and often unacknowledged consequence of their work, even if the idea of exhibiting these instruments to the public rarely arose. I have found many examples of harp makers who have used older instruments, consciously or unconsciously, as a source of mechanical or decorative inspiration.
American harp maker Melville Clark in Syracuse, NY had a harp collection in the early 1900s. Among the instruments were: French single-action, Rams-head pedal harp, McFall Irish harps and Egan Portable Irish Harps. Clark harps manufactured pedal harps but is known for the Clark Irish Harp based on one of the Egan harps he purchased in Ireland in 1905. J.G. Morley also owned and exhibited his antique Egan Irish harp, and based his Morley Irish harp on Egan's model.
Modern examples might include David Williams in Texas who is a harp maker, but known more as a technician. In recent years he donated his historical harp collection to the University of North Texas. [See: https://harp.music.unt.edu/williams-collection ] Harp maker Carl Swanson in Boston has an Erard and a Pleyel, perhaps not a 'collection' as such, but certainly an interest in historical harps.
I wouldn't describe myself as a maker any more - it's been many years since I made harps in any number. I do, however, have the plans and mould/templates for John Thomas's chromatic harps, based on those made by Pleyel. I bought these from his son a few years back. I also have a couple of interesting instruments such as a 22-string Erat single action and a Grosjean 'harpe a la Genlis".