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King George IV’s harps, their strings, and transportation (1820-26)

Updated: May 5, 2019

William Daniell, Royal Lodge, Windsor Park, as it was in 1827

The recent publication of Georgian Papers Online (, January 2018) has eased the study of the British Privy Purse Accounts. The contents of one archive box, containing ‘George IV’s Privy Purse Accounts for music, His Majesty's Private Band, guns, fishing tackle, toys, telescopes, opera glasses, billiard cues etc.’ (Royal Archives GEO/MAIN/28960-29209), spanning the period 1784-1830, are of particular interest.

I offer here a summary of and brief commentary on references in four suppliers’ bills, a letter, and a court abstract, to King George IV’s harps, their strings, and transportation (1820-26).

Punctuation and the notation of pounds, shillings, and pence has been regularised.

Transcription of items pertaining to the harp

1. RA GEO/MAIN/29037-29037a

Bill issued by Sebastian Erard for the manufacture of a harp, with receipt

(9 November 1820 – 3 December 1823)

Sent from 18 Great Marlborough Street

Addressed to His Majesty the King

9 Nov 1820. For a Patent Double Movement Harp / Elegantly Finished and Decorated £168

Attached to the bill: Receipt dated 3 Dec 1823.

2. RA GEO/MAIN/29046-29046a

Bill issued by Chappell & Co.

(11 January 1821 – 3 December 1823)

Sent from 50 New Bond Street

Addressed to His Most Gracious Majesty

11 Jan 1821. Harp string £-/1/-

17 Jan 1821. 2 Music Stools highly painted and decorated £23/2/-

Two packing cases [for transporting the stools] £1/18/-

7 May 1821. An Elegant Harp by Erard £126/-/-

Carriage [of the harp] to Hampton Court £1/19/-

18 June 1821. A Set of Harp Strings & Box £3/13/6

Hire of a Harp & Case to Jan[uar]y 18th at 44/6 per month £15/11/6

Carriage [of the harp] to Windsor £2/4/-

Attached to the bill: Receipt dated 3 December 1823.

3. RA GEO/MAIN/29047

Bill issued by Chappell & Co.

(15 January – 24 December 1822)

Sent from 50 New Bond Street

Addressed to His Most Gracious Majesty

18 Jan 1822. Hire of a Harp and Case to Oct 30th at 44/6 [i.e. £2/4/6] per month £20/2/6

Carriage [of the harp] from Windsor £2/4/-

4. RA GEO/MAIN/29058-29058a

Bill issued by Chappell & Co.

(6 June 1823 – 13 October 1826)

Sent from 50 New Bond Street

Addressed to His Most Gracious Majesty

7 Nov 1823. 8 Silver Harp Strings £1/12/- [so average of 4/- each]

Set of Foreign [plain gut] ditto £2/12/6

This bill appears to be a conspectus, issued after Chappell and Latour had ended their partnership (see their letter of 1 June 1826, below) of bills, still unpaid, issued over the previous three years.

Attached to the bill: Receipt for £46/1/6, signed by Claude Ollivier [accountant to Chappell and Latour], dated 13 October 1826 (4½ months after the partners made their final request for payment).

5. RA GEO/MAIN/29049

Abstract of outstanding bills for the supply of musical instruments

(annotated 17 February 1823 and 4 December 1823)

The Privy Purse maintained an Abstract of Bills for Musical Instruments &c.

The date at which this was first compiled is unclear, but when other items were annotated on 17 February 1823 as paid, three large sums (see commentary, below) owing to the suppliers of harps were still outstanding.

6. RA GEO/MAIN/29059

Letter from Samuel Chappell and Francis Tatton Latour announcing that their partnership has been dissolved

(1 June 1826)

Issued by Samuel Chappell (thenceforth of 135 New Bond Street) and Francis Tatton Latour (thenceforth of 50 New Bond Street). The former partners requested that any outstanding bills owed to the firm of Chappell & Co. should be settled as soon as possible. Final payment was not made to Claude Ollivier, their accountant, until 13 October 1826.


The harps

Four harps are referred to: two Erards and one Stumpff owned by the King; and one, of unspecified make, hired from Chappell & Co. for nearly a year. The location of the first of two Erards, ‘double-movement ... elegantly finished and decorated’, bought directly from the maker on 9 November 1820 for £168, is not specified in the maker's bill, but the harp is identifiable in the Erard ledgers: serial no. 3002, a double-action ('D') harp, finished with smalt pigment (blue), is dated 9 October 1820 in the ledger and was sold on 9 November 1820 to 'His Majesty the King, Carleton [sic] Palace'.

Carlton House from Pall Mall, Ackermann's Repository (1809)

Carlton House was George IV's official London residence until 1826. As the instrument was delivered locally, in Central London, no separate transport charge was recorded. The unusually high price is likely to have been accounted for by exceptional decoration (the harp was 'elegantly finished and decorated'), and perhaps also by spare strings, a string box, and other accessories.

Six months later (7 May 1821) a second ‘elegant’ Erard harp was supplied by Chappell & Co. for £126/-/-. Perhaps this was a standard model, less decorated or without accessories, and thus less expensive. It was initially installed at Hampton Court, at a carriage cost of £1/19/-. In the preceding year, Erard had supplied the following harps, one of which was presumably then sold to the king, to Chappell & Co.:

2882 D, 5 May 1820

2916 D, June 1820

2959 D smalt, 18 Oct 1820

3024 D, 5 December 1820

3025 D, 5 December 1820

3028 D, 6 January 1821

3042 D, 24 January 1821

3065 D, 9 March 1821

3066 D, 9 March 1821

3086 D, 12 April 1821

3091 D, 16 April 1821

3093 D, 18 April 1821

3103 D, 7 May 1821

Although these instruments would normally have been discounted, the prices charged of Chappell are not recorded in the ledger, nor are other distinguishing features which might identify one instrument as intended for royalty. Although we can't be certain how long the king's instrument might have been held in stock, the coincidence of transaction dates of no. 3103 (7 May 1821) might indicate that Chappell & Co. made out their bill immediately upon receiving that particular instrument from Erard. It is not clear why this instrument was bought via Chappell & Co. rather than directly from Erard. As Chappell & Co. regularly supplied the royal household with printed music and sundries, they might more readily have secured the commission in the course of routine business; and as it would not have been in their commercial interest to inform Erard of their royal patron, we should not expect the king to be mentioned again in the ledger. Unlike the blue Carlton House harp, we do not know the colour of the one for Hampton Court, which is likely to have suited the interior for which it was intended.

After a further six weeks, on 18 June 1821, Chappell & Co. supplied on hire a harp and case, initially for a six-month term, at £2/4/6 per month (total £15/11/6). Because this was needed in Windsor, where other instruments were conveyed specifically to the Royal Lodge, a discrete carriage charge of £2/4/- (approximately one month’s rental) was added. Apparently the harp was liked in Windsor; on 18 January 1822 the hire arrangement was extended until 30 October that year at the same rate (total £20/2/6). Carriage of the harp back to London was again billed at £2/4/-. The transport charges were proportional to distance, Windsor being further from the West End than Hampton. As Chappell & Co. sold a succession of Erard's harps and Latour in 1827 still had them for hire (see Lewis Jones, Auctioning Francis Tatton Latour’s Erard harp in Finsbury, London, in 1827, 28 Feb 2019), it is likely that this harp too was by Erard.

The Privy Purse, which often did not pay these bills promptly, maintained an Abstract of Bills for Musical Instruments &c. on a single leaf. At its peak, the King’s cumulative debt to instrument suppliers was £1291/5/-. Although the date of its initial compilation is not recorded, the abstract was annotated on 17 February 1823, when some bills had been paid, at which point several large sums were still outstanding, including these:

Chappel[l] & Co. Music and Musical Instruments £216/9/-

S. Erard For a Harp £168/-/-

J. A. Stumpff For a Harp and Repairing Piano Fortes £164/17/-

Erard was not paid until 8 December 1823 (after 37 months), and it appears that Chappell’s total encompassed several bills, at least one of which is not preserved with the three considered here. The abstract is the first extant document to mention a fourth harp, by [Johann Andreas] Stumpff, the destination of which is unknown. As the cost of his harp is aggregated with pianoforte repair work, its price, which must have been the majority of the £164/17/-, is also unknown. An even larger sum, £342/19/6, was owed to Broadwood for Grand pianofortes for 'The Cottage [Windsor] and Brighton [Pavilion]'.

Although Erard's £168 was a high price for a harp, this was not, to place his work in context, the most costly instrument bought by the King at this time. 'An elegant inlaid rosewood 6-octave horizontal grand pianoforte, pillar & tablet stand', for example, bought on 8 May 1820 from Mott, Mott & Co., cost £236/5/- (carriage to 'The Cottage Windsor', at £2/2/-, was slightly less than Chappell charged), and small items such as 'A pair of gilt cherubs' (£8/8/-) and '4 elegant rosewood pannels inlaid with Bhule' (£4/4/-), the following year, suggest that extra decoration was added, if not to the same instrument, then to another of the King's, presumably of Mott's own make.

In summary, by June 1821, George IV had up-to-date double-action harps, two of them certainly by Erard, and another, hired, probably similarly so, at at least three palaces: Carlton House, Hampton Court, and Windsor; and as he also had a recently made harp by Stumpff and received harps as gifts, it is possible that two harps might have been played together at one or more of his residences.

Harp strings

11 Jan 1821. Harp string £-/1/-

18 June 1821. A Set of Harp Strings & Box £3/13/6

7 Nov 1823. 8 Silver Harp Strings £1/12/-

Set of Foreign [plain gut] ditto £2/12/6

It is possible that some of the purchases of harps might have included spare strings; but that a single harp string was bought for a shilling on 11 January 1821 suggests, surprisingly, that the court did not maintain a complete set of replacements, and perhaps didn’t anticipate breakages. By 18 June that year, 'a set of strings and box to hold them', at £3/13/6, was ordered. Not until 7 November 1823 is there a record of more strings being bought, again from Chappell: 8 silver [overwound] strings (£1/12/-), and a set of ‘foreign’ strings (£2/12/6), which were presumably the 35 plain gut ones needed to complement the silver-wound ones. The silver [wound] strings averaged £-/4/- each; and the [gut] ones, if the set consisted of just 35, £-/1/6. By this reckoning, the single string in 1821 might have been one of the smaller ones. It seems likely that the ‘set of harp strings’ bought on 18 June 1821 for £3/13/6 (significantly less than the 1823 total of £4/4/6), with a box (presumably a partitioned one, nicely finished to match the harps), excluded silver bass strings; otherwise they would have had to have been of inferior quality (unlikely, from Chappell & Co. to the King) to have cost less, including the box, than in 1823.

Musical furniture

The first bill from Chappell & Co., on 17 Jan 1821 (two months after purchase of the decorated Erard harp), included two 'music stools highly painted and decorated', for £23/2/-. As the King's pianofortes at this time (he bought several, from Broadwood, Tomkison, and Mott, and hired others) were principally of rosewood or mahogany, some inlaid with other woods or brilliant brasswork, the painted decoration of the stools associates them not with the pianofortes but with the harps. That two were bought at once might suggest that they were intended for different locations or, temptingly, that it was intended that two of the harps should be seen and heard together. Wherever they went, each decorated stool needed a dedicated packing case costing £-/19/-; this contrasts with the more robust pianofortes, which were apparently transported without an additional packing charge.

Hire charges

Comparing the rates Chappell & Co. charged the King: to hire a harp at £2/4/6 per month was only slightly more expensive than to hire a cabinet pianoforte at £2/2/- per month; and Chappell's hire to the King was only marginally more expensive than Latour's, at £2/2/- in 1827, to the criminal Thomas Arnott of an Erard harp then valued at only £70 (see Auctioning Francis Tatton Latour’s Erard harp in Finsbury, London, in 1827, 28 Feb 2019).

Carriage charges

The cost of carrying the harp to and from Windsor was the same as that of the cabinet pianoforte, and the latter was explicitly defined at the rate of £-/2/- per mile. That the cost of transporting Mott's larger horizontal grand pianoforte, with its elaborate stand, was similar shows that distance was paramount and that the weight and volume of the load were minor considerations.

Other charges for comparison and context

Piano tuning, of which two instances are recorded by Chappell & Co. during 1821, cost £-/6/- each time.

On 8 Dec 1825, a Pyramid Metronome and Case were bought for £5/5/-.

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