Updated: Mar 12, 2019
I'd like to propose that members of this community might contribute to a pool of multiple numbers on Sebastian Erard harps, wherever at least one number other than the 'official' serial number (boldly engraved on the brass neck plate) is visible, with a view to collating as much information as can be gleaned in – initially, I suggest – a month, and sharing it here.
This is prompted in part by the forum discussion in February with Robert Adelson, which began with my query about a harp all of whose visible wooden parts are numbered 1955 and progressed to touch on standardisation and intentional interchangeability of parts, at least from c1814 onwards.
The main aims would be:
To advance understanding of initial manufacturing practices;
To advance understanding of modification, reworking, and repair of harps by Erard during the period of continuing manufacture, whether documented in the ledgers or not;
To advance understanding of the subsequent repair and modification practices of others, including recombination of elements from more than one harp, especially but not necessarily where practitioners are identifiable, or the repair/modification/restoration history is documented or can be ascertained. (Some such information is anecdotal and difficult to verify.)
Underlying this proposal is an array of research questions to which I don’t have clear answers; and I feel certain that others among us, who have examined more such harps than I have or have thought about them more deeply, will have other questions with which information gathered might help.
The minimum information to report would be: (1) the neck plate number PLUS (2) one other number, noting its location on the instrument. Additional numbers (3 et seq), if known, with their locations, would be particularly welcome. It would be helpful to know the location of the instrument but that might be withheld if confidential.
The most accessible site on the harp while it is strung, without use of special equipment or taking the instrument apart, is the underside of the neck, at the treble end where the wood is exposed (see the first photo in my 3 Feb 2019 forum post); followed by the normally hidden surface(s) of the removable pocket-piece (AKA the 'forgotten piece') which is lodged at the junction of neck and pillar (see the photos below).
Other typical sites of stamped numbers, accessible only with endoscopy or after partial disassembly, include:
the inner face of a shutter
the lower end of the pillar
the edge of the pedal box walls.
Where there is no trace of a stamped number on the underside of the neck, a report confirming that (e.g. ‘Plate number 2xxx; wood of neck has no number’) is equally valuable.
If anyone who has access to an instrument would like to check, or has notes made while repairing/restoring/researching which they would be happy to share in this way, I would be pleased to collate, summarise, and post it. I would welcome questions and suggestions about this, but at this stage I have in mind a quick exercise, to see what can be gleaned, rather than a long-term research project.
Reports could either be submitted to the forum part of this website or emailed to email@example.com
Thank you for considering this. Lewis.
Addendum 12 March 2019: locations of numbers and other maker's marks
This is a list of the locations of stamped 4-figure numbers, and in some cases of letters, identified so far. I should welcome additions to the list.
neck: underside of neck, treble end, close to knuckle
vertical face of neck, concealed beneath mechanism plate
underside of knuckle of neck, close to the pair of locating dowels
inside pocket-piece mortise (beneath neck)
lower end face
removable pocket piece: vertical face (normally concealed)
upper face of top block, close to the pair of locating dowels
shutter, inner face
pedalbox and chassis assembly:
chassis assembly, horizontal faces
pillar base plate, underside
pedal box wall: upper horizontal edge
bottom plate, underside
Metalwork numbering and other marks
As the recently published article by Panagiotis Poulopoulos and Julin Lee (2018) shows, marks other than the engraved inscription are also found on the metal parts of some harps. Some examples have been reported in the past week; if reported I will collate them alongside the woodwork markings. Although the engraved or stamped marks on the mechanism are typically the date or maker's name, one location in which the serial number is sometimes found is the underside of the brass pedal fulcrum block (or plate); one example reported, 742 (agreeing with the mechanism serial number) also has '192', perhaps indicating a parallel numbering scheme for pedal systems made in the forge.
Locations of metalwork numbers and other marks:
pedal fulcrum block/plate, underside (4-figure number(s))
mechanism plate spacer block/cylinder, at bass end of plates (date or maker's name)
pedal levers (identification numbering of the pedals: 1-8)
Refrence: Panagiotis Poulopoulos and Julin Lee, ‘A Synergy of Form, Function and Fashion in the Manufacture of the Erard Harp’ in Marco A. Pérez and Emanuele Marconi (eds.), Wooden Musical Instruments: Different Forms of Knowledge (Paris: Cité de la Musique - Philharmonie de Paris, 2018), pp. 367-398.