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Request for information about multiple numbering of Sebastian Erard harps

Updated: Mar 12, 2019


Dear all,


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.


Initial aims


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 task


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 alvisezuani@gmail.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


pillar:

inside pocket-piece mortise (beneath neck)

lower end face

removable pocket piece: vertical face (normally concealed)


body:

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.

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4 Comments


p.poulopoulos
p.poulopoulos
Mar 06, 2019

Dear colleagues,


as promised in my previous comment, here is the link to the article which contains some new details concerning the serial numbers and manufacturing marks on Erard harps:

http://woodmusick.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/COST_FP1302%20Book.pdf


The article details are:

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.


The article is included in the final publication of the WoodMusICK initiative, for more details see here: http://woodmusick.org/


Best wishes


Panagiotis

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Lewis Jones
Lewis Jones
Mar 04, 2019

Thank you to Robert for getting the ball roling with this notable example of reworking (1377/2117). Coincidentally, I aim later today to post a commentary on another harp bearing the immediately adjacent number 2116: the plot thickens...

Best wishes, Lewis.

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Robert Adelson
Robert Adelson
Mar 04, 2019

Dear Lewis,


Thanks very much for this interesting new initiative.


There is one harp I would like to add to this list: Erard-London no. 1377. According to the RCM ledgers, this was the very first double-action harp with forked discs sold by the Great Marlborough Street firm. Beginning on 24 October 1811 it was sold to several customers who each returned it, probably because of mechanical problems. At some point in the next few years, the Erard firm transformed it into a single-action (!), giving it a new serial number: no 2117. The current location of this harp is unknown, but if it survives it presumably has a neckplate engraved with the number 2117 and possibly other pieces bearing t…


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p.poulopoulos
p.poulopoulos
Mar 04, 2019

Dear Lewis,


thank you for your suggestion. As I had mentioned at the harp workshop in Munch, during my harp project I have been compiling a list of surviving Erard harps, mainly those made in London ca.1800-1840. I have noticed the multiple numbers on these harps and have already included them in my list for instruments that either I have personally examined, or that have been examined or described in catalogues, books, restoration reports, etc. by others. The list is still a work in progress, but I hope to update and finish it soon in a presentable format, and make it availlable to the community.


I have discussed these numbers and other manufacturing marks on Erard harps in the article:


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