Forum Comments

Harp makers' collections
In General Discussions
Robert Adelson
Jun 05, 2019
Dear Nancy, 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. Best, Robert
0
0
Thomas Hamilton, Glasgow (1810-1820)
In General Discussions
Robert Adelson
Feb 18, 2019
I will now explain my interest in learning more about Thomas Hamilton of Glasgow. One of the most extraordinary harps that I have ever come across is a highly-decorated instrument that the London branch of the Erard firm sold on 23 June 1819 to the London piano making firm of Broadwood and sons. This harp, bearing serial number 2731 is today preserved in a private collection of a harpist, who has had it restored and who performs on it. You can get a glimpse of this unusual harp on her site: https://www.reginaederveen.nl/en/possibilities/the-erard-harp-with-the-angel As you can see, this harp is truly unique, bearing little relation to the variations on the Empire or Grecian patterns with which we are so familiar from this period. What is particularly impressive is the technical prowess with which Erard used curves in the harp pillar, while still allowing for a vertical space through which the rods must pass. I was therefore curious to learn for whom Erard made such an interesting harp. I dismissed the idea that the harp was sold to Broadwood simply for resale. Although the Erard firm did sell to dealers throughout Europe it did not do so to other dealers in London itself, because they had their own shop there. In fact, I can only find traces of two or three harps (including harp 2731) that Erard sold to Broadwood over several decades. Moreover, harps sold to dealers are usually rather plain, or at least in fairly standard decorative patterns. As we know from studying the Erard family correspondence,  in the period 1818-1820, Pierre Erard wrote to his uncle that James Broadwood might have been interested in having him marry one of his daughters. (Pierre was perhaps even more serious about marrying the daughter of another London piano maker Thomas Tomkison.) So I thought that is perhaps not too fanciful to imagine that Pierre wanted to have an extra special harp made for the young lady with whom he was in love.  However, my admittedly romantic hypothesis was disproved by information I recently found in the Broadwood archives, where by pure chance I came across a ledger entry that indicates that this very same harp was resold the following day to: "Thomas Hamilton esq, Glasgow, passenger per the 'Wellington', delivered at the Leith and Berwick Wharf [often used by Broadwood for shipping pianos to Scotland] as per order." According to the sales ledger, the Thomas Hamilton in question lived at "Rock Cottage" in or near Port Glasgow.  [I now see that the title before the name "Broadwood" in the Erard ledger is not 'Miss' but rather ‘Messrs’ [plural for Monsieur or Mr] with the ‘rs’ in superscript. While one does find "Miss" before customer names in the Erard ledger, the word is always written out, with no abbreviations in superscript. Erard often wrote the 'double s' in 'Miss' or 'Messrs' with an 'fs' (typical for the period). But when writing out the word 'Miss' he always dotted the 'i', which is not the case on 'Messrs'.] In other words, Thomas Hamilton ordered the harp via Broadwood, rather than directly from Erard. The Broadwood firm was simply acting as a middleman, which does seems rather strange. Hamilton had purchased a piano from Broadwood several in 1812, so the explanation may simply be that he had an established relationship with Broadwood and therefore asked him to send an Erard harp. The decorations on harp 2731 are so unusual that I would assume Hamilton requested them. The Broadwood piano Hamilton bought in 1812 was described in the ledgers as a "best" model square, so he seemed to like finely decorated instruments. It is also curious that the Broadwood ledger shows the following entry for the purchase of Erard harp 2731: "P Erard at Great Marlborough Street. 23 June 1819 By harp £110.5 and case £3.10, less 20 per cent  £91" The price of £110.5 corresponds to the price of the least expensive, least decorated double-action harp during this period (according to a contemporaneous Erard-London catalogue). This is rather strange for such a unique harp (moreover, Erard offered a further 20 percent discount). While it is true that Erard and Broadwood had friendly relations, the harp was not made for Broadwood. I have checked with many libraries, archives, historical societies in Glasgow and nobody has any trace of a Thomas Hamilton of Rock Cottage, Port Glasgow. The only further lead I have about his possible identity comes from the 1805 edition of the Glasgow Post Office directory, which contains a listing for: "T. Hamilton musician, 32, Hutcheson Street." Alas, with such a common name and so little else to go on it seems rather difficult to pursue.  Until and unless I can find out more about Thomas Hamilton, I can draw two conclusions from what I know of this harp: 1. One should be cautious about assuming that ledgers give accurate information about harp decorations. For harp 2731, the ledger simply indicates "D" (Double action), and absolutely nothing about any sort of ornaments. 2, Often, when one finds such extravagant decorations on an instrument one assumes that the instrument was made for someone special: an aristocrat, or someone who might have had a 'special 'relationship to the maker (as may or may not have been the case with a Miss Broadwood). But perhaps Erard-London harp no. 2731 was simply made for a "normal" customer who wanted a pretty harp? --Robert
1
0
Erard double-action harp no. 1955
In General Discussions
Robert Adelson
Feb 04, 2019
Dear Lewis, Thanks for the details on this unusual instrument. The reason I asked is because serial number 1955 falls right in the period when Erard was making a series of student harps, with what could be described as partial double action; that is, single-action except for the D and A pedals, which are double. (I have seen two sich harps and for years I had mistakenly assumed that these were "transitional" instruments; an early stage before the "full" double action.) The London workshops built about 49 such harps between 1813 and 1827. According to an extant sales catalogue from c. 1815-1820, these harps came in three sizes: a small model ‘for young ladies between seven and ten years old’, an intermediate size ‘for young ladies between ten and thirteen years old’ and a large model ‘for young ladies between thirteen and fifteen years old’. The catalogue explains that at fifteen years old it was expected that young ladies can play a full-size harp. The Erard firm allowed families to exchange the above-mentioned child size harps from size to size as required, which is why so many of these harps were kept on hire. Based on what you have written (and admitting that it is very difficult to say anything without actually having seen the instrument), I would guess that your no. 1955 is another kind of "student harp," of the type described in the aforementioned sales catalogue as: "SINGLE MOVEMENTS: The same shape as the Double Movement/To which instruments the Double Movement can be introduced for £31. 10s." [This model was differentiated from what was referred to as "Former Shape"; i.e., a "normal" single-action instrument that would not be able to have the double-action added to it] Clearly the Erard firm was going out of their way to make the transition to the double action easier for their customers. If this is the case, then there would not have been any other no. 1955 in a double-action version. This harp was simply given a "D" [Double] in the ledger because it was the simplest way to describe it. As an aside, during the Munich conference I was often tempted to make the following comment: the Erard ledgers are so wonderful that we are often tempted to assume that everything is written down. Obviously, these were working documents kept by busy people who were not thinking of how they would be used by musicologists 200 years later! I have often come across key details that are missing from a ledger entry, or extravagantly decorated instruments with no mention whatsoever of any ornaments, etc. In the case of this harp, the "D" was probably added as a convenient quick description, as "S" would have been equally inaccurate. There is only one other possibility that I can think of for this instrument: that it was a double-action harp that was later transformed into a single-action. This strange operation is documented in at least one London ledger entry from the period in question. Presumably a physical inspection of the instrument could tell us if it is a single-action that was made in the size and shape of a double "with room to grow" (!) or rather a double-action that was "demoted" to a single-action. Best, Robert
Content media
0
Erard double-action harp no. 1955
In General Discussions

Robert Adelson

Admin
Editor
More actions