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REPORTS ON ANTIQUE PIANOS FROM PHOTOS

When all else fails, there is a lot that I can tell you by having a good look around your piano, and if you are not here in East Anglia, the easiest way to do this is by sending piano photos. The standard charge for this is currently twenty pounds, which I believe is about thirty-four dollars. If you pay through PayPal, they will do the exact currency conversion for you. I must add that most grands after about 1920 have very little to distinguish them, and reports on these are difficult. Also, my experience is mainly with british and european makes, so other pianos can only be described by comparison with these.

Ordinary photos can be scanned and emailed, or simply put in an envelope and posted to us. If you scan them, or have the use of a digital camera, then you can start an email, press ATTACH, and tell your PC where the photos are filed. Zip files are an unnecessary complication, just send jpg or other standard types of image file. It is better to split them up into batches of three or four per email.

PLEASE don't send emails or photos called "piano" - we get hundreds of them! Use the first part of the name of the piano, adding a number or other description of the individual shots.

The following paragraphs are suggestions, not everybody can do all of them, but the more information you can supply in addition to the photos, the more we can tell you. Remember, I haven't seen your piano, and I don't know anything about it, so names and addresses are important, and see also the articles here on NUMBERS and DATEMARKS.

John Spencer's name, model and serial number appears in his pianos of the 1890s.

CASEWORK: The exterior design is often helpful,unless the piano has been extensively altered or modernised. Taking photos of pianos is not necessarily an artistic pursuit, we are interested here in functionality, but similar rules apply when it comes to providing an impression of what the whole piano looks like: Check around the edges, and try to avoid having them interrupted by dogs, stools, vases, etc.. We can process photos to make them clearer, but try to provide good light. Close-ups of details are easier in daylight, because flash bouncing back into the camera spoils the picture. Take flash photos at an angle, from one side. It is useful to see the whole piano closed, and then open, showing the keys, then interior shots. These must include as much detail as possible, and in the case of an upright piano, both above and below keyboard level.

Pictures of actions.

ACTION is the name given to the system of levers which causes the hammers to strike the strings. Photos can tell us a lot about how and where it may have been made, and the likely period of manufacture, so show as much detail as you can, including the rear view. The action may have a maker's name and number on it, often on the rear of the hammer rail in upright pianos. If you don't know how to remove the action safely, perhaps your tuner can do it. If you know how to take a note out, you could scan it, or draw round it with a pencil, and sketch details in.

DAMPERS: are part of the action, soft felt pads which stop the notes when they are released, but which can also be raised by the right pedal. In an upright piano, are they above or below the hammers which strike the strings? In a grand, are they above or below the strings?

BRIDGES: Near each end of a string, it passes over a bridge, and the distance between them defines the SPEAKING LENGTH of the string, the part which produces the sound. The design of bridges can be helpful in assessing dates.

An upright piano back, and an iron frame.

FRAME or PLATE: The iron frame (if there is one) is part of the strain-resisting structure, and may contain useful marks, so if you can't photograph them, write them down, or sketch them. You can also try a rubbing, and scan it. The back of an upright, or underneath a grand, can also provide useful information, but remember the dangers of crawling under a grand - check the legs first.

Brooks Ltd. keys are marked on the side of the top key.

KEYS: may have marks on them, or under them, but the fact that they are all numbered from left to right is normal. Other numbers on keys are interesting, but not often helpful. If the white keys are covered with ivory, there is usually a join level with the sharps, otherwise write "not ivory". If the photos don't show all the keys, we need to know how many there are, or an easier option is the number of black notes. If you give the names of the bottom and top notes, this helps. Where the balance pin comes up through the centre of the key, is there a cloth bushing? Is there one under the front of the key, in the hole?

LOCKS & LOCK-KEYS can provide useful clues, but most cameras will not be able to give a clear close-up of a key, so a sketch is useful, or you can put a lock-key in a scanner. Some makers provided fancy keys with their initials or trademarks on them. Unless the end of the key fits into a square or triangular hole, it will usually be either a barrel type, which is hollow, and fits over a pin, or a solid key which goes into a hole in the back of the lock.

PEDALS: How many pedals are there? In a grand, what shape is the unit which houses the pedals? In an upright piano, are the pedals fitted underneath the bottom of the piano, or inside the piano? You can usually tell by the holes they come through. Does the back of the pedal foot have a raised horn to stop you kicking the polish? Pedal feet are surprisingly useful, so if you can draw round one with a pencil, describe it and sketch in the details, this may provide clues.

STRINGS & STRINGING: Looking at the whole layout of the strings, are they all roughly parallel? And at what angle? In an upright piano, are they more-or-less vertical? In a grand, are they more-or-less front-to-back? Do they cross over each other in two or more sections? In the middle area, are there three strings per note? Ideally, it would be nice to see as much as possible of the whole line of the strings from end to end.

Marr & Co. wrestplank with curving lines of pins.

WRESTPINS: are the tuning pins, around which the strings are attached. Are the outer ends of the pins tapered squares? Or more like a crude oblong? Are the pins arranged in straight lines? Or curving lines?



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