In a recent post I described how I was really lucky to find my piano so I thought I’d tell you a bit more about it’s history. It was made by Collard & Collard who were a British piano manufacturer, sadly not still in business.

F. W. Collard was a director of the company Clementi & Co., a well respected piano manufacturer of the late 18th century. In 1832, Mario Clementi died and the firm was renamed Collard & Collard. The company was one of the great British piano makers throughout the 19th century. They made all types of piano, and were very successful with their cottage style, which were small uprights; however they also made award winning grands. They were based in Camden Town in north London, where they occupied a substantial group of factories at the end of Oval Road. Throughout the Victorian era Camden had become a centre for piano makers. Easy access to the canal network meant that materials could be brought in and finished instruments could be shipped out around the country. Collard & Collard occupied a very distinctive circular factory.

The old Collard & Collard factory

The old Collard & Collard factory

A number of websites exist that will tell you the age of your piano if you enter your serial number. To find the serial number of your piano see the site. http://pianogen.org/numbers.html I have done this for mine and found that it was built around 1913. This was a difficult time for British pianos. By 1910 German imports had driven a large number of local firms out of business. After the First World War there was a bit of a revival, however gramophones and radio meant that people could have music in their homes without having to make it themselves. Collard & Collard moved out of their Camden factory in the 1920s and were bought by another manufacturer, Chappell, in 1929, who themselves were bought out by Kemble in 1980.

My own piano has an over-strung, under-dampened mechanism; the diagonal layout means that the strings can be longer than if they were vertical (as in straight-strung pianos). There is some debate as to who invented this technique, but it allows for richer sounds and straight strung uprights are deemed to be inferior to over-strung (sometimes known as cross-strung).

My piano is approximately 100 years old and was completely refurbished by a specialist firm in the 1980s. When I bought it 4 years ago the owner gave me the original receipt for this work. I believe that mine is made of cherrywood, but I’m not good with wood identification so would love to hear from anyone in the know.

Cherry wood?

Cherry wood?

I’m not just saying this because it is mine, but it does have a beautiful tone.  I have played a number of new pianos, mostly made in the Far East, but find that they lack the crispness and rich tone of mine. At the time of buying it I pressed all the keys and pedals to see that they were working, and checked that the feel and volume was consistent. If the mechanism is not properly aligned you can find that different force is required on the keys to produce the same volume, this would make playing very awkward. So I specifically checked for this and found that everything was OK. I liked the sound of it, but it was only when I got it home that realized how much I prefer its sound to most others that I have since played. This is clearly a testament to the quality of the company of Collard & Collard.

I am also very proud of the fact that it is British. Not in a jingoistic way, but it is nice to know that I have a piece of ‘living’ history in the house. As I said in my first post my piano is called Humphry, and I cannot envisage ever selling him. Should I suddenly become stinking rich (I’ve yet to work out how this might happen), or I inherit a mansion from a long lost relative, complete with a Steinway in the music room, Humphry would still have pride of place.

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