Sometime in early July, the phone in the office rang and the caller said he and his wife had purchased a piano at the auction of Robbins Hunter’s antiques in 1980. The auction was held to raise money to restore the building for use as a museum. They had kept the piano all these years in their home in Baltimore, Ohio, but were downsizing and moving to Maine. A nineteenth century upright grand piano did not make the list of items to include in the move. Would the museum like to have it back?
After some research about Broadwood pianos as well as the story of the 1980 auction, the collection committee agreed that indeed we are thrilled to make room for its return to Granville.
The piano bears the label of John Broadwood and Sons/Maker to His Majesty and the Princesses/Great Pultney St./Golden Square/London. It is made of mahogany with Empire style legs and trim. The upright front is covered in red velvet. But the really interesting part is the importance of the Broadwood Company in the history of musical instruments. Started by Burkat Studi, the company, since 1740, has made instruments for every British monarch. In 1729, they made an instrument for Handel. And in 1740, Studi made an instrument for Frederick, Prince of Wales (now in Kew Palace). Twenty-five years later, nine year old Mozart, visiting London, played a Studi piano. In the 1770’s John Broadwood married Studi’s youngest daughter and the name changed. During that time, Broadwood supplied pianos to painters Reynolds and Gainsborough and to Josef Hayden in Vienna. The company was exporting to Russia, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, France, West Indies, and America (where its agent was John Jacob Astor). In 1785, records show that Thomas Jefferson visited Broadwood to discuss musical instruments. In 1796, a grand was made as a present for the Queen of Spain with a case designed by Thomas Sheraton with Wedgewood medallions (now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). An upright grand style was introduced in 1795 and two were sold to the wives of Nelson and Wellington. After the Napoleonic wars, in 1817, Thomas Broadwood toured Europe and visited Beethoven in Vienna. The next year, he sent the composer a six octave grand which is now in the National Museum of Hungary, Budapest. It was later owned by Liszt.
In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, who brought a Broadwood piano to Buckingham Palace where the young couple made music with Mendelssohn. By 1842, 2500 pianos a year were being produced at the Broadwood Company, one of twelve largest employers of labor in London.
In 1848 Chopin was provided with three Broadwood instruments for his British tour: one for his lodging, one for his London concerts, and one for his Scottish concerts.
At the Paris exhibition in 1867, Emperor Napoleon presented a Gold Medal to Henry Broadwood. In 1981, one of their pianos was accepted as a wedding gift by the Prince and Princess of Wales for Kensington Palace. Production continues today.
The Broadwood now back in the collection of Robbins Hunter Museum is installed in the Hunter room, just opposite Hunter’s portrait. He appears to be once again watching over it. We do not know of anyone famous or royal who ever played this instrument. In fact, we do not have a record of how it came into Hunter’s possession.
We are so grateful for the generosity of Barbara and Richard Sellers, who not only donated this fine instrument, but made arrangements and paid for piano delivery specialists to place it in the museum.
Be sure to ask to see it the next time you visit the Robbins Hunter Museum.