Original Instrument Report

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1770 Baker Harris spinet 63K jpeg
Bentside spinet by Barker Harris, London 1770

BENTSIDE SPINET, Baker Harris, London 1770

Not much is known about the life of the eighteenth-century English keyboard maker Baker Harris. There was a spinet dated 1740 allegedly of his make, exhibited in London in 1904. His latest surviving instrument is a double-manual harpsichord from 1780, so it would appear he may have been active for at least forty years. Of the twenty-four instruments listed in Boalch, twenty-one are spinets. From the same year as the instrument described here, there is a much-restored 1770 Baker Harris spinet in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, sadly lacking its original soundboard, bridge, action and stand.

Further discussion
Boalch, Donald H Makers of the Harpsichord & Clavichord 1440–1840 Third Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1995, p80; pp351–56
Schott, Howard Victoria and Albert Museum Catalogue of Musical Instruments Volume I • Keyboard instruments Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London 1985, p86

The nameboard batten is inscribed Baker Harris Londini Fecit 1770. The mark N1 is found in dark stain on the bottom in the keywell and in pencil on the rear of the nameboard batten. A handwritten paper label reading RESTORED BY ARNOLD DOLMETSCH LTD / HASLEMERE 1966 is attached to the rear of the nameboard batten.

The five-octave keyboard has sixty notes FF,GG–f''' (ie without FF). The Stichmaß is 483mm. Each pine keylever is punched with the key number between the balance mortise and key end cloth. The keys are guided by wooden slips working in a rack and are appreciably tail-heavy with a block of lead inserted near each key tail. The balance mortises are covered with pine buttons. The balance rail is oak and the backrail pine. There is a touchrail covered with several layers of green wool. The ivory-covered naturals have 40mm heads with two score marks (one at the join, the other about 6.5mm in front) and 96mm tails. The ivory heads are 3mm thick, and the tails taper in thickness to about 1mm towards their rear. The moulded boxwood keyfronts and ivory covers make the natural heads 20mm deep. The beveled solid ebony sharps are 11–12mm wide, and 80–82mm in length. The keyend cloths are sheepskin-covered green wool and date from the 2010 restoration. The balance rail is covered with a single strip of similar green wool reproduction cloth, cut out for clearance to the underside of the sharp keylevers in front of their balance point.

Disposition & Action
As expected for a spinet, there is a single choir without harp (buff) stop. The action is old, with most of the pearwood jacks appearing to be original to the instrument. They work in a permanently-fixed boxguide about 30mm deep. Every jack has been numbered on its face in pencil, and all have boar bristle springs, repetition staples and double damper slots. A dozen are old replacements and have probably come from another instrument. Many jacks been heavily graphited for lubrication and/or have had their faces shimmed with card to better fit the worn boxguide. The tongues appear to be boxwood and were probably mortised for leather by Dolmetsch, although the instrument is now quilled with turkey. Sixteen unserviceable tongues (notes #14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 33, 34,37, 38, 41, 43, 49, 54, 58 & 60) had been replaced in 2010—reproduced complete with the square mortise for leather plectra.

1770 Baker Harris spinet aciton 46K jpeg
Action of the 1770 Baker Harris spinet, jackrail removed

The scaling of c'' = 262mm proved too short for the 2010 stringing of iron and brass, so the stringing schedule was recalculated to allow the instrument to be restrung in Malcolm Rose red and yellow brass in 2012. The total tension was calculated to be approximately 273kg at A415 pitch. The tuning pins measure around ø4.8mm and the majority appear original to the instrument. The 2010 restorers noted seven non-original tuning pins (6 in the extreme bass, 1 at the extreme treble) which were larger diameter than the originals and were replaced with antique tuning pins by them at that time. The bridge pinning is staggered to allow more uniform string lengths for the adjacent notes than if the pins were inline. The bridge is backpinned for the bottom twenty-six notes (FF,GG–g) using bent brass backpins of substantially larger diameter than the bridge and nut pins.

The spruce soundboard is of unknown thickness and runs at an angle of about 35° to the spine. The bridge and nut are beech. The wrestplank is veneered in mahogany. With the exception of the pine spine, the oak case is veneered with walnut panels, separated by boxwood(?) stringing from the cross-banded mahogany. The three faces of the keywell are veneered likewise, but the cross-banding is rosewood. The nameboard batten is veneered in bookmatched walnut with inlaid boxwood cartouche containing the inked inscription. The lid is solid mahogany. The instrument retains its original brasswork with a lock on the case frontrail and a lozenge-shaped piece of ivory inlaid to the lid exterior where the lock hasp would otherwise scrape when the flap is folded back. The lid stick is a replacement from 2010 and there is no music desk. The scantlings are about 10mm on all case sides, and the spine is about 14mm. The spinet case without lid but including bottom mouldings (not on unveneered spine) measures 1885mm long and 207mm in depth. The perpendicular measurement from spine to the treble front of the case is 765mm. The mahogany moulded square leg trestle stand incorporates an interesting music cupboard in oak and mahogany which appears original to the instrument. The bottom of the spinet is supported 622mm above the floor although originally there were casters of which only the iron bottom plates (removed from the instrument) remain.

The spinet was purchased in a restored condition through the Music Room Workshop, Surrey UK, on June 21 2011. It had been in the same family in that part of England for several generations since it formed part of a keyboard collection of a Corbett Woodall, the great-grandfather of the vendors. In 1914, Corbett Woodall purchased and reconditioned the country manor Nether Lypiatt before selling the property in 1923 to the eccentric harpsichordist Violet Gordon Woodhouse. (From 1981, that property was owned by Prince & Princess Michael of Kent). Corbett Woodall apparently retained this spinet when the rest of his collection was disbursed. Arnold Dolmetsch Ltd repaired the instrument in April 1966, attaching the label to the back of the nameboard batten. There is an accompanying invoice from that company for GBP70 and another invoice for a tuning hammer.

1770 Baker Harris spinet nameboard batten inscription 41K jpeg
Inscription on the 1770 Baker Harris spinet nameboard batten

1770 Baker Harris spinet backpinning 53K jpeg
Backpinning detail on the 1770 Baker Harris spinet

The instrument is not mentioned in any edition of Boalch’s Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440–1840 nor is known to appear in any other literature.

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