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. Mole reports that he supplied instruments from his workshop in London’s Denmark Street to the famous Longman & Broderip emporium.

Of the twenty-four instruments listed in Boalch, twenty-one are spinets: This 1770 spinet is not listed. There was a spinet dated 1740 allegedly of his make, exhibited in London in 1904. The latest surviving instrument of Baker Harris, a double-manual harpsichord from 1780 in private ownership in Germany, suggests he may have been active for at least forty years. 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 (Accession number W.14–1943), sadly lacking its original soundboard, bridge, action and stand.

Other Baker Harris instruments in Australia
Of interest, a very similar spinet to this 1770 example, dated 1776, has been in private ownership in Victoria since 1979.

Further discussion
Boalch, Donald H Makers of the Harpsichord & Clavichord 1440–1840 Third Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1995, p80; pp351–56
Mole, Peter An Oxford Collection — Harpsichords at The Bate Broken Octave, Marchers House 2011, p13
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 reverse of the nameboard batten. The upper surface of the bottom key is punched 1 midway between the stamped key number and the key end cloth. A handwritten paper label reading RESTORED BY ARNOLD DOLMETSCH LTD / HASLEMERE 1966 is attached to the rear of the nameboard batten near its treble end.

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

Previous restorations
The instrument was previously restored in 1966 by Dolmetsch as noted in handwritten ink on a paper label attached to the reverse of the nameboard batten:


1770 Baker Harris spinet nameboard batten inscription by Dolmetsch 42K jpeg
Ink on paper inscription by Dolmetsch on the reverse of the 1770 Baker Harris spinet nameboard batten

While the original Dolmetsch receipt #32465 dated 22 April 1966, to Mrs Napier in Frensham Surrey, for “repairing small spinet (as per estimate) £70” remains with the instrument, it is not known exactly what work that may have covered on the 1770 Baker Harris. The Dolmetsch family was ejected from Arnold Dolmetsch Ltd in 1978 and set up their own business, J & M Dolmetsch which later became Dolmetsch Musical Instruments. The original company liquidated in late 1979. The administrators had been converting most of the company archive to microfilm and destroying the original documents: In the liquidation, all the microfilms sadly disappeared.

It is likely that all jack tongues were mortised to accept leather plectra at that time. The strings, leather plectra and action cloths on the instrument when it came into The Music Room Workshop, Surrey UK dated from then.

The following work was carried out in 2010 by The Music Room Workshop, Surrey UK:

1770 Baker Harris spinet keyboard 48K jpeg
Ebony and ivory keyboard of the 1770 Baker Harris spinet

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 about midway between the balance mortise and key end cloth. The bottom key is additionally punched 1 midway between the key number and the key end cloth. The keys are guided by graphited wooden slips working in a carved oak rack and are appreciably tail-heavy with a block of lead inserted in the side of each key near its rear. The balance mortises are covered with oval pearwood buttons, that for key #16 a later replacement, and many wedged to reduce key slop. The balance pins are iron about ø2.6mm with 26mm exposed. The balance rail is oak and the backrail pine. There is a touchrail padded with five layers of green wool attached by stitching: The backrail has two 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 dating from the 2010 restoration are sheepskin-covered green wool. The balance rail is covered with a single strip of similar green wool reproduction cloth, cut out in the usual English manner for clearance to the underside of the sharp keylevers in front of their balance point, although there are none of the usual chisel marks in evidence. The keyframe is confined in the spinet by two cleats glued to the bellyrail bearing on the backrail, and simple wooden turnbuckles on the front of the stiles.

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

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 jacks are old replacements and have probably come from another instrument. Many jacks have 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 in its 2010 UK restoration, the instrument was requilled in turkey.



FF 1573 187 12%
C 1479 214 14%
F 1304 215 16%
c 1007 202 20%
f 820 199 24%
c' 528 176 33%
f' 400 165 41%
c'' 262 128 49%
f'' 205 113 55%
c''' 126 61 48%
f''' 95 39 41%

The 2010 stringing of iron and brass with almost even tension throughout the compass proved tonally inadequate for the short scaling of c'' = 262mm, 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 then calculated to be approximately 273kg at A415 pitch. The almost central plucking point extending from a' for most of the treble (varying from 47–55%) gives this instrument a remarkable flute-like tone in that register.

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, as per normal English practice.

The spruce soundboard is of unknown thickness and runs parallel with the gap at an angle of about 35° to the spine. It appears to be made of four very wide flitches of minimum width 18cm. Much of the board has wide grain, with generally eight growth lines to the inch. The bridge and nut are beech. The bottom six strings are on a separate mitred section of nut to fit the curve of the case at that point. The hitchpinrails and soundboard mouldings are mahogany. The bentside hitchpinrail has ten kerfs to facilitate its bend around the treble curve; the bass of the wrestplank moulding likewise has seven kerfs to match the curve of the case. These rails and mouldings are glued and pinned to soundboard or wrestplank with irregularly spaced pins varying from 3cm (between the kerfs at the left case cheek) to 9cm (along the spine) apart. The wrestplank is veneered in mahogany with the veneer running perpendicular to the gap.

With the exception of the pine spine, the exterior of the oak case is veneered with mahogany panels, separated by boxwood (?) stringing from the cross-banded mahogany. The three faces of the keywell are veneered with bookmatched walnut, and rosewood cross-banding. The nameboard batten is veneered in bookmatched walnut with inlaid boxwood cartouche containing the carefully inked inscription. The soundboard rim is veneered vertically in mahogany with a single line of boxwood (?) stringing. The lid is solid mahogany, and can be held closed by a brass hook on the bentside 11cm from the casefront. The instrument retains its original brasswork, although the brass pins used to supplement the single large screw in each hinge plate have been replaced by modern small brass screws. There is a keyed lock with elegant brass escutcheon plate 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 bottom is pine. There are bottom mouldings on all sides with the exception of the spine, and this moulding is extended up the side of the case where the tail meets the spine, and the left casefront meets the spine. 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 spinet rests on a moulded square leg trestle stand in mahogany. The stand incorporates a unique two-door music cupboard which appears original to the instrument: The cupboard body and shelf is of elm and the doors of mahogany with a keyed lock. 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.

Nether Lypiatt Manor 48K jpeg
Nether Lypiatt Manor, Gloucestershire

The spinet was purchased in a restored condition through The Music Room Workshop, Surrey UK, on 21 June 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 the early eighteenth century country manor Nether Lypiatt, about 2km SE of Stroud in Gloucestershire. After WWI, he had the house restored by the architect Percy Richard Morley Horde (1870–1944). It was then sold in 1923 to the eccentric harpsichordist Violet Gordon Woodhouse. (From 1981–2006, 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.

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.

The 1770 Baker Harris spinet is #BMO-2119 in Boalch-Mould Online.

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

Outline of Work

The restored 1770 Baker Harris spinet was the earliest keyboard instrument featured in the Sydney Living Museums “Songs of Home” exhibition which ran from 10 August to 17 November 2019 at the Museum of Sydney.

1770 Baker Harris spinet at the “Songs of Home” exhibition 61K jpeg
1770 Baker Harris spinet displayed at the “Songs of Home” exhibition in 2019

Movie thumb 3K jpeg Olivier Garde plays Rameau’s Le rappel des oiseaux on the 1770 Baker Harris spinet YouTube logo 2K gif

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