Tickling the Royal Ivories: C.R. Ashbee Piano Found

There’s a long history when it comes to great designers creating their own special take on piano case design. Many styles have been accounted for, including some wonderful Arts & Crafts examples. Among them are some especially notable creations by C.R. Ashbee, M.H. Baillie-Scott, Sir Edwin Lutyens and C.F. Voysey. Some of these are in museum collections while others find their way into private homes. However, the very best rarely come on the market.

Some of these instruments have been out of sight for many years hidden in dusty basements or sealed away behind museum vault doors but now a spectacular piano designed by C.R. Ashbee in 1904 for the Broadwood piano company, has just been found and is being offered for sale by the Period Piano Company in Great Britain.

This striking instrument is a superb example of the Arts & Crafts style. The simple case rids itself of the normal curves and massive legs found on most pianos of the time, replacing it with a more streamlined case inspired by the style of 18th Century harpsichords. The simplicity of the case, beautifully veneered in a rare Spanish Mahogany is a perfect backdrop for the superbly crafted hand-made hinges of the Arts and Crafts period.

According to the maker’s archive entry: “The piano was finished by 12th March 1904 and delivered to Edward George Henry Montagu, the 8th Earl of Sandwich, at Hitchingbrooke on 29th March of the same year. Ashbee’s deliberately unconventional style around this time particularly focused on his designs for pianos. Both his wife and his mother were talented pianists and besides, ‘artists and architects of advanced tastes had been interested in reforming the design of piano cases for some time’. Ashbee’s first design was for his wife Janet in 1900 and was ‘shocking’ in its subversion of convention. As in this piano, the cabinet work was carried out by Broadwood & Co. and the heavy cast hinges were made by the Guild of Handicrafts. The form was square and reflected the piano forms of the late 18th century but with hinged doors to the front. This piano, produced four years later retains many of the same features of this original design with the case enclosing the more usual grand piano frame. These ‘specials’ were made to commission and were bespoke for each client.”

Examples of Broadwood pianos designed by Ashbee are in the collections of the Huntingdon Library, Pasadena, Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum and the Standen House, Surrrey.

We are fortunate that this rare instrument has made its way into good hands: The Period Piano Company are holders of the Royal Warrant, as piano restorers to Her Magesty the Queen.

For more information on this piano, contact [email protected] or visit their website www.periodpiano.com

Check back next week as we highlight the work of our favorite pet-friendly Arts & Crafts woodworker!