THE WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF PIANO HISTORY.
(Page updated March 2021)
This is a non-profit history project that relies on your donations to support a unique archive. If every visitor made a small donation, we would have much better facilities for you. However, the real way forward is to combine all 3 aspects of the collection – pianos, history and live music - in a proper building, with parking, good access, toilets, and space where I can use my live music performances to raise funds for the museum. After recovering from a long major illness, I have no money for a building like that, so we are desperately seeking arts funding or sponsorship to protect this unique piece of history, and give it a permanent home when I am gone.
Bill Kibby-Johnson, Priory Farm, LN11 8PW (UK) Feedback is welcome, type the email address below.
If you send photos, they need to include the WHOLE piano, unobscured by dogs, stools, vases, etc..
The majority of people have no interest in piano history, and can’t understand why I put so much time and effort into preserving it, but every day, hundreds of people around the world come to this website seeking information about their pianos, so although it is a minority interest, a minority of the whole world is a HUGE number!
HISTORY, NOT VALUATION!
Nobody anywhere can guess the value or condition of a piano without inspecting it on the spot, and checking how well it holds in tune, so your local tuner is the best person to ask about that. (If you are in East Anglia or Lincolnshire, have a look at my Tuning page.) Here in Britain, where antique pianos are plentiful, unrestored ones have very little value, and we are offered several each year for nothing. The most important factor deciding the value of a piano is not its name, but its condition, and the most important aspect of that is whether it holds in tune, because if it doesn't, repairs can cost over a thousand pounds, and this is usually more than an old piano is worth. Piano dealers don’t normally deal with antiques, and antiques dealers don’t usually know much about pianos.
PIANO TUNING in Lincolnshire and East Anglia, including Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex.
MUSIC while you browse? Starts very softly.
DEMOS of Bill Kibby’s performances on various instruments.
REPERTOIRE – over two thousand songs and tunes that Bill Kibby can play for you.
PIANO HISTORY LINKS
GRAND pianos from Cristofori’s invention through to modern.
SQUARE pianos (Querpianos) were the main domestic instruments before uprights were perfected.
GEORGIAN vertical pianos and earlier attempts at upright pianos.
VICTORIAN cottage pianos.
EDWARDIAN upright pianos and later ones.
DATE-MARKS and other clues inside your piano.
EXHIBITION medals and awards shown on a piano provide clues to its age.
KEYS & KEYBOARDS plus Locks & Lock-Keys.
GENEALOGY of piano makers, and some idea what your ancestors may have done in the piano trade.
NAMES and aliases used on pianos.
NUMBERS are not always a reliable guide to the date of a piano.
ARCHIVES of the piano makers are rarely available, so our archives try to fill some of the gaps.
DIAGRAMS of piano actions – the working parts of the notes.
FALSENESS in piano strings can make tuning very difficult.
CENTRAL HEATING and direct sunlight can damage your piano.
HEALTH matters and possible help with them.
BILL’s BLOG has little or nothing to do with pianos or music.
MEMORIES of my childhood in Walthamstow.
I can’t decide, should we call ourselves a “piano rescue centre”? Certainly we do much the same as animal rescue centres, but with pianos, the only difference is that some of our “animals” are dead bodies! There is a strange duplicity involving Victorian pianos: I have no great amount of contact with restorers of antique pianos, but they seem to live on a different planet from me, a wonderful fantasy world where people spend thousands of pounds moving these pianos from one country to another, and fixing them, then sell them for a profit! For most people in England, the main options are to pay the council to put them in landfill, or donate them to me (if I can justify the transport costs) or else it's a box of matches and a gallon of paraffin, so irreplaceable history goes up in smoke. If you’re lucky there may some scrap metal you can sell.
We are also a world centre for piano history, we deal with enquiries from around the world every day, and I find myself in the position of being the keeper and guardian of a unique history collection, not just because it is my passion, or because of anything it can do for me. It deserves to survive long after I am gone, because people need it, but it might all end up on a bonfire, and with so many people pleading for your cash for cancer research, abused donkeys, starving children etc., it is difficult to raise any funding for piano history. Imagine if we achieve a museum of piano history, with the world’s largest specialist archive of related information, a unique pictorial time-line of piano history, thousands of images, thousands of index cards, thousands of printed pages, a collection of Victorian books containing piano ads, irreplaceable reference material, as well as a time-line of actual pianos from Georgian to modern. Although the books were purchased for their piano content, they also provide a wide range of general history.
Now imagine taking the world’s largest collection of piano history, and packing it away into a large brick shed. We had all the ingredients, but sadly, our humble building at Southtown was barely big enough to store our unique and growing collection, let alone display it, or work on the pianos, so for years, they have been crammed in together, and the archives were functional but not on display. I have spent my life achieving lots of things that people said were impossible, some of them are listed on this website, but for years, the big challenge has been to find a way into a permanent home for this unique and irreplaceable collection, before I get too old to do it justice.
Here’s part of our collection as it was, crammed together at Southtown.
At one point, there were so many pianos, I had to climb over them to get in and out of the building.
In 2014, the Eastern Daily Press very kindly did a whole-page feature on our collection, and our plight in trying to find funding or sponsorship for a proper museum building. I watched a television programme about a man who collected worthless junk for years. Everyone agreed it was junk, nobody understood, but one day, he bought a building, and all of that “junk” suddenly came together to form a wonderfully-integrated display. What we have here is perhaps the piano equivalent, there is no cash value in the individual items, the historical value is in what they make together. At least it seems a little more reasonable to me than the man who collected live crocodiles! In the past twenty years, a total of seven other projects have very kindly offered to house our collection within theirs…
“This time, I had the answer right here in my hand, then I touched it, and it had turned to sand.”
One by one, they all fell by the wayside and ceased to exist, but we are still going!
PIANO HISTORY CENTRE
At last, we have moved our home to a lovely setting in the Lincolnshire Wolds, where by the kindness and generosity of Wharton Agriculture Ltd., we have a large barn space in which we would like to display a 300-year time-line of piano history alongside the collection of pianos, and perhaps convince more people that it isn’t just “a bunch of old pianos”! This is the ONLY form of sponsorship we have so far. It’s not my dream museum building, but it offers so many more options than the shed.
ROUGH PLAN OF PIANO TIME-LINE
Our collection is really in 3 parts: The pianos in the barn form a unique timeline stretching from Georgian to modern, although mainly British, and mainly uprights, gradually being restored to playing order. Indoors, we have the world’s largest collection of piano history, but the barn is not a suitable place to keep books, paperwork or computers, so it is difficult to justify spending thousands on displays there. We also have a collection of musical instruments and music gear which should ideally be on a stage so that I can do regular multi-instrumental performances to raise funds for the museum. Having recovered from 14 years of major illness, I have no money for a proper museum building, so without proper funding r sponsorship, I don’t know what will happen to the collections when I am gone.
Here are some views of our “museum” and as you can probably see, there is a little bit of work still to be done yet, so we are not “open”, but people can arrange to visit by appointment, and at least it is pigeon-proof now!
Here, you can see just a small selection of the images I want to show for the 1700s, and there are 6 times as many in the 1800s, before we even get to the 1900s. In a way, the pianos are only window dressing, the main collection is history. It is important to understand that although piano history is a minority interest, taking that minority over the whole world means that hundreds of people are searching our website for piano history every day, quite apart from the many people who have a more casual interest, and although this website goes some way to satisfying that need, a museum would be able to do so much more.
Here are some of the first time-line items from Victoria’s reign, only 80 boards to go!
Preparations for the 1840s and 1850s displays.
The world has gone through a long period where history was destroyed without any thought, and where value has been all about money.
As a result, we don’t know of any museum anywhere in the world that has anything like our time-line of over 50 actual pianos ranging from the 1790s to the 1970s – Georgian to modern.
Having achieved that first layer in building our time-line, the next major task is to wade through fifty thousand
images and cut them down to three thousand of the best for our “wonder wall” of piano history.
If a picture paints a thousand words, we will have three million words around the walls.
The next task is restoration work on the pianos, many of them have been in store for years, but it is in areas like display costs that your donations are so vital. Imagine a piano standing up against a wall: printing pictures above it to a professional standard costs more than the piano is worth! onthly donations can also be set up through the Donate button, and if you value piano history, you can arrange a small monthly donation.
CHERISH YOUR ASPIRATIONS!
General (non-piano) History items are further down the page. Visiting pianos at many museums, it is interesting that there is usually little or no historical information attached to them, whereas we have more than we can possibly display. Recently, we supplied a dozen items to a World War I display, and a friend was immensely impressed with what was, after all, a tiny fraction of our display material. We also offer occasional lectures on piano history to Women’s Institutes, colleges, museums, schools, etc., and I am always impressed by the enthusiasm of so many people who want to learn more about pianos, and ask very searching questions.
In 2007, we moved to Great Yarmouth when we were offered a large museum space in a wonderful Georgian setting, but sadly, after months of intensive preparatory work, the premises proved to be unsuitable because of problems with parking, disabled access and egress, fire regulations, legal wranglings, and differences of opinion between the residents and the local council about many things, including the previously-stipulated ground floor space, which was a matter of public record. Not only that, we were asked to put my most treasured possessions (and my life’s work) into a building where anyone could walk in when we weren’t there! What seemed like a gift from heaven to house our collection for a peppercorn rent ended up with the council wanting us to invest thousands of pounds for an upstairs venue that had not been designed to fit in with modern regulations. Ironically, it was only in the process of designing displays for that museum that I really began to appreciate the scope of what we have here. People often say that we will need a lot of space to display fifty pianos and organs, but what they don’t realise is that in order to display the more important history items at a reasonable size, we need even more display width.
To add to our problems, Yarmouth is a flood risk area, and although we said “it hasn’t flooded since 1953”, within a few months of moving in, we had a near miss when we were evacuated because of flooding just along the road. I had this image in my mind of all the pianos floating down the river! We were not troubled by flood waters, but greatly troubled by the repeated flood warnings, which had us in a panic to get irreplaceable books and paperwork into the house, and upstairs. In the process, electronics got broken, the books were thrown into chaos, I strained my back, and we were exhausted. We couldn’t keep doing that.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
I began collecting musical instrument information around 1958, and focussed on pianos from 1963. When I left college in 1965, I realised that there were many unanswered questions about piano history, and as I began seeking them, people were already asking me for help. My Piano Archives service was dealing with historical enquires by 1972, when home computers didn’t exist, and everything was done with a pen, a typewriter and a photocopier.
By 1989, I had a shop at Lowestoft, and was writing computer software that could search through the files overnight, and print out the results while I slept, before the age of emails. Things are a teeny bit quicker with modern computers, but less convenient for writing one’s own software. In 1990, I began 14 years of major illness, and was given no help at all by the NHS. I was incapable of going out to work, and while my current life was showing no progress, I tried to invest in my future by working on piano history whenever I had a burst of energy. That intermittent work laid the foundation for the service we now provide every day, read by thousands of people all around the world.
The original PianoGen web pages were set up in 2001 in conjunction with UK Piano - Britain’s largest piano website. Sadly, although we have always known that “gen” meant information, many people still do not understand it, so now, we have a more logical name…
Since 2001, I have dealt with thousands of postings on the piano history forum, in addition to our own extensive clientele. A recent Google search revealed 38,800 internet entries connecting “Kibby” with “piano”, while “piano history centre” showed 785,000 entries. The hits for my forum postings about Spencer pianos alone are in excess of twenty thousand. Our website has hundreds of visitiors from around the world every day.
We supply information to many museums, archives and specialists around the world who only deal with specific aspects of pianos, and we also receive information from them, we don’t just quote from books, we add to the existing knowledge. Because we have so far been unable to locate major funding or sponsorship, our active research is aimed at antique British pianos, so anything else that arrives is a matter of luck, but with growing worldwide demand, we never discard any kind of piano information, and the Piano History Centre works together with the specialists in researching, filing and storing all kinds of piano information. It is fair to add that although we try to help with any pianos…
Our active research is aimed at antique British pianos.
The majority of those were manufactured in London.
The majority of their factories were in the Camden Town and St.Pancras areas.
Many piano books are written by professional writers who have no experience of pianos, or only have a very narrow view of the subject. On the internet, text is often misleading, and you will find a lot more reliable material from Google Images, but unfortunately, huge amounts of space on the net are wasted on images that are not labelled properly: if you are looking for Broadwood square pianos, you won’t be able to find them if they are labelled “xyz123” or “our piano”, they are useless to most people because a search will not find them, so a lot of our work is in cataloguing and cross-referencing these. My own website suffers from this because it is a home-made site and we can’t afford to pay internets geeks inflated prices.
Just for fun, try searching for paino or panio.
THE AGE OF MISINFORMATION
A lot of the misinformation about piano history has arisen from people writing books and phrasing things badly, or misquoting information, or quoting other authors without realising that they had got it wrong. I have written to authors, challenging statements they made, and the usual answer is that they read it somewhere else, and took it to be correct. Sometimes, there is a whole chain of people quoting previous authors, and this applies especially to serial number dates. Nobody is immune to misinformation, and the tangled web often makes matters worse by spreading misinformation more rapidly so, as they often say in CSI or NCIS, “follow the evidence”. I spend a lot of my time searching for original unadulterated information from paperwork, or the pianos themselves, but even that will have human errors. It might seem that by looking at books written a century ago, we would get nearer to the original truth, but this is not always the case, they didn’t have the benefit of later research, and people like Michel, Dolge and Brinsmead published all kinds of misinformation, commenting on aspects they knew very little about, or carefully quoting misinformation from each other.
Without donations, I will be fine, but our collection may not survive for future generations, and it may all end up on a bonfire. If every visitor to this site made a small donation, we would have better displays for our building, and much-improved facilities for research within our own archives. Cheques must be made out to Bill Kibby-Johnson. Foreign cheques are subject to high bank charges, so if you are posting a donation, bills are easier to change without any of your money disappearing on charges.
Our collection includes…
· over 5,000 index cards;
· thousands of printed pages;
· over 90,000 computer files;
· general reference books on the pianoforte;
· uniquely-detailed visual time-line of piano history;
· 50 pianos ranging in date from the 1790s to the 1970s;
· miniature pianos, music boxes and piano-shaped ornaments;
· a growing archive comprising hundreds of old sheet music copies;
· thousands of computer text pages, listing over thirty thousand names;
· a range of Victorian books from 1844 onwards, purchased for their piano content.
· The world’s largest directory of British piano firms. If you wanted to look up a local piano firm you might look in your local Yellow Pages. Our lists cover not only most of the towns, but most periods going right back to the 1700s.
DIRECTORIES & OLD BOOKS
Our old books were purchased for their piano content, but some provide a wealth of general history too. Here is a brief summary of some of the directory lists and other sources we have available for reference, in addition to our more modern reference books: some are complete originals, others are just piano lists: there are many more to be added, containing over a million entries, and far too many for us to make them available online without major funding, quite apart from the enormity of the copyright problems. There are London lists for every decade. Early directories are written in name order, some musical instrument makers did not specify which instruments they made, and it is easy to miss piano entries unless one knows what to look for. If you are searching for London surnames in any trade, it is worth remembering that we have a selection of complete London Directories from 1786 to 1892. We also have incomplete lists of piano items found in London alphabetical directories for 1765 1768 1769 1771 1772 1774 1775 1778 1782 1794 1797. In some cases, Longman’s is the only music firm listed.
1786 Lownde’s London Directory.
1790 Edinburgh Directory.
1792 Lownde’s London Directory.
1794 London directory
1805 Various London directories
1814 Pigot's Directory of Chester. (Trades)
1814 Pigot's Directory of Leeds. (Trades)
1814 Pigot's Directory of Liverpool. (Trades)
1816 Birmingham Directory
1817 Johnstone's Directory of London
1817 Leeds Directory
1819 Post Office London Directory
1820 Post Office London Directory
1820 Glasgow Directory
1822 Pigot & Co.'s Directory of London; Musical Instrument makers
1824 Post Office London Directory
1824 Kent Directory
1825 Pigot & Co., London
1825 Nottingham Directory
1827 Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary
1828 Leamington Directory
1828 Pigot's National Commercial Directory covers an odd selection of major towns and cities in some (but not all) counties, and strangely avoids London. From this, I copied every list that had piano, organ or music firms, including Chester, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Scarborough, etc..
1828 Worcester Directory
1829 Birmingham Directory
1830 Post Office London Directory
1830 Devon Directory
1830 Great Yarmouth Directory
1830 Ipswich Directory
1830 Norwich Directory
1830 Suffolk Directory
1832 Manchester Directory (Trades)
1834 Edinburgh Directory
1834 Leeds Directory
1835 Dublin’s earliest classified Trades Directory
1836 Isle Of Man
1837 White’s Directory of Sheffield, Wakefield, Halifax, Bradford, Leeds
1838 White’s Directory of Hull
1838 Manchester Directory (Trades)
1839 London Pianoforte tuners
1840 Pigot & Co.'s Directory of London
1840 Post Office London Directory
1840 Dublin Directory
1841 Manchester Directory
1842 Pigot & Co.'s Directory of London
1842 Norwich Directory
1842 Penny Magazine – piano article
A single reel of microfiche in the Manchester Archives includes Pigot's Manchester directories for 1841, 1843, and 1845, but it is very difficult to tell which part is which, and it seems to end illogically with the 1843 list, so the most accurate description is "circa 1843".
1844 East Anglia
1844 Glasgow Directory
The Illustrated London News was first published in 1842, and suddenly, people could not only read the news, they could see engraved illustrations of major events, exotic animals, foreign peoples, landscapes, and all sorts of things about the world around them. We have a selection of volumes of the Illustrated London News for every decade from 1844, and these include many items of general history.
1844 Illustrated London News has many items of general history
1845 Slater’s Directory of Sheffield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds
1845 Williams’ Directory of Huddersfield
1845 Birmingham Directory
1845 Norwich Directory
1845 Post Office London Directory
1848 Aberdeen's first directory classified in trades
1848 Slater’s Directory of Bradford, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Halifax
1848 Manchester Directory
1848 Post Office London Directory
1850 Birmingham Directory
1850 Devon Directory
1850 Post Office London Directory
1851 Great Exhibition; Official Catalogue has many items of general history
1851 Great Exhibition; Art Journal Catalogue has many items of general history
1853 Tomlinson’s Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts & Manufacture has many items of general history.
1853 White’s Directory of Leeds & Halifax
1854 Imperial Dictionary has many items of general history
1854 London Gazetteer has many items of general history
1855 Post Office London Directory
1856 Post Office London Directory
1858 Illustrated London News has many items of general history
1858 Nottingham Directory
1859 Illustrated London News has many items of general history
1860 Post Office London Directory
1860 Illustrated London News has many items of general history
1863 Exhibition Catalogue - South London Working Men. No illustrations.
1865 Exhibition Catalogue - South Kensington Museum. No illustrations.
1866 Devon Directory
1867 Paris Exposition: Extracts from two catalogues
1870 Family Friend magazine has many items of general history
1870 Post Office London Directory
1871 Rudall & Co. stock records
1871 Manchester Directory
1871 Franco-Prussian War, broken book
1872 Family Friend magazine
1873 Bristol Directory
1874 Bristol Directory
1874 Exeter Directory
1875 Bristol Directory
1876 Bristol Directory
1877 Bristol Directory
1878 Bristol Directory
1878 Pigot & Co.'s National Commercial Directory
1878 Sherborne's partial stocklist
1878 Illustrated London News has many items of general history,
such as the Norwich floods, and Paris Exposition.
1880 Melbourne Exhibition
1880 Post Office London Directory
1881 Yorkshire Directory
1882 Illustrated London News has many items of general history
1882 Post Office London Directory
1884 Glasgow Directory
1884 London Directory
1884 Glasgow Directory
1886 Birmingham Directory
1886 Kelly's Directory of the Cabinet & Furnishing Trades is our earliest list of
piano firms covering the whole of England, Scotland & Wales.
1886 Scientific American – inventions, patents, general history
1888 Concertina Makers & Dealers
1890 Birmingham Directory
1890 Dublin Directory
1892 Musical Opinion & Music Trades Review
1892 Post Office London Directory – 8 inches thick, with references to names, trades, streets etc..
1894 Kelly's Directory of the Cabinet & Furnishing Trades
1894 Exposition Universelle, Antwerp
1894 Birmingham Directory
1895 Essex Directory
1897 Book on 60 years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
1899 Kelly's Directory of the Cabinet & Furnishing Trades
1900 Birmingham Directory
1900 Dublin Directory
1901-1904 “The Connoisseur” magazines include ads, art and furniture, just at the time when there was
an explosion of advertising for Automatic Piano Players, which suddenly took over most of the piano ad space.
1901-2 Books on the life of Queen Victoria.
1903 Illustrated London News has many items of general history
1905 Musical Herald has items of general history
1908 Middlesex Directory
1910 The Times – a huge bound volume, last quarter of the year, has many items of general history
including a report on Dr Crippen's trial, cars, fashion, and various player piano ads.
1911 Kelly's Directory of the Cabinet & Furnishing Trades
1911 Coronation books
1911 Alfred Dolge "Pianos and their makers"
1913 Cabinet Maker magazines include many piano ads and listings
1914 Chas. Begg & Co., New Zealand, stock records
1914 Music Trades Directory
1928 Musique Adresses Universel - worldwide lists of music firms
1929 Kelly's Directory of Norfolk & Suffolk
1936 Kelly's Directory of the Cabinet & Furnishing Trades
1938 Music Trades Directory
1938 List of Collard & Collard dealers
1939 Berlin Directory
1949 Who's Who in Music: Pianoforte Manufacturers
1951 Directory of the British Music Industry
1960 Post Office London Directory
1962 Who's Who in Music; Pianoforte Manufacturers
1968 Music Trades Directory
1969 London Pianoforte Manufacturers
…and various more modern trade directories, Yellow Pages entries, piano books, etc..
Panio pisno paino pinao pianogen.org piano history collection