VICTORIAN COTTAGE PIANOS
(Page updated September 2020)
This page follows on from the one about Georgian Vertical Pianos, which were usually too tall and too expensive for normal homes. The ACTION is the working parts of the notes, and 200 years ago, most London pianos had something called a STICKER on the far end of each key that pushes the hammer to strike the string…
With an upright piano, the hammer is some distance above the key, and in the early 1800s, most forms of upright piano were very tall, so a strip of wood was used to convey the movement of the sticker all the way up to the hammer. This has become known as a sticker, but that was not the original meaning of the term. Rather than waste screen space, I have turned this diagram on its side…
Robert Wornum was one of many makers using sticker actions in tall cabinet pianos, but in 1826, he invented a very different, smaller action which allowed him to produce a small upright piano which he called “Piccolo Piano Forte”. The action differed from the sticker action in several ways, but an important feature was the introduction of a CHECK to catch the hammer after the hammer strikes the string, to prevent it bouncing back and hitting the string again. This effect is known as BUBBLING, it’s onomatopoeia, and if you sing the word on one note, it demonstrates the effect. Wornum cured this problem, and his actions worked much better than sticker actions, and continue to work surprising well, but other London makers ignored Wornum’s invention, and continued making their pianos with sticker actions, which are the basis of this page.
There is a strange duplicity involving Victorian pianos: I have no great amount of contact with restorers of antique pianos, some of them seem to live on a different planet to me, a wonderful fantasy world where people spend thousands of pounds moving these pianos from one country to another, and then carrying out major restoration, then selling them for a profit! One was advertised recently for 26,000 euros, but in local auctions here, unrestored ones are more likely to fetch £26, and 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 might be some scrap metal left.
People often talk about modern homes being small, but in the 1800s, most ordinary working people did not live in houses, flats, apartments or bungalows. If they were lucky, they might live in a small terraced cottage and, of course, some of these were only one-up-one-down. If they could afford an instrument at all, it had to be small enough to fit into their home, and this gave rise to names like "Cottage Grand" or "Cottage Organ". What we think of now as a "Cottage Piano" is quite specific, and perhaps the most obvious feature of the London-style Cottage Piano is the pair of tapering hexagonal legs, which terminate with trailing castors. The lower ends of the legs are not attached to the body of the piano, so it stands on the two leg castors, and the two back castors, with the result that in moving such an instrument, there is a considerable risk of breaking the legs. Although these instruments are often described as “Victorian”, they did exist a little while before Victoria’s reign, but within her lifetime.
In this diagram of our time-line, the Cottage pianos marked in red are the direct descendants of the very tall Georgian uprights such as Cabinet pianos. Starting at the bottom of the diagram, they progress clockwise from the 1840s right through to the 1880s, and then these instruments, with their London Legs and Sticker Actions, just grind to a halt and are no longer made. The pianos marked in green progressed alongside the others, but were a quite separate branch of the family tree of upright pianos, which endured beyond the 1890s and evolved into the modern upright piano. This line evolutionary is dealt with in our page on “Edwardian & later”.
This is our Joseph Shaw London cottage piano, and my instinctive estimate of its date was around 1851, the time of the Great Exhibition, but it doesn’t seem fancy enough to have been exhibited, it is just a good example of a typical, ordinary, domestic instrument. History is not just about Kings and Queens. When I looked up information on Shaw, the mean date was about 1851.
The action was made by T.& H.Brooks, and the mean date for them was around 1849, but we have no definite date so far for the piano. Cottage pianos are the most common Victorian pianos to survive.
Having worked on the keys recently, I was impressed by its mechanical performance, but it revealed the tuning as one of the funniest things I have heard in a long time!
Looking back at history, we often develop standard ways of describing things, although they were not standard at the time. Terms like "Upright Piano" or "Vertical Piano" were rarely used, and makers applied a whole range of different names to the sizes and shapes, including Albert, Apollo, Bijou, Boudoir Piccolo, Cabinet, Camerachord, Chamber Pianoforte, Console, Cottage, Dwarf Cabinet, Euphonicon, Forte-Pianette, Giraffe, Harmonic, Harfen, Lyrapiano, Melophone, Melophonion, Microchordian,
Microchordon, Microcordan, Microcordian, Oblique, Pianet, Pianette, Pianino, Piccolo, Portable Grand, Pyramid, Rectangle, Royal Minuto, Semi-Cottage,
Semi-Piccolo, Schrank, Universal, Unique, Upright Grand, Upright Square, Vocalist, etc.. Many of these were simply model names with no fixed definition, and what one maker described as a “Microchordon”, another might call “Piccolo” or “Semi-Cottage”, although “Cottage” was the default. Some were confusingly described as “Grand Microchordon”.
Piccolo - Semi-Cottage - Cottage - Cabinet
A Piccolo Pianoforte is smaller than a Cottage, but a Semi-Cottage is between the two. Peachey’s “Piccolo Pianoforte” was 4 feet high, Wornum’s was 3’7”. Allison advertised Piccolos 4’, Cottages 4'11", Semi-Cottages 4'6", Microchordons 4'1". To add to the confusion, Cottage pianos were sometimes described as “Semi-Cabinet”, something like half the height of the larger Cabinet Pianofortes…
These pianos from our time-line are the 1842 Wornum Piccolo Pianoforte, and D’Almaine “Semi-Cabinet” piano of about 1846, kindly donated by Dawn & Keith Diamond. We inspected a very similar Hopkinson of about 1853 in The Museum of Lincolnshire Life.
D’Almaine defined them by height as Piccolo (3’11) Semi-Cottage or Microchordon (4’4½”) and Cottage or Semi-Cabinet (4’8½”) like ours.
We have music books of the period containing a number of full-page ads for D’Almaine’s pianos.
Some people question whether any of these instruments were originally made with tapestry fronts, and this is partly because of technical definitions of what constitutes a tapestry, but Collards certainly used them in 1851, and it is interesting that the panels of the ones that still have tapestry now are often quite similar in shape. Anyway, people find the old tapestry on our D’Almaine interesting in itself.
Some of Erards’ advertising refers to “Cottage and Oblique”, suggesting that they used the term “Cottage” specifically for their London-made straight-strung instruments, as distinct from their oblique-strung Paris models, which have the strings running diagonally.
1857 Anon 1858 Oughton 1858 Wilkie 1856 Anon
All of the cottage pianos shown here are dated on the side of the bottom key. The anonymous one on your right had tapestry, now replaced by an offcut of carpet.
This example by Healey, 1847, only has pierced fretwork around the edges. The top door of a cottage piano (the top front panel) is typically made with beautiful pierced fretwork across the whole area, with many holes or larger open areas covered by a cloth backing, to allow as much sound as possible to escape straight towards the pianist.
In many instances, the cloth is simply a muted background for pierced fretwork, but on our instrument by John Grogan, London, the opposite is true, the cloth is the main attraction, with a little fretwork around the edges. We can only estimate the date of the piano as being around 1854, but we have a firm provenance for the tapestry - £5.99 from our local QD Stores! When we got the piano, it had been fitted with an entirely inappropriate piece of modern plywood behind the fretwork so, not knowing what the original cloth looked like, we replaced it with an entirely inappropriate modern tapestry!
Advertisements of the period sometimes referred simply to “a walnut cottage”, sounding more like an estate agent’s ad, with no clues to tell our modern eyes that they meant a piano.
When we lived in Lowestoft, we called our house “Walnut Cottage” as a sort of in-joke for piano historians, then the name followed us to Yarmouth, but we did try to justify it by planting a walnut tree.
The keyboard lid on a piano is known as a FALL, a very old name dating back to writing desks, and some of those were made with a CYLINDER FALL, looking like part of a smooth cylinder when closed. The idea started to be imitated in some late Georgian pianos. Up to the 1840s, some cylinder falls had 2 knobs to help in opening the keyboard. However, by the mid-1800s, D’Almaine was using the term CYLINDER FALL simply for instruments with a fall which was rounded, rather than a FLAT FALL, so on that vague basis, it might seem that we could reasonably describe the majority of grand and upright pianos as having a “cylinder fall”, but the term tends to refer more specifically to keyboards which also curve under the front edge, and are kinder to the knees. These seem to have faded away in the 1880s, so they lasted about as long as cottage pianos.
In earlier cottage pianos, the cylinder fall opened and folded back neatly into a piece known as the HOLLOW, which fitted it perfectly, but could result in a keyboard that was deeper front-to-back than cabinet pianos. It also provided a flat area where candlesticks could stand. By the end of the century, the hollow had gradually become shallower, and ceased to fit the fall, with the result that the fall often obscured the lower part of the decorative fretwork when the keyboard was open. Even today, tradesmen still refer to the “fall and hollow”, although they are often just flat strips of veneered chipboard.
EUPHONICON or HARP PIANO
In and around the 1840s, there were various upright pianos made in which the upper half resembled an open harp, and the small soundboard was inside the lower section. The EUPHONICON was one of these, invented by John Steward, patented and built in 1841 by Frederick Beale, but some people refer to them simply as HARP PIANOS, and like the Harfen, some of these have a plucking action more like that of a harpsichord, instead of hammers. The Euphonicon had three ‘cello-shaped sound-boxes instead of the usual soundboard arrangement.
As to the design of the so-called "London legs", almost identical ones were made in vast quantities between the 1830s and 1880s, for grand pianos, square pianos, and cottage pianos, virtually the same hexagonal legs in thousands of instruments. These were firmly established on most cottage pianos by the late 1840s. The majority of pianos produced by Erards’ London factory in the 1800s had these “London legs”, whereas their Paris models had a great variety of leg designs, and only a few of these. Pianos with the outward feature of London Legs would almost certainly have a Sticker Action inside.
D’Almaine’s literature described their hexagonal legs as “octagon legs” although they were not, and for a long time, I had the impression that cottage pianos always have hexagonal legs. Wouldn’t you know that as soon as I said that, Graham Swan sent this picture (left) of his Collard & Collard cottage piano, made around 1862, which has 8-sided legs. Coincidentally from a similar date, Dave Salloway sent the picture on your right of an Oetzmann & Plumb cottage piano, also with octagonal legs. Now that our pianos are arranged in a time-line, it has become obvious that by the 1870s, most examples are octagonal. It’s the kind of odd, obscure detail that one would not think would have any useful impact on fashion or sales potential. I wonder how many people would even care how many sides the legs have, but they tend to be a little slimmer.
CARVED LEG TOP
From about 1855 to 1875, or “circa 1865”, some of these legs had a more ornate, carved top section, sometimes decorated with gold leaf. At a time in history when ladies didn’t show their legs, it may have been an exciting occupation for the men who carved legs for furniture and pianos, often featuring a thigh, calf and ankle. Over the years, I have heard various people suggest that the Victorians made skirts to cover the legs of their pianos, but I have never found any evidence to support this, and there are plenty of period illustrations of showrooms and exhibitions where the piano legs were on public view.
Over the years, I have taken a great interest in the history of Collard & Collard pianos, but there are always new things to learn. When Barry Balcombe sent photos of his Collard cottage piano, it seemed at first glance to be a typical model from around the 1860s, with carved leg tops, and the number suggests that it was made in 1857. Unusually, the missing sconces seem to have been supported in the centres of the pierced fretwork, and there are several features which indicate a French influence. Firstly, there is only one pedal, and I was intrigued to know what it was for, but despite the ornate, almost gothic look of the huge pedal foot, it is connected to a very ordinary damper lift. Inside, the strings are oblique (diagonal) which I often say only applies to something like one in a thousand English pianos.
The “Patent Escapement Action” in this piano is not what one expects either, it has tall wooden dowels supporting a French-style fairly short underdamper action, but with the checks on wires outside the hammer rest rail, acting on the tops of the hammers. I had never seen or heard of one of these in 66 years, so this is a rare occasion when I would refer to a piano as “rare”, not that rarity usually has any monetary value. The position of the checks resembles some of the questionable modern, coloured diagrams of Wornum’s actions on some websites.
Around 1840 to 1890, but more commonly around the 1870s, some pianos had fancy carved legs, usually linked to the case by toe-blocks, and known as “Pan Legs”. If you have ever seen drawings of the god Pan, he had legs like a wolf. They are also known as “Running Legs” because it often appears that the piano is poised to run. This was a more expensive, elaborate, individual design, and it is debatable whether these instruments should still be called Cottage Pianos, or whether mass-produced “London Legs” are important to our modern definition, but these upright pianos are identical in every other way.
The two small printing blocks on your left appeared together or separately in various ads for different firms around the 1860s, so they don’t show the actual pianos that these people were selling, but they represent (approximately) the most common forms of English upright piano at the time – London legs or Pan legs. The righthand pair are by Brinsmead, around 1870.
Our Challenger & Co. upright (kindly donated by Judy & Kevin Birch) is one of our most decorative pianos, it has Pan legs, I estimated that it was made around 1879, and it is dated on the bottom key – 1879!
It also has another interesting feature found in some cottage pianos of the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s, a distinctive style of fretted music desk that pulls out from the top door, known as a “Lyre Desk Front”.
Another trend around that time, especially in Germany, was the style of decorative convex top on upright pianos, or sometimes just a shaped front edge. The Schiedmayer engraving is from 1851, most of the other estimates of dates fall within the 1860s. Makers included Ascherberg, Baumgardt, Collard, Dreaper, Francke, Irmler, Mand, Muller, Hoelling & Spangenberg. Steinway made them in 1890, and Palace Pianos have a Bluthner in this style dated 1902. There seem to be very few surviving German upright pianos from the Victorian era, even Bechsteins and Bluthners, and I get the impression that Germans must have destroyed even more of their old pianos than we did.
SWAN LEGS (French legs)
The so-called “French Legs” used on some French Pianinos and Grands are also known as “Swan legs” because when they were standing upside-down in the factory, waiting to be fitted, they were said to resemble a group of swans. Between 1875 and 1898, Renoir painted at least 7 pictures of ladies playing pianos, they all had French Legs.
(I refer, of course, to the pianos!)
Illumination was a problem when homes had no gas or electricity, and it was necessary to have candles quite close if they were to be effective. Grand pianos had areas at each side for candlesticks to stand on. By the 1830s, Cottage pianos often had smaller candleboards, sometimes with decorative fretwork designs like the examples on your left, and sometimes hinged, to fold away when the piano was closed. The latest examples I can recall are from 1878.
Robert Wornum, the genius who invented the best upright piano action ever, produced the candleboard shown on your right, probably the worst ever! He owes me for a few broken candlesticks!
By the 1830s, a few pianos had the projecting candle-holders known as SCONCES, and this decorative example is from a Bechstein of the 1890s. In early cottage pianos, to avoid placing strain on their fragile fretwork, sconces were usually attached to the outer ends of the case, but by 1860, some were mounted further in, on sconce posts nearer to the music desk, dividing the fretwork into 3 panels. By the end of the century, sconces were more-or-less standard equipment on upright pianos until the twenties, but in greatly varying designs. In wartime, metal fittings were often recycled to help the war effort, and sconces have often been lost or changed. We have many pictures of different piano sconces, but a particular model did not always have a fixed style of sconce, and customers could choose their own, so it is not possible to be sure what the originals looked like. Modern replacements are available from trade suppliers. Some old ones may be found on Ebay, but there is little opportunity to choose styles now, and like the stools, sconces often sell for more than unrestored antique pianos.
I am puzzled as to why so many people say their piano "only has 2 pedals". Two pedals is the NORMAL arrangement in old pianos, and if you look on Google Images, you can find hundreds of examples. Some early pianos have only one pedal, in which case it will be used to SUSTAIN the notes, by lifting the dampers off the strings, hence the alternative name DAMPER-LIFT PEDAL. (Calling it a damper pedal would imply that it damps the strings, whereas it does the opposite, so it is an “undamping pedal”! Vibraphones have a damper pedal.) When there are 2 pedals, the left one will be some kind of SOFT PEDAL.
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.
In 1783, Broadwood patented pedals and described them (unfortunately) as "piano" and "forte". This has led to the popular myths that (a) they are “Soft and Loud Pedals” and (b) that is where the name of the pianoforte came from…
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A LOUD PEDAL!
These were not even the first pedals used on pianos, and in 1780, Zumpe was advertising pianos with a different type of “pedals that make the piano perfect in every degree”. This implies that piano pedals already existed. More modern pianos may have a THIRD PEDAL, (the middle one) and although this can be another type of soft pedal, a concert grand will often have a SOSTENUTO PEDAL, which will only sustain the notes that are being held down at the moment when the pedal is pressed. This is quite a difficult technique to master, rarely used, but it is useful for PEDALPOINT, where a bass note is sustained through a series of chord changes.
I did the preparatory tunings for Liberace’s London concerts, and was concerned because the sostenuto pedal didn’t work. I shouldn’t have worried, Liberace said “I never use it anyway!”
Around 1800, some pianos had a number of pedals for Turkish percussion effects, but it was only in the late 1800s that some American makers began providing 3 or 4 pedals on some models. Pedals on cottage pianos are usually wooden, and are often much wider apart than modern ones, creating a position which gentlemen found more comfortable, and better balanced when seated, if a little less elegant for ladies.
Will someone please explain to SuPerkins why men sit with their legs apart?
The typical range of a cottage piano until the 1870s was 82 notes from C to A, but opinions varied about how this should be defined in terms of octaves, and although it is really 6¾ octaves, it was often described as 6⅞ octaves.
This 1859 ad suggests that Chappells’ Foreign Model Pianoforte was superior to ordinary Cottage Pianos in having seven octaves (85 notes).
By the 1870s, I think it is fair to say that most cottage pianos had 7 octaves, or 85 notes A-A, which is now the commonest range for old pianos. Some French makers had already been using 7 octaves for forty years then. I was selling new pianos with 85 notes in the 1960s, 88 notes was a sort of optional extra, not that there was any particular need to have 88, how many pieces of music even use those top 3 notes? Many people liked 73 notes, because it meant the piano took up less floor space, although it would be almost as expensive to make. See our Keys page.
As you can see in this cut from our 1892 Post Office London Directory, there were people whose occupation was "Pianoforte Silker" and although most of the piano trade was male-dominated, silkers tended to be women. They were probably re-silking old pianos, because by the 1860s, fancy pleated silk fronts had largely been replaced by pierced fretwork with simpler cloth backing. In modern times, among her many creative talents, the late Mary Mobbs-Randall developed a wonderful technique for re-silking antique pianos into sunbursts and various other intricate patterns. She will be missed. Now, Kenneth Mobbs has joined her.
These frets are quite thin and fragile, most have been damaged over the years, and these pictures are reconstructed from the least-damaged parts. Generally, the decorative panels are seen at their best when the keyboard is closed, and apart from early examples, having the panels fully visible when the keyboard is open seems to be an American feature.
We presume that there must have been stencils used to cut these repeated patterns symmetrically, and it seems sensible that these would be re-used on pianos of the same model, yet in over forty thousand images, we have only managed to find two pairs of pianos with large panels that are identical, although small ones are occasionally seen in different makes. Complete pierced fretwork panels suddenly became much less common in the 1880s.
The music stand on a piano is known as a DESK, and many older cottage pianos have the type known as a FALL DESK, which unfolds upwards from the fall. Occasionally they have a simple TRAY DESK, although these are mainly associated with later German uprights, and with modern uprights in general, so you may find that it is a fall desk that has been broken. By the 1880s, most English and European upright pianos had an OVERHANGING DESK which folded out from the top of the piano, and relied on double-jointed hinges, so that it could be folded away, out of sight when not in use. A minor difference in the French-style Pianino is that when the desk is in use, it holds the top open slightly, to allow more sound out. Overhanging desks often need repairs, but it is the special hinges that are most difficult to replace.
Our 1875 cottage piano by Wornum & Sons has areas of pierced fretwork at the top corners, but the solid panel behind it is interesting because the thistle design is inlaid over a very busy wood grain that (whether by accident or design) makes the work look more complex than it really is, almost the impression of a woodland scene.
By the 1880s, the pierced fretwork fronts were widely abandoned in favour of solid wood panels, with the result that the sound was boxed in, and not nearly so pleasant for the pianist, because most of the sound could only come out through the back. This seems a backward step, but it soon became the norm for upright pianos. The inlaid floral panels were not necessarily part of Art Nouveau designs, but they did tend to creep in the 1880s, for example Bechstines’ catalogue shows no sign of them in 1887, but an 1888 Bechstein has inlay. They were more established in the 1890s, but became much less common around the 1914 war, dying out in the 1920s.
When fretwork panels are damaged, they are often replaced with solid panels, making the piano seem later than it is, and it would be more in keeping to use cloth or tapestry. If you are craft-minded, how about a cloth with a fretwork pattern embroidered on it? Or you can get a banner printed from a photo image of pierced fretwork.
By the 1870s, some pianos were being decorated in a much simpler, cheaper way, by scratching a design through a stencil with a sharp tool, the so-called “incised decoration”. This is thought to be what was meant by Challen’s “Patent Engraved Panels”.
By moving the stencils, incised designs could be made symmetrical, and adjusted to fit different-sized panels. The over-all effect sometimes looks as impressive as inlaid work, but is cheaper to produce.
In 1884, Frederick Lording offered “panels incised and gilded from 2 shillings”. If it is not highlighted with gold or paint, incised decoration is best seen when it is scratched through dark polish to the bare wood, so re-polishing tends to reduce the effect.
London's cottage pianos (as defined especially by their legs and sticker actions) came to an abrupt end around the mid-1880s, when John Spencer was only just getting started, so he made very few. (The same applies to Bansall.) Spencer’s examples shown above date from around 1883-1885.
WOODEN BACK STRUCTURES
With the growth of the telegraph, wire-drawing methods improved, and in the pursuit of better tonal quality, piano string tensions increased, so pianos needed stronger structures. Sometimes, the heavy wooden bracings on the back (or underneath a grand) started to get so close together that there was more wood than space, but this traps the sound coming from the soundboard. You can see great variations in these pictures of different makes from the 1880s, and some of Wornum’s models had 80% of the back area covered in timber, so it might be a four-inch post with a one-inch gap. I have been puzzled by the weight of our 1874 Kirkman, as compared to the 1864 one. Neither has any significant amount of iron, and they use similar 3” posts, the difference is that the gaps reduced, resulting in a much heavier concentration of timber.
Around 1880, Macbeth’s ad was one of several which seemed to imply that the very definition of a Cottage Piano was that it did not have an iron frame.
1870 Broadwood - 1878 Kirkman - 1883 Challen - 1878 Bord
Traditionally, Victorian Cottage Pianos are described as “wood-framed”, and have very little iron in their structure, but my drawings here show black areas indicated by red arrows, and apart from the Kirkman, most of these are wrought-iron hitchplates for the strings of the lower notes, mainly visible on the bottom of the piano, as you can see in the next picture…
Some makers extended the iron hitch-plate to the tenor and treble sections, like my Challen drawing above, but by about 1870, David Witton claimed to be the "Inventor of the Improved Metallic Back", and he was using overstrung cast iron frames that were greatly in advance of most other London makers. Strangely though, they had sticker actions like cottage pianos, not entirely suitable for overstringing. Pohlmann & Son claimed to have produced the first English pianos with overstringing, but this was not true.
Pleyel - Schwechten - Tuplex - Chappell
Pleyel tried a different approach, vertical iron posts on the back. Around 1880, Schwechten, Berlin made a very unusual back with diagonal cast iron struts, similar in principle to Monington & Weston’s “Tuplex” double iron frame, but much earlier. (Picture courtesy of http://pianoshop.co.uk) Schubert (U.S.A.) reckoned their steel back was “armored with wood” but this seems the wrong way round. By ordering cast iron frames in bulk from a foundry, the amount of manual work needed in the factory was reduced, because the wooden structure became much simpler. My drawing shows that by 1898, Chappells’ wooden back structure was very light and open, and the cast iron frame (inside) took most of the strain of the strings. By 1923, Henry Zender was making what we now term a BACKLESS piano, with no wooden bracings at all obstructing the soundboard, resulting in greater sound output from the back of the piano, although these models were uncommon then. Eric Kennard said "Dad designed a Backless piano which was a great success once you convinced the dealers that it was a step forward”. The same principle is applied to some grands, not just modern ones, but including Cluesman’s very shallow grands of the 1830s.
COTTAGE PIANOS IN DECLINE
The last known examples by Challen, Chappell and Collard are all dated 1885, and Chappell made some that were externally similar round 1886, but the serial number of a Cramer cottage piano suggests that it may have been as late as 1887. It is strange that although the traditional cottage pianos died out quite suddenly, London makers seemed to have no plan for a new look for upright pianos, so there were lots of experiments in the 1880s which tried to look as decorative as the old pierced fretwork, but in a more solid boxed-in front like a Pianino, the lower half remaining in the cottage piano style. Stringing was working towards “Full Trichord”, meaning 3 strings per note in the tenor and treble, whereas cottage pianos often had 2 strings per note. This should have been an exciting period, but many designs are quite ugly, heavy and clumsy. There were iron frames, lines of fretwork in Greek key patterns, but also painted panels, inlaid work, marquetry, Egyptian styles, incised decorations, and little galleries, but often with a heavier Jacobean or Gothic influence, leaning towards the Arts & Crafts period. I have always intended to add a section about these, but they are so diverse, it is difficult to know how to represent them in a limited space.
Our 1883 Collard & Collard example, while a typical cottage piano on the lower half, is part of that experimental era, and it has 9 hand-painted panels, and 2 small pierced frets. The piano was in the Howkins Museum, but when our dear friend Val Howkins died, the piano was passed on to us.
Some small uprights (and some enormous, heavy ones like this 1887 Bluthner) continued to be described as "Cottage Pianos", but we have come to simply call them "Uprights". Their solid boxed-in fronts are more like the French Pianinos, and stop much of the sound that would otherwise come out of the front. The story of upright pianos continues on our Edwardian page. Our collection includes cottage pianos dating back to the 1840s, often still playable, with a sweet tone, although not as efficient or powerful as later instruments. Tuning can be a problem, but it is often possible to tune them well enough to demonstrate the sound, and it is interesting that completely untuneable pianos are more likely to be from the 1900s.
Paino panio pinao pisno pianogen.org Piano History Centre