A Double-Manual Harpsichord by Abraham and Joseph Kirckman, London 1789

Compass FF-f3; Disposition 2x 8ft, 1x4ft with ivory and ebony handstops; with one pedal for the machine stop changing full chorus and upper 8ft to lower 8ft and lute stop the other pedal operating the nag’s-head swell.

Height (closed lid): 3ft 1 in. (93 cm)
Width: 3ft 2 in. (96 cm)
Length: 7ft 11 in. (241 cm)

Provenance: David Mckenna, Rosteague House, Cornwall. Reputedly made for Dr. Philips Hayes, organist of Magdalen College Oxford. Subsequently with Miss Nellie Chapman until acquired by David McKenna in 1932. Literature: Donald Boalch : Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440-1840 Third Edition edited by Charles Mould Oxford Univertsity Press 1995 p. 422.
The case of finely figured mahogany, the side veneered in panels of flame mahogany and crossbanded, with chevron stringing, the key-well veneered with panels of satinwood, the name-batten bearing the inscription Abraham et Josephus Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1789 on a boxwood reserve, with brass strap hinges and S-hooks with beaded oval handles, with an adjustable music desk, on an unusual trestle stand with turned tapering legs on brass casters.


This harpsichord is one of the finest surviving late examples of the work of the Kirckman family and the earliest signed by Abraham and Joseph jointly. Abraham Kirckman was the nephew of Jacob Kirckman the founder of the celebrated dynasty of harpsichord builders and entered into partnership with his uncle in 1771. On Jacob’s retirement in 1790 he took his son Joseph into partnership, and this instrument is one of nine known surviving instruments by Abraham and Joseph. The nag’s head swell was invented by Jacob Kirckman in the 1750’s and is an early example of the attempt to vary the volume of the instrument in response to the expressive demands of late baroque and classical music.