This pianoforte in EMV’s important collection of historical instruments was a generous gift by Dr. Patricia M. Lee and Dr. Nicholas H. Lee in 2016. This is an original 19th-century instrument by Broadwood, one of the oldest and most renowned piano makers in the world. Established in the mid-1700s, Broadwood has built pianos in England for over two centuries and continues to make some of Europe’s finest pianos today.
This small grand piano of 1874, built in a beautiful walnut burl, was typical for the time; these instruments in the Empire Revival style were quite popular in late 19th-century parlours and country house boudoirs.
A decal inside the casing reads “Consigned to Balmoral” which prompted EMV to further investigate its provenance. EMV engaged the services of Broadwood Archives Services in 2021 to confirm the address Broadwoods were asked to deliver the piano to when it was first despatched, and the method of delivery. We learned that it was sold to Messrs Marr and Co. in Aberdeen, Scotland. The piano had a retail price of 160 guineas (£168). The piano was taken by horse and wagon to Aberdeen Wharf, Wapping, London, which was operated by the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company, and therefore this piano would have been taken to Aberdeen by sea. John Marr was a pianomaker and dealer who established a business in Aberdeen in the late 1820s. In 1849, the firm was granted the royal warrant (a distinction shared with Broadwood’s). In an Aberdeen directory of 1873, we find that Marr & Co has the following listing: “Music sellers and pianoforte makers to the Queen, 218 Union Street.” Hence, we speculate that given the decal and the documentation, EMV’s broadwood may have possibly been in royal hands for a period. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle in 1852. Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were keen pianists. Over the years they either purchased, or were given, a range of square, upright and grand pianos. They kept at least one keyboard at every royal residence, including the royal yacht.
Unfortunately, we have very little written documentation about its arrival in Canada except a verbal confirmation that it “had come round the Horn to Canada” when the piano was purchased from an auction house in Vancouver in the late 1970s. This suggests that the piano could have arrived by boat to the West Coast before 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed. We suspect this instrument has more intriguing stories to tell but have yet to be discovered.