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Érard, harp manufacturers

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1249 Érard
Held at: Royal College of Music
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Full title: Érard, harp manufacturers
Date(s): c1798-1917
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 volumes (372pp, 372pp, 302pp)
Name of creator(s): Érard | harp manufacturers


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sébastian Érard (1752-1831) enjoyed a successful career as a piano manufacturer in Paris between 1768-1790, enjoying royal and aristocratic patronage, and pioneering important improvements in the design and manufacture of keyboard instruments. A known royalist, he left Paris in around 1790-1791 for London, and in 1792 founded a business at 18 Great Malborough Street, concentrating on the manufacture of harps, which previously had almost always been imported from France. He patented his single action harp in 1794, the double action in 1810, and his nephew Pierre Orphée Érard (1794-1855) patented the larger 'Gothic' harp in 1835. The London business enjoyed great success, reflecting the rising popularity of the harp among both professional and amateur musicians in the early 19th century. The Érard ledgers show that a large proportion of the 6862 harps listed were purchased by royalty and the aristocracy in Great Britain and abroad, and they provide documentation of the musical activities of the families of George IV, the Duke of Wellington, Louis Philippe, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austern and Sir Joseph Paxton, beside many other references that illuminate more obscure figures. They reveal details of stringing, materials, repairs, costs and models, the preferences of professional harpists such as Anne-Marie Krumpholtz, Sophia Dussek, the Vicomte de Marin, and Francois Joseph Dizi, and also show details of packing, agents, and transport of harps exported, including harps despatched to the continent, Russia and America. The London business proved so successful that it was able to reimburse all debts incurred by the Érard's Parisian business which had been declared bankrupt in 1813. Sébastian returned to Paris to resume piano manufacture and invention and the London concern was controlled by Pierre from May 1814. On the death of Pierre in 1855, the business passed into the hands of his widow Camille (1813-1889), and a M Bruzaud was nominated as controller of the London business. In the face of declining business, the London factory was sold at auction on 9 Sep 1890, though a few harps continued to be made at the rear of the Great Malborough Street premises until the late 1930s.


Scope and content/abstract:

Ledgers of Erard, harp manufacturers of London, c1798-1917, giving details of purchasers, prices, packing, transport, repairs and exchanges

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, with some annotations in French in volume 1.

System of arrangement:

Ledger, vol 1, harps nos 1-1374, c1798-Sep 1810; vol 2, nos 1375-4214, Mar 1811-Feb 1829; vol 3, nos 4215-6862, Feb 1829-Dec 1917.

Conditions governing access:

The ledgers are held by the Instrument Museum, Royal College of Music. Readers wishing to consult the original ledgers or the microfilm must arrange access via the Curator of the Museum.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Extensive reproduction of the ledgers is not permitted, pending their publication.

Finding aids:

Not known

Archival Information

Archival history:

When the Érard factory in South Kensington was sold in 1890, the ledgers passed with business and surviving stock to J George Morley and his descendants, and were for a time lent to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Bought at Sotheby's sale, 1 Dec 1994, lot 142.

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Publication of the ledgers by the Instrument Museum is currently in preparation.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Robert Baxter as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project. Sources: Article by Elizabeth Wells in the Annual Report of the Friends of the National Libraries, 1994, pp17-19; Grove Dictionary of Music.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Nov 2001

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