Saturday, 13 November 2021

Danemann

The beginnings of the Danemann Piano Co. is a refreshingly different story from the usual. W. Danemann was not a talented piano builder who wanted to set up his own factory. W. Danemann was a young German Architect who had taken British Citizenship sometime during the 1890s. He was in business as a furniture maker at Alderney Street, Pimlico.

His furniture generated wide approval and respect, so that a firm of piano makers asked him to design piano cases for a series of pianos. He gave the work his customary detailed attention and produced the commissioned drawings and submitted them along with his account for the work. Meanwhile the company had gone out of business and he was never paid.
After meeting with the liquidators, he agreed to buy the failed business for a price that reflected his unpaid-for work. With no prior knowledge of piano construction, he, almost overnight, made himself a piano manufacturer.

W. Danemann established the business in 1893 at Northampton Street, Islington. For the first 55 years of business they made pianos for the music trade. Music shops would put their own name on the fallboard, a very common practice in the early 1900s.

In 1934, an agreement between the Halifax based firm of Poulmann & Son, and the Danemann Co. whereby all the Poulmann designs, jigs etc. were moved to the Danemann factory and Poulmann pianos would now be made in London. 

The Poulmann pianos were highly regarded - especially the stringing scale, which became the template for the Danemann pianos. After the war, Danemanns decided no longer to make pianos for the trade but rather to make pianos with their own name on them. 

During the 1970s, 80% of their output was pianos for schools! These solidly-built, large oak pianos were ruggedly reliable and were by far, better than any of the pianos made for schools at the time.

1982 Tom Danemann sold the business to Broadwoods but even they could not make the Northampton Street premises profitable. July 1984 the Official Receiver was called in. And then the Gardner family from Cardiff offered to buy the Danemann name, designs and goodwill. Everything was transported to Cardiff and production continued there until 1994. 



©Steve Burden




Wednesday, 3 November 2021

John Brinsmead

John Brinsmead began life in rural Devon and among his early ambitions was that of being a farmer! His elder brother Henry moved up to London and began building his own pianos in 1835 and for a couple of years he and John worked together. After a falling out John set up business on his own.

Increased production levels put severe strain on the site of the original factory at Chenies Street and so a purpose-built factory was opened in 1874 at Grafton Road, Kentish Town. Some 15 or so years later an extension was needed to cope with the demand created  by strong sales abroad.


The firm went from strength to strength supported by the factory at Kentish Town and the showrooms at Wigmore Street. Part of the success was due to John’s very close watch on quality control and his knack at self-promotion! This not very ‘English’ trait did not go down well with the likes of Broadwood and Collard. However, timidity does not yield rocketing sales.


1899 Brinsmead became a Limited Company managed by Horace Brinsmead - John’s youngest son. Horace set about modernising the the business and introduced 10 new models by 1900. Alas, another family fall out led to Horace leaving the firm  in 1903.


John Brinsmead died in 1908 and in the spring of 1921, the firm was declared insolvent. There had been difficulties for Brinsmead’s for at least a decade but the manager, Henry Billinghurst had even considered closure about 1912. He had made careful plans to reduce the the severity of the fallout as much as possible. 


In 1921 the name and goodwill of John Brinsmead & Sons was purchased by Walter Saville of J. B. Cramer. The further production of Brinsmead pianos was transfered to the Saville factory very close by at Castle Road, Kentish Town.


A new range of pianos were introduced with the Brinsmead name designed by one of the Cramer workers. These pianos were the same as the Cramer pianos of the time but had the Brinsmead nameplate.


Walter Saville squired a number of brand names: Justin browne, Metzler, George Russell. In 1964 the whole company was sold to Kemble & Co. 


Brinsmead Serial Nos. 


Directory of Piano Makers


© Steve Burden




Wednesday, 27 October 2021

The Perfect Touch

The hunt to find the piano with a perfect touch would be a very tough assignment. On a 10 point checklist of qualities required for consideration, very few pianos would achieve 10 out of 10.

Though wonderful specimens of the piano maker's art, even expensive new pianos, are often short on the magic that sparkles when the action and keys supply the player with the wings of creative inspiration - allowing flight to that mysterious zone where, the player is released from the confines of unsatisfactory playability, and enjoys the timeless pleasure of music making purity. This zone is home to the perfect touch. Playability fulfilled!

A tuner/technician's experience will agree that perfection in a piano is almost unheard of! My old boss, when I was an apprentice, often used to say, "Pianos are imperfect instruments!" - of course, back in the 1970s, he was right - the pianos of the time were generally very poor and always, had issues. I think he got tired of having to find new things to say to customers who rightly felt disappointed with their purchases.

Surely today, pianos must be somewhat closer to the ideals of the piano designer's blueprint! Throwing money at the problem is not always a complete solution - indeed, unless the those undertaking the challenge of sorting it out, know exactly what they are doing, the finished piano might still only be an expensive disappointment.

We, in the trade must strive for excellence and then, go the extra mile, make an art of the job, sprinkle with gold dust and unlock the wonders of a well regulated action and give the 'Perfect Touch' within, the chance to inspire further generations of keen pianists!