George Washington ordered this top-of-the-line, double-manual harpsichord from London for his step-granddaughter Nelly Custis. It was shipped to Philadelphia in 1793 and then to Mount Vernon in 1797, where it stood in the "Common Parlour" (now called the Little Parlor). Nelly was regularly called upon to entertain family, friends and guests at the instrument. Its veneered case, featuring charming floral inlays above the keyboards, contains a complex plucking mechanism that survives in extraordinarily intact condition. A dazzling range of tonal effects can be produced through the adept use of knobs and pedals, which operate the harpsichord's stops and a Venetian swell.

Description

Double manual harpsichord with a compass of 61 notes (FF to f3), three choirs of strings (2 x 8' and 1 x 4'), and a standard English double disposition with a machine stop and a Venetian swell. Mahogany-veneered case with purple-heart banded panels and floral intarsia or inlaid decoration above the keyboards. Mahogany molding attached along bottom of case. Top of case recessed with a standard English music desk with sliding candle trays enclosed under the lid. Solid mahogany lid has two flaps with joints over the nameboard and behind the jackrail. Four legs with bead-molded outside edges supported by stretchers (bead molded or chamfered?). Green napped wool textile (baize or napped baize) on jack rails; red tabby-weave wool textile (similar to broadcloth) on dampers; red napped wool textile (possibly baize) on upper keyboard back rail.

Date

1782-1793


People


Geography


Material/Technique

Mahogany, mahogany veneer, maple veneer (case interior above the soundboard and the jackrails), satinwood veneer, tulip veneer, purple heart bandings, light and dark wood stringing and inlays, beech (nuts), porcelain (plaque), limewood keys with ivory-topped naturals and ebony sharps, and maple key front moldings on the natural fronts, oak (case sides), pine (case bottom), spruce (soundboard), fir or spruce (framing), fir (hitchpin rail), pear or servicewood (slides and jacks), holly (jack tongues), Spanish cedar (swell), leather (plectra, probably original), brass (hinges and hardware), lead (weights), wool textile (dampers)


Dimensions

Overall: 39 in. x 40 in. x 93 in. (99.06 cm x 101.6 cm x 236.22 cm)


Credit Line

Bequest of Esther M. Lewis, 1859


Marks

Painted on oval porcelain plaque above keyboards (in black): "LONGMAN & BRODERIP/ Musical Instrument Makers/ No. 26, Cheapside & No. 13 Haymarket/ LONDON"
Stamped on wrestplank in front of the wrest pins: "735"; stamped in three places on the top of the trestle stand (on the front and back top stretchers and on top of the long stretcher)
Signed on the inside bottom of case under the lower keyboard (in large pencil script): "Hamilton/ No. 5", and on the inside of the case bottom under the soundboard: "Hamilton(e) Harpsichord"
Written in the bass no the underside of the wrestplank and on the upper and lower belly rails (in pencil): "3", and in the treble: "4"
Stamped on the back of the lower belly rail: "63"


Object Number

W-16


Colors (Beta)


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