This instrument is one of the instruments collected by Raymond Russell whose mother donated his collection to the University of Edinburgh to form the world-famous Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments. This particular instrument is reputed to have been Russell's favourite harpsichord. In contrast to many rather plain English instruments, it is extremely richly decorated. The inside of most of the case is adorned with walnut and sycamore marquetry in an elaborate design of animate figures and vine scrollwork. The outside of the case is decorated with figured walnut panels with crossbanded borders separated by contrasting bands of wood stringing. The usual taste in Georgian interior decor was to place the furniture in a room around the walls, leaving the centre of the room free. Therefore normally harpsichords were pushed up against a wall where the spine would not be seen, and so was left unveneered and undecorated. But on this harpsichord even the rear spine side of the instrument is decorated, indicating that the it was meant to be placed out in the middle of the room and shown off to advantage and in greater importance than all of the other furniture in the room. The lid and lid flap have large elaborate brass strap hinges which are beautifully set off by the dark walnut veneer. The trestle stand has elaborate carved cabriole legs finishing in ball-and-claw feet. Aside from its great beauty and importance as a musical instrument, it is also and example of the finest English furniture design and execution.The harpsichord has the usual English disposition with two sets of 8' and a one set of 4' strings. There is a set of jacks placed to pluck the strings very close to the nut giving a bright nasal sound, and called inappropriately the ‘lute’ stop. Like most double-manual harpsichords of the eighteenth century, this instrument can contrast the ‘piano’ sound of one 8' set of strings on the upper manual against the ‘forte’ sound of all three sets of strings on the lower manual.
Jacob Kirkman (sometimes spelled Kirckman) was born in Alsace near Strasbourg in 1710 where documents from his early life describe him as a ‘cabinet-maker’. He came to England in the early 1730’s and worked as the shop foreman for the Flemish harpsichord maker Hermann Tabel who had imported the Flemish style of harpsichord building into England. When Tabel died in 1738 Kirkman married his widow and took over the workshop. In the 1740’s Kirkman’s workshop was on the same road as Burkat Shudi his rival. Kirckman became a naturalised British citizen in 1755, the same year that this instrument was built. Kirkman was extremely successful and he included Kings, Queens and Princes among his customers. He died in 1792.
Kirkman; Technical description: Double-manual English harpsichord. Compass 60 notes F₁,G₁ - F₆ [FF,GG - f''']. Four registers 2 × 8-ft (dogleg), 1 × 4-ft, lute. Gilt rose bearing initials.
String lengths (plucking point of dogleg): F₆ 132 (48), C₆ 172 (55), F₅ 257 (67), C₅ 343 (75), F₄ 521 (89), C₄ 690 (102), F₃ 971 (117), C₃ 1193 (131), F₂ 1465 (152), C₂ 1635 (168), F₁ 1791 (186).
Signature/Marks: Written in pen and ink on the name batten "Jacobus Kirckman Fecit Londini 1755".
Decoration: The keywell, soundwell and jackrail have an elaborate scrollwork marquetry decoration in walnut on a ground of sycamore. The exterior of the case including the spine and both sides of the lid has figured walnut panels surrounded by a cross-banded border. The panels and border are separated by contrasting bands 14.5mm wide of kingwood edged with boxwood lines and incorporating squares in an exotic hardwood every few inches. There are magnificent brass strap-hinges on the lid and lid flap. Carved stand with claw-and-ball feet.
Repair History: Restoration including restringing by John Barnes, 1976.
Mrs Gilbert Russell from 1964 to 1970; Raymond Russell; O.J.S. Moore, Padworth House.; Purchased at auction with assistance from the Friends of St Cecilia's Hall and the National Fund for Acquisitions, 1970.