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EAVESTAFF William Glenn
in London


Patent of 1855 : "WILLIAM GLEN EAVESTAFF, of Great Russell Street, in the County of Middlesex, Pianoforte manufacturer, for an invention for - Improvements in the construction of pianofortes." The London Gazette, 26/10/1855, p. 3967 (thegazette.co.uk)


Patent of 1863 : "Eavestaff. 16th March 1863. - 709. William Glen Eavestaff, of Great Russell Street, in the County of Middlesex, Pianoforte Manufacturer, for an invention for Improvements in the construction of pianofortes. Letters Patent sealed." Chronological index of patents applied for and patents, 1864, p. 49


Patent of 1870 : "WILLIAM GLEN EAVESTAFF, Great Russell-street, London, “Action for pianofortes.” — 23rd November, 1870." The Engineer, Volume 36, 1873, p. 358


[2389.] — Mr. Eavestaff (let. 2343) thinks it extraordinary I have not mastered so simple a problem as the transmission of motion from one centre to another, with Erard's action to teach me.

Probably this may be true. In the full sense of the word it is quite possible that neither the "H. B." nor "any other man," has yet quite mastered anything, but on the principle that ignorance is bliss, the aforesaid "H. B." has the felicity of being ignorant that he it ignorant regarding this matter, which seems to his (no doubt very shallow) understanding a very simple mechanical problem indeed.

With regard to the so-called "directness" with which the force which moves the key is transmitted to the hammer, I am ignorant enough to suppose this will be in proportion to the fewness of the parts between them, by which snch motion in the hammer is induced, consequently
Priestly's action (patent 906, A.d. 1856) most be regarded as the most direct action of all, not even excepting "the old man's head," for in it the key itself moves the hammer without the intervention of any projection, either hinged (as all true hoppers must be) or rigid.

Next to this in directness is the common horizontal grand action, in which the hammer is lifted by a hopper either centred in the key itself or in a hopper block rigidly attached to the key. Now the actions of every upright grand piano which I have seen—and I have seen a good many, both English and foreign, some of which are not so very ancient — is that of the horizontal instrument, only modified to suit upright strings by inserting the hammer at the top instead of at the further side of the butt.

Messrs. Broadwood say — and as a mechanic by profession, I fully endorse that saying—that in their opinion no action has yet been published which transmits a larger proportion of the force which impels the key to the hammer, than that of the old grand, which used to be termed " die Englische mechanick" by German makers.

Now as it is perfectly indisputable that inserting the hammer at top instead of at the further side, cannot make any difference in the force transmitted to its butt, I think I was quite justified in terming it powerful as well as — with the exception of Priestly's —the most direct of upright pianoforte actions.

That most of the old upright grands were what we should now term weak instruments is quite true.

That they were weaker in comparison with modern pianos, than the horizontal grand and square pianos of their age, I am not prepared to admit. In those days all pianofortes were weak, simply because their mass of vibrating matter was comparatively small.

Their hammers were also very light, not half the weight of modern cottage hammers; nevertheless, light as they were, they struck with greater force in proportion to their weight than modern cottage pianos do, because they were usually impelled with greater velocity ; consequently the blow was what is termed "sharper" — all the better for the treble, if worse for the bass.

It is quite a mistake to assume all upright grands are weak instruments. I possess one — a Sostinente, by my late friend
Robert Mott — finished in 1834, whose bass hammers (the wood) have sections about 3/3 in. x 3/4 in. (which is larger than the section of ordinary bass cottage hammers); these are propelled about nine times faster than the finger moves the key, and they strike a blow quite forcible enough to vibrate very powerfully strings more than 5ft. long, very heavily covered on No. 28 steel wire, which is about eight sizes larger and half a yard longer than the bass strings of ordinary cottage pianos, none of the basses of which that I have yet heard oven approach in power that of my Sostinente.

Probably a piano constructed according to my design in No. 235 of the English Mechanic would, however, greatly surpass it in londness, for in that the available surface of the soundboard is jinch larger, and the strings a trifle longer.

So forcible is the blow of the treble hammers in my Sostiiiente that, although its highest trichord notes are at present only strung with No. 13 wire, they are mote powerful than the same notes in many cottages which have trichord trebles. I believe this is the result of the "sharper" blow.

It is remarkable how uniformly experience directs us towards simplicity in mechanism. We ordinarily commence by using many parts, and eliminate the unnecessary ones as our experience enables us to do without them. Pianoforte actions seem now to be undergoing this process of elimination of the needless. Several comparatively modern makers have nearly gone back to the old grand action, as modified for upright strings — notably Cary, A.d. 1856, and Molineux, A.d. 1860.

As it is obvious that centreing the hopp'ers in the keys, or in blocks not readily removable from the keys, would prevent the action from being lifted out of the instrument without also lifting out the keys — which would in practice be extremely inconvenient — some other means of guiding the hoppers at bottom had to be adopted.

Next to a horizontal lever, into which the hopper is "bird's-monthed," the doublehinged or centred lever of the French makers is probably the beat contrivance; but, however the lower end of the hopper may be supported and confined, all these actions are but slight modifications of the old despised — but not by any means forgotten — grand upright action, just as the common cottage action is but the old square piano action, with its hammer, instead of resting on the lever, placed at a considerable distance above that under hammer or lever (from which the hopper escapes), and provided with a striker to communicate the motion of that lever to the hammer.

With regard to Stumpffs method of carrying out the principle of
Erard's check, Mr. Eavestaff's criticism is qnite just so far as it applies to the proportion of tho parts shown in Stumpffs patent, and I may add, in tho only grand piano made by him which has come under my inspection.

No doubt the check was too short, and not sufficiently elastic. By the way, although longer, the check is made of thick wire, and yields in no sensible degree to the impact of the check button or surface in Molineux's action (as now constructed by Messrs. Brooks), but its rigidity does not prevent it from acting admirably.

Stampff also committed the great practical error of causing his checks to act too near the centre, which does not only much increases tbe difficulty of regulation, but also increases their liability to get out of order. But after all, an invention is not to be judged by the deficient intelligence exhibited in its first carrying out. When the principle is right, experience soon enables us to find the best proportions for the parts.

I think Mr. Eavestaff is in error when he says of Stumpff s check that " Erard's works in qnite a different way." Both appear to me to work exactly in the game wav; that is to say, both checks move towards tho surface on which they act.

The peculiar excellence of Stumpff, is that not only is hi* cheek moved towards that surface, but that the required motion is effected by the same motion which "sets off" the hopper on which his cheek is fixed; this, although equally effective, is less complex than Erard's, in which the check is mounted on another lever. Stnmpff's arrangement also uses the weight of tbe hammer to reinstate — or assist the reinstatement of — the hopper under the shoulder or notch of the butt.

Probably it is of the order of "things not generally known" that Stumpff's check, if pot made too rigid, will not only perform the ordinary function of a check, but also those of the hopper spring, and of the "hammer sustaining lever" of Erard ; in other words, it both supports the hammer long enough to allow the reinstatement of the hopper, and by its reaction (assisted by the weight of the hammer itself) it also affects that reinstatement even when neither a hopper spring nor a returning weight is acting on the hopper. This is a yet further simplification not to be despised, for even hopper springs cost something for making, fixing, and regulating.

They also absorb some force, however little, which might otherwise be transmitted to the hammer. They are also not qnite so equal in their action as weights; hence the late Mr. Squire was induced to patent the nse of the latter in 1862. But this was only one of many instances of re-invention, for one of the fathers of pianoforte improvement, yclept W. Stodart, obtained letters patent for the very same thing in 1795.

Verily there is not much that is really new tub Sol. I will just add that my experience of employing an elastic check to sustain the hammer, and reinstate tbe hopper, is most satisfactory; it doesboth so perfectly that when the key (in my experimental grand piano) is prevented rising more than one twelfth of an inch both are effected, and the repetition is perfection itself.

I do not feel it my "mission" to praise Messrs.
Tarr and Farr's pianoforte action (see one of the numerous patents, dated 1862, No. 2954). Even if I were not, like most of us self-conceited inventors, very apt to prefer my own children of tbe brain to "any other man's" child, their child is one of the very last I should think of adopting; but, however prejudiced against the ugly thing 1 may have the misfortune to be, I really donot think it deserves the reproach of not striking a blow of ordinary force.

In the Circumstance that the set-off motion of the hopper commences with its rise, it does not differ from tbeoid square Collard's grand, and the common cottage actions, for this objectionable feature is cumon to them all.

It is, however, far less objection. Dle in the two former, in both of which the Hopper is set off toward the centre, than in the hitter, in which the hopper's set-off motion is rom the centre; but, as the latter action may be made to strike with considerable, if not very great, force, so, for anything to the contrary that I know of, may Mr. Farr's child, which I venture to prophesy will never become my adopted child, for "dis child am berry" far indeedfrom liking " dat Farr child," and mnch prefer it remaining "berry" far from me.

I have no hesitation in saying that, as far as I know, Mr. Eavestaff's arrangement — viz., placing the hopper on a sticker — is novel. The mode of guiding that sticker certainly is not new, for it has long been in use for tall instruments finished with what is most improperly called tbe French action (it is my late friend
Robert Wornum's action).

Why two doublecentred levers were preferred to one lever and centreing the top of the striker in the lever on which the hopper and check are mounted in the aforesaid pianos is just one of tbe many things "no fellah" can understand.

If Mr. Eavestaff thinks it desirable to extend the term of his patent right to nse a hopper mounted on a sticker, for anything to the contrary that lam aware of he can do so, for, as I have already said, I believe it to be new. Its advantages he has not condescended to inform me of.

May I respectfully request him to do so; and perhaps he will also do me the kindness to describe to me tbe clip he invented for holding pianoforte strings to their bridges ?

I think something of this kind which does not bend the wire, holds it firmly, and either normally does so, or can be readily adjusted to allow the wire to pass the bridge when being tuned, would be very great practical improvement. I have effected this myself, but could not trust ordinary tuners with it.

Since writing the above, I have again looked at the figure in No. 328 of the English Mechanic, and, so far as I can see, Mr. Eavestaff's action differs from Gary's and that of Molineux in making the hammer lifter in two parts—viz., a sticker, and a hopper centred in it—instead of making the lifter in one piece, as it is in the grand action, whether upright or horizontal. Will Mr. Eavestaff oblige by explaining how a hammer lifter formed of two pieces can transmit force more directly than one made of u single piece of material?

Mr. Eavestaff is quite in error in snpposiug that an efficient damper attached to the hammer, and moving on the same centre, causes the overtones or harmonics to be developed, so as to become more andiblo than nsnal. Supposing the strings of a piano be thick enough and tight enongh for the production of Bounds of pleasing timbre, and that they are not struck by the hammers at improper proportions of their lengths, it is very rarely the overtones become so developed as to be disagreeably audible.

The time the hammer remains in contact with the strings after it strikes them (which, caterit paritns, depends on its weight), the length of its face which comes in contact with the strings, and the hardness of its covering all greatly influence the development of overtones; but so long as a damper be long enongh and soft enough to act efflcieutly, its position has but little influence on the development of harmonic sonnds.

Of course it is a tine qud non that the damper be pressed to the strings with sufficient force to cause it to do its work.

Now, it is just the defect of most instruments with dampers on their hammers that a very large proportion of the preponderance of their hammers is supported on the hammer rest instead of the whole — or nearly the whole of it being employed to press the dampers to the strings.

Need I add such pianos can no more damp well than ordinary pianos would do if the leads were removed from their (Collard) dampers, or the preponderance of their keys not allowed to act on their (Broadwood) dampers.

In the judgment of science, the bad carrying out of a good thing does not make tho good thing into a bad one, although it often makes that in which the good thing is badly carried ont a very bad thing indeed.

The bad carrying out of dampers on hammers made bad pianos in the matter of damping; but the maker, or perhaps the regulator, ought to bear the blame, not the poor dampers, which were quite ready to perform their duty honestly if allowed to da so.

For ignorant purchasers who cannot perform the most simple act of regulation, be it only setting of a hopper (by the way, some tuners are not much more practical than the aforesaid unenlightened purchasers), pianofortes with dampers on their hammers may be unsuitable, like Solon's laws for the Athenians.

It is not the best, bat the best they can bear, which must be provided for them. "Feed them with food convenient for them " is as trne in relation to purchasers of pianofortes as it was of those of old, of whom it was said they might have been tanght better things, but that " ye cannot bear them yet."

I don't exactly understand what kind of brush I and certain other fellow-experimentalists have been "tarred" with. In my case, notwithstanding my manifold weaknesses, I can safely say those weaknesses have not extended to my actions — at least, not to rnv pianoforte actions ; possibly they have to some, perhaps many, of my other actions.

I think Mr. Eavestaff will admit weakness is not the characteristic of my piano actions when I tell him I can cause their hammers to strike from twice to eight times as forcibly ag the hammer of any horizontal grand or upright piano I have yet seen can be made to do.

I don't think this can be the consequence of my ignorance of what is doing by our first-class makers, for, as they know I have no pecuniary interest in pianoforte-making, they have but little inducement to hide their improvements from my ken. The Harmonious Blacksmith." English Mechanic and World of Science: With which are ..., Volume 13, 1871, p. 515


Self-acting escapement and check-repeater action of a patent of Thomas Molineux in 1862

"EAVESTAFF'S PIANOFORTE ACTION. [2390.] — I Beg to offer some observations on an article published in your valuable paper of the 7th July, headed "Eavestafl's Vertical Action for Pianofortes," and also on a letter (2239) written by yoar able correspondent, "The Harmonious Blacksmith," exposing the "complexity" of such action.

I have been induced to send you sketches of my "self-acting escapement and check-repeater action," as patented by me in 1862, from which yon will perceive that the principal parts in Mr. Eavestafl's action have been copied.

From the 30th of July, 1868, to the 2nd of November, 1870, inclusive, Mr. Eavestaff has had twenty-eight of my actions (upon which a royalty of 2s. 6d. each was received by me), at a cost of one-third less than he has had to pay for those with his complications attached, and which he has been foolish enough to patent, knowing, as he must do, that his patent is void, and not worth the paper it is printed on.

If he had improved upon my action, I might not have had cause to complain, but, instead of doing so, he has merely added some old and useless complications, embracing no fewer than five extra centres, which all connoisseurs know to be a great evil, causing extra friction, great liability to get ont of order (especially in moist atmospheres), and very apt to become noisy.

He is not the only one who has attempted to evade my patent in a somewhat similar way. Amongst others, I may mention Mr. John Brinsmead, whose action was also criticised by your aforesaid worthy correspondent in July, 1869, from which I took the liberty to cull the inclosed extracts.

I also inclose extracts from my own and Mr. Brinsmead's specifications, to show the fallacy of his patent. Mr. Brinsmead added four extra centres of friction to my action, and patented it as his own invention, according to his advertisements, in six nations, although ho knew (having purchased a pianoforte with my action in 1869) that his patent would be null and void. So much for puff.

You will perceive by the inclosed that a working model of my action may be in motion daily at the Royal Polytechnic, the hammer of which strikes the strings more than a million times per annum, and the action does not deteriorate. And I may add, to show how my action is appreciated, that no fewer than twenty-seven pianoforte-makers are now using it.

If it is not too much to ask, I should be glad if yon would kindly give the above statement of facts, along with a sketch of my action, a place in yonr valuable and instructive publication. Thomas Molineux." English Mechanic and World of Science: With which are ..., Volume 13, 1871, p. 516 - See also Thomas MOLINEUX

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