The Colt Clavier Collection - An Introduction

01/05/18

Charles F. Colt was born in Cheshire in 1911. Privately educated to become an architect, he joined his father’s company W.H. Colt Son & Company Ltd, which became well known for quality timber prefabricated houses. The company was subsequently based in Bethersden, near Ashford, Kent which now houses the entire collection in the “Village Hall” and other buildings at the Colt Demonstration Village, all of which were built by the Colt Family. 

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Colt’s “Very Innocent Pastime” began during the Second World War when he was shown a spinet that had been built by a friend of his. He wanted one, but being in his own words “penurious” felt the acquisition of a spinet would remain an unfulfilled dream. He started the collection with the purchase of a George IV Broadwood square piano from a friend who no longer had any room for it for £6. We cannot be sure if the piano is still in the collection but we believe it may be Lot 100. 

Colt then heard a recital on the BBC given by John Ticehurst on his Kirckman harpsichord. Colt contacted him and was invited to his home to hear him play – Colt was “Captivated” by Ticehurst’s playing and his two manual 1783 Kirckman harpsichord. He was determined to acquire a harpsichord. 

He had an idea that the only way he could acquire a harpsichord would be to convert an early grand piano which were relatively cheap and easily available at that time. He soon bought a fine Broadwood “Beethoven” style grand piano for £4 but, luckily for this piano, the conversion proved too difficult and the piano is now in the Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg. John Morley of Kensington then told Colt about a harpsichord that the inveterate collector Captain Lane wished to sell and Colt persuaded Lane to part with his double manual 1800 Kirckman. He was allowed to pay for this over a period of 12 months.

Thus, now owning a square piano, a grand piano and a harpsichord, the Mania began.

Eventually the collection grew to such a size that it necessitated utilising the other buildings within the Colt Village to house it and the collection developed to include a selection of instruments that held Visual Appeal as well as Historical Significance. 

In the 1940s and 50s Colt was able to acquire many instruments inexpensively. At its peak the collection consisted of about 130 pianos, many featured in a book – “The Early Piano” by Antony Miall written in conjunction with Colt and published by Stainer and Bell in 1981. The whole collection detailed in The Golden Jubilee Catalogue of the collection was also published in 1981.

Colt was also a competent player and composer and in the 1960s hosted various concerts at the “Village Hall” including recitals by fellow Keyboard Collector and Pianist Paul Badura-Skoda and the composer Benjamin Britten.   

 Intro Image No .1

Benjamin Britten and Charles F. Colt at the piano.

Although Charles Colt died in 1985 the collection continued under the management of his Widow and a board of Trustees. Sadly Mrs Lore Barbara Colt passed away in 2016.

The Trustees then had to make the hard decision to sell the collection and the proceeds of this Auction will be donated to Musical Charities.

The Canterbury Auction Galleries and Piano Auctions Limited are proud to be handling the historically important sale of the remaining 114 keyboard instruments in The Colt Clavier Collection and other musical instruments and chattels that Colt had acquired along his journey. It is hoped that these instruments will be once more enjoyed and played by a new generation of collectors and musicians as Charles and Lore Colt would have no doubt wished.

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We acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Ian Pleeth, Consultant in early Keyboard Instruments, for the detailed cataloguing and research carried out for this catalogue.

We also are greatly indebted to Robert Simonson for his valuable help in researching entries in the Broadwood Archive held at the Surrey History Centre.

Finally we would also like to thank Mr William Spiers – Manager and Custodian of the Collection for over 30 years, for his help and assistance in the cataloguing and sale process.

Intro Image No .3

A Recital Held at the "Village Hall" 

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