John Byrne Pianoforte-maker, Dublin: Timeline

(added 27 February 2017; updated 4 March 2017)

 

Summary

A square piano case advertised by George Kidner Auctioneers & Valuers of Lymington, Hampshire for sale by auction in March 2017 bears a striking resemblance to the exterior of extant instruments with additional keys made by the house of Southwell in Dublin in the second half of the 1790s.

 

Byrne square piano case

Square pianoforte case by Byrne: (Image reproduced by kind permission of George Kidner, auctioneers)

Sadly nothing now remains of the piano forte action in this conversion. Only the nameboard survives, which clearly shows the makers name as 'Byrne' and with one of the two fretwork 'sonovents' still intact.

name board of Byrne suare piano

Name board of square piano forte by Bryne (reproduced by kind permission of George Kidner, auctioneers)

It appears likely that this instrument was copied from Southwell's 'pianoforte with additional keys', (patented in London in 1794). However, as may be noted in the above image, the design of the fretwork sonovent is different from that seen on extant Southwell instruments and the decoration on the nameboard is somewhat simpler in style.

So who was Byrne? Little has been known of his life and work to date; however, the author has recently identified a number of contemporary newspaper advertisements and reports relating to his activities as a piano forte maker in Dublin between the years 1795 and 1824. These include firm evidence that in the year 1814 John Byrne of Ship-street, Dublin was taken to court by Clementi and Co. of London for making and selling piano fortes fraudulently badged using their name. And in 1820 a John Byrne, also of Ship-street, was reported to be in the employment of Mr. Southwell, piano forte maker of Marlborough-street, Dublin, thus providing an intriguing later link with the house of Southwell. [It should be noted that the Mr Southwell mentioned in this latter report must refer to John Southwell, son of William Southwell Senior, who is listed in The Commercial Directory of Scotland, Ireland and the four most Northern Counties of England in 1820-21 and 22 in business at 34, Marlborough-steet Dublin where his occupation is given as 'music dealer, pianoforte maker and pianoforte dealer.]

More detailed information about these finding is presented in the timeline below.

  Timeline
1795

An advertisement placed by Bell [a Dublin auction house] in August 1795 includes 'a Piano Forte, made by Byrne' (Saunder's Newsletter, Dublin, 19 August 1795)

1802

Byrne himself placed two advertisements in this year that not only provide information on his address at that time but confirm that he was indeed making Piano Fortes with additional keys. An extract is given below.

PIANO FORTES/ BYRNE, Piano Forte Maker, 35, Fleet-street, has for/ sale Piano Fortes, with additional Keys, made by himself of the best materials, which on inspection will/ be found to excel in tone and workmanship to any offer-/ed for sale in this City. (Saunder's Newsletter, 24 February 1802; repeated 1 March 1802)

1805

From an advertisement placed in this year, we learn that Byrne's forename began with 'J' - see extract below:

PIANO FORTE./ To be sold reasonable, an excellent toned instrument,/ with additional keys, made and finished in the best/ & neatest manner, with the latest improvements. Inquire/ of J. Byrne, 35, Fleet-street, near Westmorland-street. (Hibernian Journal, 6 June 1805)

1807

In 1807 J. Byrne placed an advertisement announcing his change of address, which suggests that by this time his business was growing and attracting a wider clientele.

J.BYRNE, PIANO FORTE MAKER

RETURNS his sincere acknowledgement for past fa-/vours, informs the nobility, gentry and his friends/ he has for convenience of carrying on business more ex-/tensively, removed from No. 35 Fleet-street to No. 15,/ Great Ship-street, where he is assorted with the newest/improved Piano Fortes, which will be found on inspecti/on equal to any manufactured. Ladies and Gentlemen/ by applying to the above will meet the most agreeable terms./ N.B. Repairing and Tuning done on the shortest no-/tice in town and country./ Unfurnished Lodgings which are very extensive and/convenient. A neat Back House to let. (Saunder's Newsletter, 26 September 1807)

1814

In July of this year a newspaper notice placed by Clementi and Co., states that they were commencing court proceedings against three Dublin firms, including John Byrne of Ship-street, whom they accused of making and/or selling instruments fraudulently badged using their name. The existence of this advertisement was first identified by I M Hogan (Ita Margaret Hogan 1966. Anglo Irish Music 1780 - 1830. Cork University Press, 107). However Hogan did not give the full text, now located by the author, and this is quoted in full below:

PIANO FORTES/ Whereas, it has been discovered that some/obscure Persons in Dublin, have lately made Piano/ fortes, and put upon them the names of respectable Houses in/ London, as if manufactured by them.

And whereas several auctioneers and others have been in the/habit of selling these spurious Instruments, thereby grossly de-ceiving the Public, to the material injury of the said Houses.

Notice is hereby given, that Actions at Law are commenced/ on the part of Messrs. Clementi and Company, Cheapside/ London, against M. Larkin, Grafton-street, Thomas Kelly, Clarendon-street, John Byrne, Ship-street, and Others; and/ that any person hereafter detected, making use of the Name of/ Clementi and Company upon any instruments not manufactured/ by them, will in like manner be immediately proceeded against.

The Friends of Messrs. Clementi and Company are hereby/ respectfully apprised of this dishonest and disgraceful practice, and/ are recommended, in purchasing their istruments to apply to/ the regular and respectable Music Sellers, rather than expose/ themselves to be thus imposed upon by needy and designing men.

Dublin, July 8 1814. (Freeman's Journal 13 July 1814)

[Author's note: It is interesting to note that Byrne's advertisements in earlier years suggest that he was selling pianos badged using his own name, even though probably copying Southwell's design. Additional evidence to support this is provided by the surviving name board on a square piano case in George Kidner's auction sale of 2 March 2017, which clearly bears the name Byrne. Presumably it proved tempting to badge instruments fraudulently using the names of established London makers, notably Clementi, in order to obtain a higher sale price.]

According to I M Hogan (1966) John Byrne of Ship-street, pianoforte maker, appeared in Dublin trade directories from 1814 through to 1824.

1820

On 25 September 1820 an intriguing report appeared in a Belfast newspaper relating to the conduct of the Princess of Wales (by then Queen Caroline, although she was never crowned) on the ship Leviathon, based on the first hand testimony of one John Byrne who had been employed on board as a cabin-joiner. At the time this report was published Byrne was said to be in the employment of Mr Southwell, piano forte maker, Marlborough-street [Dublin]. The report provides evidence of a firm connection between John Byrne and the house of Southwell - as well as making fascinating reading in its own right in the context of the history of the royal family at that time. A transcription of the text is given below:

THE QUEEN

The person (says Carrick's Morning Post,) who/ filled the situation of cabin-joiner, on board the/ Leviathon, during the time the Princess of Wales/ continued on board the ship, is now in Dublin. His name is John Byrne: - He is in the employ-/ment of Mr. Southwell, piano forte-maker, Marl-/ borough street. We have obtained from Mr./ Byrne, his "recollections" of the conduct of the/ Princess, during her stay on board the ship, and/ shall give his account in his own words:-

"The situation of cabin-joiner, gave me an/ opportunity of being well acquainted with many/ of the transactions that occurred in her Royal/ Highness's cabin. It was part of my duty to en-/ter the cabin in which she slept, at an early hour/ in the morning, to raise the blinds, and also at/ night to lower them. At any of these early/ hours that I so entered, I never saw M. Ber-/ gami; but in subsequent parts of the mornings, I/ have frequently seen him there engaged generally/ in writing for her Royal Highness.

"Her Royal Highness's demeanour towards all/ those persons whose duty brought them near her/ person, was most condescending; on several oc-/casions she called me familiarly "her son", as she/ did several others, when she required them to per-/ form any trifling service for her. I was the per-/ son who made the alterations in the cabins, which/ she desired at her first coming on board, and I/ was the person who found and returned an ele/ -gant seal belonging to her, which was lost in/ the cabin, which her Majesty will not fail to re-/ collect, should any circumstances remind her of it.

"I have never seen or heard of the least mis'/ conduct, or any improper familiarity attached/ to her Majesty, during her stay in the Leviathon;/ and I am willing to prove this, and such other/ facts as I know to be true" (The Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 25 September 1820; also reported in The Times, 26 September 1820)

[Authors note: For those interested to learn more of the background history relating to this story, a digitised copy of a contemporary account of the trial of Queen Caroline in London in 1820, is available on-line for download at the following link: The Important and Eventful trial of Queen Caroline, Consort of George IV for Adulterous Intercourse with Bartholomo Bergami. 1820. London: printed and sold by George Smeeton]

1824

There is an entry John Byrne, piano, at 15 Great Ship-street, Dublin in Piggotts Directory, 1824, the last mention of him located by the author. His date of death presently remains unknown.



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