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Abraham & Josephus Kirckman 1789


Date: 1789

Origin: London

Serialnumber: ---

This instrument is the oldest preserved fortepiano by Abraham & Josephus Kirckman worldwide. It was built in London in 1789 and is one of the few instruments with a compass of 5 octaves.

The case and the original stand is made in mahogany with encircling inlays in different woods. Three brass applications are around the body.

The keyboard is made of ivory and ebony. Two small ornamental lines coloured with iron gall ink are applied at the keyboard. This decorative element was very popular by harpsichords.

The nameboard bears in a cartouche the inscription in Latin:

“Abraham et Josephus Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1789”

The hammers are covered with leather and the instrument has two wooden pedals for controlling the dampers (right) and due corde / una corda (left). The compass of the keyboard is 5 octaves (FF – f3) and the bridge is not divided.



Kirckman (Kirkman) was one of the most famous companies in harpsichord building in the late 18th century. The company was founded by Jacob Kirchmann (later anglicised in Kirckman / Kirkman) who was born on March 4th 1710 in Bischweiler in Alsace. The family originally came from Aargau in Switzerland. Jacob Kirchmann become a carpenter and went to England in the early 1730s. There he learned and worked for the famous harpsichord maker Hermann Tabel whose widow he married in 1738. In 1755 he became a British citizen. He died June 9th 1792 in Greenwich and was buried in the St. Alfege Church.

Abraham Kirckman who was also born in Bischweiler on June 2th 1737,was the nephew of Jacob Kirckman. He followed his uncle to London and in 1772 became his business partner. He died in April 1794 in Hammersmith.

Joseph Kirkman I. (1763 – 1830) was the son of Abraham Kirckman and followed his father in the family business, became a partner in 1789 and took over the company after the death of his father. (see: M. Clinkscale, “Makers of the Piano 1700 – 1820“)

The company’s oldest surviving harpsichord was made in 1744. Later, as the harpsichord slowly went out of fashion, the company specialized in pianos. (see: Square Piano by Jacobus et Abraham Kirckman 1783)

The last harpsichord by Kirkman was built in 1809.

All instruments were very well made and of extraordinary quality and craftsmanship. The writer Frances “Fanny” Burney (1752 – 1840), daughter of the well-known music historian and composer Charles Burney (1726 – 1814), described Jacob Kirkman as the best harpsichord maker of all time. For example in 1779 John Joseph Merlin expands a harpsichord by Jacob Kirckman with a down striking hammer action (now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA).

Here you will find a more detailed description of the company’s history Kirkman.


Other preserved instruments by Kirkman:

  • 1758/1779 grand piano and harpsichord – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston USA
  • 1775 square piano – Collection Dr. A. Beurmann, Hamburg Germany
  • 1778 square piano – Oberlin Conservatory of Music: Frederick R. Selch Center for American Music, Oberlin USA








Circumference: 5 octaves (FF – f3)

Mechanics: English Action

Pedals: 2 pedals - dampers and due corde / una corda

Signature: "Abraham et Josephus Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1789"