Piano insulators (also called piano feet, piano stands and piano rests) became popular in the late 19th Century. The earliest reference to them are in newspaper advertisements from 1850, in which “Barlows Pianoforte Insulator’s” are offered by James Barlow, of 14 King William Street, London. Although he advertised his invention in several newspapers throughout England, he did not patent his idea. By January 1851, he had changed the wording in his advertisement to include “None genuine except they have the name of James Barlow, Inventor and Manufacturer”. Within a matter of months he stopped advertising them altogether.
The popularity of piano insulators seemed to be rapidly increasing, with many advertisements appearing for them. In 1852, James Phillips & Co advertised piano insulators in the Gardener’s Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette. Whilst the Home News publication, for the Indian Colonies, ran a series of advertisements in 1855 for Royal Victoria Glass Insulating Resonators, available in flint, amber and milk glass. Even the contemporary advertisements for new pianos included free covers and glass insulators as part of the sale.
Although the original intention had been to improve the quality of the sound produced by the piano, it became clear that there were other benefits to using piano insulators. Wooden floors and carpets were regularly damaged by the metals castors, fitted to the pianos to aid their movement. Yet the piano insulators helped to protect the flooring. Additionally, the glass helped protect the piano by preventing the damp from rising through the legs of the piano and rotting the instrument.
The first British registered design for a glass piano insulator, number 119975, was by Davis, Greathead & Green of the Flint Glass Works, Stourbridge. Their design was registered 20th May 1859. A couple of months later, on 8th July, Thomas Dawkins, of London, had design 120613 registered.
It would have been around this time that the Kidsgrove Piano Insulator was first produced.
Richard Handley Thomas, was an engineer who lived in Kidsgrove, North Staffordshire. He often wrote for the English Mechanic and World of Science publication during the 1850’s to 1880’s. In one edition he claimed that he had hundreds of unpatented (sic) inventions.
The design of this piano insulator was not patented, or registered, but the impressed “R. H. Thomas Kidsgrove Piano Insulator” would indicate that Richard Handley Thomas was the gentleman responsible for its design.
Most of the major pressed glass manufacturers, seem to have produced piano insulators at some point between 1870-1920. Some designs became more elaborate, even whimsical, with John Derbyshire producing designs in the shape of a bull’s head and another with a likeness of an animal foot.
Although called piano insulators, it is not very clear what they are supposed to be insulating. Certainly they would not prevent the sound of the piano from being transmitted through the structure of the house. Contemporary news articles inform us that mats of India rubber were often recommended to insulate the sound from a noisy piano. Once it was realised that piano insulators helped protect the floors and furniture, it became common usage to use glass castor cups for other pieces of furniture. They were even recommended to be used under the legs of beds to help prevent rheumatism and to protect from lightening strikes. If you could not afford to buy piano insulators, then penny salts were recommended as an alternative.
The majority of piano insulators that have survived tend to be unmarked which makes identification virtually impossible. I have compiled a list of registered designs and patterns, which may help with identification, but it certainly is not an exhaustive list.
|Davis, Greathead & Green||20/05/1859||Rd 119975|
|Dawkins, Thomas||08/07/1859||Rd 120613|
|R. H. Thomas||1860’s||Kidsgrove Piano Insulator|
|Ker, Webb & Co||27/05/1873||Rd 273178|
|Derbyshire, John||02/09/1873||Rd 275756|
|Percival, Vickers & Co||11/06/1872||Rd 263314|
|Sowerby Ellison||Unknown Date||Pattern 697 (two sizes)|
|Pre 1885||Pattern 1799 (two sizes)|
|Moore, Edward||1888||Pattern 9642|
|Bolton, Edward||1893||Finger Piano Rest (see below)|
|Pottery Gazette Supplemental Pages||Wheel Piano Rest (see below)|
|Davidson, George||1928||Pattern 404 (large) & 405 (small)|
Further details of piano insulator manufacturers come from advertisements and news articles. William Moss offered flint glass insulators, in various colours, through the Penrith Observer in 1861 but, as was often the case at the time, there were no illustrations. Likewise for the adverts placed, during the early twentieth century, in the Pottery Gazette and Glass Trades Review by Joseph Kidd. A 1906 edition of the Pottery Gazette includes a review of Burtles & Tate’s new showroom, describing “some neat and strong piano stands for grand pianos“.
The London Gazette gives details of patent 778, applied for and granted on 18/03/1867, from Mr Henry Simms. Further information about the patent is provided by the English Mechanic and Mirror of Science and Arts (Vol.6 1868) who describe the patent as a pianoforte insulator, yet they do not specify the material. Another, later manufacturer was Derbyshire’s Piano Insulators Ltd, company number 83603. This company operated from D. Derbyshire’s Insulator Works, Chorley, Lancs; from 1905 to 1910. Yet no details exist of their designs, or the material used during production.
The pressed glassworks regularly sold their moulds on to other companies, and even copied other companies designs. So even if an insulator matches a specific pattern, unless it has an impressed mark it would be hard to say it is definitely from that manufacturer. Additionally, the array of manufacturers, designs and patents documented here, are only British based companies. A lot of glass products were imported into the country, such as the following piano insulator from Germany.
Although the popularity of glass piano insulators waned, they are still produced today. Many piano accessory shops still supply them, although nowadays they are called glass piano castor cups. Design wise they are not much different from some of the original Victorian patterns. More images of modern, vintage and victorian glass piano insulators can be viewed on my dedicated piano insulator Pinterest board.
Note from the author.
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