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Longman and Broderip began numbering in late 1783 or 1784, and infrequent pianos are found dated on a key, under the soundboard, back of name board, residual paperwork, and similar.
From this, the first series of 5 octave instruments can be given as below: The second series, used on 5 1/2 octave pianos by way of the Southwell patent, began in 1795.
This aside, some effort has been made to collect dated instruments and use their serial numbers to produce a trend line for dating instruments. Broadwood is unique in having a well maintained and readable pedigree, thanks in part to the records remaining intact and the company still in existence.The reality is that this is not always possible, even for pianos made for very well known firms.With the understanding that the information presented here is subject to refinement and updating, we will begin with a few of the better known firms and move to the lesser known pianos as information builds up.A typical early name plaque Atypically, James Longman had a tradition of NOT putting the date on the name board, such that Longman and Lukey/ Longman and Broderip are typically undated.Only in their last two years of production do we find L&B pianos occasionally with the date of 1796. A second general style sat the piano on a “French Frame” or apron stand that fully enclosed the bottom edge of the piano, and often allowed a lower shelf for music or similar.
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Fortunately for the researcher, the majority of early pianos by the principle makers were dated on the nameboards, removing much doubt of when they were made.