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Harp for the Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal

In 1843, Alexander Blazdell presented a small harp to the then four-year-old Princess Victoria, the oldest daughter of Queen Victoria. The instrument and its accessories were described in the contemporary press.


'Harp for the Princess Royal', Domestic Journal, no. 22, vol. 1, 1 December 1849.


This is an unusual instrument, made specifically for the Princess Royal with particularly rich decoration and bespoke accessories. Its making was an attempt by Blazdell to associate with the trend-setting monarchy, and by this connection to be become a favoured makers with the aristocracy, upper- and middle-classes. The harp came to light some years ago and was acquired by a London antique musical instrument dealer who sold it at auction in 2018. Blazdell's motivation was not purely altruistic. He gift was something of a last-ditch move by a weary businessman who recognised that failure and bankruptcy were just around the corner.

In 1844, the maker launched a lawsuit against Frederick Chatterton, a well-known harpist, to recover £250. In return for agreeing to promote Blazdell’s harps, Chatteron had received £100 in cash, a harp worth £150, and commission for each harp sold. The contract stated that should the harpist promote another maker’s instrument, he would be obliged to return the cash advance and the harp.Chatterton breached the contract but refused to return either.The court found in favour of Blazdell for the full amount. By January 1845, Blazdell was in debtor's prison. Bankruptcy was common amongst harp makers and Blazdell was in good company. Erat, his former employer, only avoided a similar catastrophe after selling a number of properties, and Schwieso, a competitor had two spells in debtor's prison, dying in the workhouse. At this time, debtor's prison allowed inmate to leave during the day to continue their work in the hope they'd trade their way out of debt. Blazdell appears to have done this. However, by 1851 he was again bankrupt, though this time he avoided prison. By 1856 he was working with his son, now selling, hiring, tuning, and repairing pianos. Blazdell died in 1864 following a short illness.

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© 2020 by Mike Baldwin

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