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Harp Making in Late-Georgian London: Browne & Buckwell -the American Connection

Whilst it is undeniable that London was the centre of harp making in late-Georgian London, the British capital's hold on the instrument's manufacture, like that of Paris before it. was temporary. As those who've read my book Harp Making in Late-Georgian London will know, making started in the early 1790s, soon after Erard's arrival from Paris. Over the following twenty or thirty years the industry, aided by continental import difficulties, mechanisation, innovation, and London's elite, boomed. But like all booms, bust follows. By around 1830 the market was becoming saturated. Many makers struggled, diversified or failed, but one or two saw an opportunity over the pond. One of these, John Fuce Browne, erstwhile blacksmith's apprentice, Erard employee, business owner in his own right and through a deal with James Delveau (a fellow harp maker), established his business at 12 Berners Street in 1835. By 1840 he was in difficulty but was saved by the American market. By August of that year, he had moved to New York and was advertising at 281 Broadway. His partnership with Delveau was dissolved in 1841, although he still advertised a connection five years later, the affiliation to a maker in the old-world perhaps afforded him the perception of experience and gravitas. In 1843, Browne was at 385 Broadway. From 1846 to 1847 he traded at 281 Broadway, moving to 295 in 1848. In 1859 he was at 709 Broadway where he stayed until 1866, and from 1867 to 1868 he was at 581. Between 1869 and 1871, a year before his death, he moved one last time to 644 Broadway.

Advertisement for Delveau & Browne (1846)

Browne was the first harp maker to take full advantage of advertising in the press, and his advertisements became more sophisticated over time. In 1871, his son, Edwin, took over the business, probably after his father’s death. Edwin formed a partnership with George Buckwell, trading together until Edwin’s death in 1878 when Buckwell took over. Twenty years later, James Buckwell and Joseph George Morley of London negotiated the purchase of the former’s business. In a letter of 19 September 1895, James summarised the Buckwell’s inventory. Nineteen harps, some by old English makers and others by variants of the Browne and Buckwell businesses, were valued at $13,100; five rental instruments were worth $1,800; music stools were assessed at $150; ‘machinery, belting, shafting, tools, and patterns &c’, were $2,000; and ‘music on hand and copyright and plates’ were $3,000; a grand total of $20,050.

Browne Advertisement. New York City Directory (1846).

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