Among the hundreds of thousands of designs held at The National Archives are many for musical instruments, or methods of improving instruments. These include examples that are still very much in use today, like the guitar and the upright piano, and others that have fallen out of use, such as the serpentcleide, or the English cetra.
These records help to illuminate the history of musical instrument making, particularly in the 19th century, when most of the designs for instruments were registered. They show how both well-known musical instrument makers and skilled amateurs designed and improved on instruments. We hold this material because the designs were registered for copyright – see our research guide for more information about registered designs.
Angelo Benedetto Ventura registered a guitar and an ‘English cetra’. As a young man Ventura taught music to Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV. He invented a number of variants on the harp and lute, as well as the guitar shown here, which he registered as an ‘ornamental’ design, meaning he was copyrighting the design rather than claiming a new function for his guitar. Records for ornamental designs are in the record series BT 43 and BT 44. He also registered ‘the English cetra’, a variant guitar (BT 43/57/62742). The V&A holds an example of one of Ventura’s cetras, and notes his claim that the cetra’s ‘splendid powerful tone’, was superior to the Spanish guitar.
Brass bands became popular in the 19th century, as advances in instrument making, mass production, and improvements such as the piston valve made instruments available to larger parts of the population.
As well as chapel and military bands, works and community bands became popular, with brass band competitions taking off from the 1850s. This is reflected in the registered designs, which contain a large number of designs for brass instruments. An instrument called an Antoniophone was registered by Samuel Arthur Chappell, the youngest son of one of the founders of Chappell’s, a famous instrument maker, retailer and music publisher based in London’s Bond Street. Continue reading »