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Jacobus Ball Pianoforte: Private home in Lexington, Kentucky

Description by Dwight Newton, 2006

This instrument was purchased at an antique auction in Lexington, Kentucky by a faculty member at the University of Kentucky. It is an early London made piano by Jacobus Ball, ca. 1810. It is 5-1/2 octaves with a fully developed English double action and Zumpe-style overhead dampers. There is a damper pedal mechanism, but the pedal itself is missing.

The body sits on a stand with a spacer (not original) in between. The lines are very simple and square in the neo-classic style. The veneeers are Mahogany and curly maple. The name board is simply decorated with an attractive hand-painted flower motif extending from the central cartouche.

The condition of this piano is very poor. Most of the hammers are missing, all but two dampers are gone, several keys are warped, the soundboard is cracked, most of the strings are missing, etc.

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Name reads:

Jacobus Ball & Sons
Duke Street, Grosvenor Square

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Jacobus Ball


The only evidence of provenance is this loose note.

Jacobus Ball

"Little piano -- mother
bought it from the
Roger Williams family
-- never out of their
family. People's ancestors
who gave Sweet Briar."

This may actually be useful information. There was a woman named Indiana Fletcher Williams who gave the land and some money in 1901 to establish Sweet Briar College, a women's college situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. I presume this is the Williams family to which the note refers. I am following up trying to find an archivist at Sweet Briar who might have documents relating to the family that are relevant to the piano. Since Indiana's maiden name was Fletcher, it's not clear whether the piano might have been in her family or that of her husband, the Reverend James Henry Williams.

They recently dismantled Indiana Williams's (actually her father Elijah Fletcher's) run-down family plantation house (with the wonderful name of "Tusculum") near Amherst, VA, and are trying to raise the $400k it'll take to reassemble it on the Sweet Briar campus. Odds are the piano once stood in this house and there might be family photos that show it. This kind of provenance can add greatly to the value of such an object.

Sweet Briar History

Article on the dismantling of Tusculum

Sweet Briar Museum

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Copyright © 2006 by Dwight Newton. All rights reserved.
© 2001-2008 D.Newton/

Updated 12/13/2006