Cabinet piano, wood / metal / silk, made by Adolphe Rayner, London, England, 1825-1830
This is the earliest piano in the Mastertouch Collection and represents an early form of upright piano, however little is known of its maker. Adapted from a typical horizontal grand piano, the cabinet piano evolved from the upright grand and featured a similar string length to a conventional grand but with the strings and soundboard set at a 90 degree angle to the keys. This had an advantage in a domestic setting in terms of saving space. However, it also had a function as a decorative piece of furniture and often featured elaborate fabric screens such as this one or mirrors set into the cases. Despite this it still had some of the capabilities of a conventional grand piano and a place in the home for providing entertainment. Typically on upright grand pianos of the early 19th century the strings began at the keyboard which accounts for their great height. It was not until several years later that the strings and soundboard were lowered to ground level creating a "cabinet" and making it necessary to adapt the hammers so they would continue to hit the strings at the extremities even though the keyboard was now positioned more in the centre of the strings. This led to the development of the sticker action where the hammers are placed at the end of long wooden rods to hit the strings at the top end of the instrument. This instrument was installed with a "Pianocorder" tape player system in the 1980s to allow it to be demonstrated at Mastertouch using a special cassette tape.
The Mastertouch Piano Roll Company was established in 1919 in Sydney and manufactured and sold piano rolls until its closure on 1 July 2005. It is highly significant both to the state of New South Wales and Australia as a whole as the longest running and only piano roll manufacturer to be operating in the country. It was also only one of two remaining large scale piano roll manufacturers in the world, the other being QRS in the USA and the only one to maintain a traditional method of manufacture giving it international significance.
Three piano roll companies were initially established in Australia; the Anglo American Player Roll Company producing rolls under the Broadway label in Melbourne (c.1917-1919), Mastertouch in Sydney (1919) and later the American company QRS (1920s). The Mastertouch collection is also extremely significant as it contains machines and equipment from all three companies, therefore maintaining the material culture of piano roll manufacture in Australia which was a major form of domestic entertainment from the early 1900s through to the 1950s. The Broadway label established by Len Luscombe was the rival Australian company to Mastertouch. The collection now contains two roll making machines used for Broadway rolls as well as Luscombe's original recording piano. The other rival, QRS from the USA is also represented with one of its multi-roll roll cutters. The bulk of the equipment however, comes from H Horton and the original Mastertouch factory which also includes associated items of office equipment used at Hortons prior to its sale to Barclay Wright in 1961.
The Mastertouch Company is also extremely important for the role it and its owner, Barclay Wright, have had in attempting to maintain the history and tradition of this major form of popular entertainment and its place in Australian culture, creating a private museum of these items. Since working in the company since 1957, Wright has not only maintained the machines in perfect working order but has also collected items from the other music roll manufacturers in order to preserve some of the history of roll making in Australia. This conscientious attitude also contributed toward the collecting of keyboard instruments to help preserve the history and development of roll played music. In the 1980s when several local and long established box making companies in Sydney closed, boxes for music rolls were still necessary, so Wright bought the old machines and established a box making section in the Mastertouch company which made boxes not only for piano rolls but also for a variety of other products and artefacts.
Mastertouch also had an important public role in the preservation of roll music recording and manufacture generally and conveying this to the public through visits, tours, lectures and music entertainment nights. Many attempts and negotiations were made to find support and funding from various bodies to allow Mastertouch to operate as a working museum. Although this was not to be Mastertouch played an important role in disseminating and educating the public about piano roll technology. This is an important point to stress as although piano roll technology has been superceded by digital forms, there are very strong links between digital data storage and encoding of music today and data storage and encoding found in piano roll technology.
Scope of the Collection:
The Mastertouch collection is extensive and not only documents the history of the company but also the history of piano roll production in general given it was one of the last remaining companies in the world. The collection comprises piano roll recording and roll making equipment and associated materials such as the original masters and stencils for the rolls. The collection also includes a selection of box making equipment purchased by Mastertouch during the 1980s from local box making firms that were forced with closure. The Mastertouch collection also contains an extensive but selective range of keyboard instruments, particularly player pianos and organs that documents the development of piano roll playing technology. Other associated items in the collection include archival materials such as stock books, catalogues and advertising material as well as smaller items of office equipment that were used by the company prior to the 1950s. This also includes items of the kind sold by EF Wilks, the partner of George Horton, who operated a music retail business which sold Mastertouch rolls as well as pianos and radios. There are also several pieces of equipment used in the manufacture and repair of pianos that were previously owned by several Sydney piano repair companies such as Winkworths and Garner & Hancock.
Curator, music and musical instruments