Harp case part 2

I’m busy making my harp case, which is why there has not been another tune for over a week.

As I was sewing I was thinking about things and I remembered a few references that I should have checked out before I started. But that is the way of these things.

This is the fourth harp case I have made. The first was a plywood box. The second had a lining made from old sleeping bag panels, an outer surface made from tent canvas, and had webbing straps in between the two layers to support the leather handles. It closed over the neck of the harp with a leather strap and buckle. The third (shown above) was made from wool fabric, with wool lining and linen interlining, as a soft bag. It closed over the neck of the harp with a button.

I was thinking that there is a continuum from a light fabric dust-cover, just enough to drape over the harp to keep off the dust and direct sunlight, through to a rigid reinforced shipping trunk or flight case, which allows the harp to be stacked any way up with other luggage piled on top. The trouble is that harps are large enough that the rigid shipping trunk becomes unwieldy and too heavy for normal use, and also too big. So for practical transportation of the harp there is a compromise, in terms of how much protection is required, versus how light and easy to carry the case is.

My earlier thinking on the design of these things was based on the only medieval image I know of which shows a harp in its bag, in the Tickhill Psalter (New York Public Library, Spencer Collection MS26), from the English Midlands in the early 14th century. You can see Saul’s harp bag closes with a flap over the neck, and a button, and has a strap that runs around both his shoulders:

I found this lovely photograph of Welsh harpist John Roberts, taken in 1875 by the photographer John Thomas. You can see that his case is thin and light – you can see it pulling around the square neck of his harp, and you can see the impressions that the tuning pins have made pressing against the inside.

I was most interested to see the method of closure, with ties along the forepillar. I did not think of doing mine this way. Maybe if I ever do another case I will try imitating this style.

I also find his shoulder strap interesting. It is hard to see how the strap is attached to the case. It is possible that the strap passes right around the harp. I have seen photographs of street musicians with naked harps, with a stout leather belt around the harp at about this point, to allow the harp to be picked up and carried. There are some photos in Huw Roberts & Llio Rhydderch, Telynorion Llannerch-y-medd (Isle of Anglesey County Council, 2000), showing these straps in use (p.84-5) and on their own (p123).

A few years ago when I was in the National Museum stores in Dublin, I saw a small Egan portable harp from the early 19th century which was in a black-painted wooden shipping trunk. I believe this was not part of the NMI collections but was a loan item; the harp is DF:L.1356.1 and the case is DF:L.1356.2. I think this might be a part of Egan’s general work in the classical pedal harp tradition, since wooden shipping trunks seem common enough for early pedal harps. See the Galpin Society Journal LXII, 2009, p.159-166 for a particularly spectacular example, discovered in an attic containing its original harp and the manuscript music books of its original owner, untouched for over 200 years.

I am still looking for information about harp bags or cases in Ireland. Check out harp case part 1 for the background to this…

One thought on “Harp case part 2”

  1. There is a short article in the Galpin Society Journal vol LXXVII (March 2024) by Clare Taylor, which includes a description (p141-2) and illustration (p180-1) of a leather harp cover at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh. She suggests that this cover may be associated with an Erard pedal harp at Castle Coole which appears to have been taken there c.1801-3. The cover is made from tan leather, with a pink cotton lining, and with gilded leather along the seams, and with brass latches and a lock along the forepillar opening. The cover looks like it does not cover the bottom of the harp, and is designed to fit over the harp when it is standing up.

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