Rare antique piano discovered in Cotswolds could be one of only 20 in the world

AN EXTREMELY rare piano rescued from a flooded house in the Cotswolds might be only the 20th surviving example of its kind in the world.

The piano was among a haul of water-damaged furniture removed from a house near Cheltenham.

While at first it looked unworthy of restoration, research revealed it to be an extremely rare instrument by Emerich Bétsy of Vienna.

The firm only manufactured pianos for 19 years – between 1852 and 1871 – and each piano was custom-built for its owner, meaning the height of the keyboard varies from piano to piano.

Because the pianos were handmade and custom designed, only a few left the workshop every year.

In 19th century Europe only the most wealthy and devoted pianists could afford an Emerich Bétsy – and the same is true today, with examples being offered for between £20,000 and £50,000.

The website www.emerichbetsy.com lists 19 known examples of surviving Emerich Bétsy pianos. A chance to own the 20th will be offered by auctioneer Moore Allen & Innocent in Cirencester on Friday, May 18.

With its walnut veneer peeling away from the body, and the ivory keys swelled by water damage, the piano – which was built in 1854, the year the manufacturer was recognised at the German Exposition for Industry and Trades – will be offered with a speculative estimate of just £500 to £800.

"This damage isn't gong to polish out," admitted auctioneer Philip Allwood. "Returning this piano to its former glory will require hours and hours of skilled craftsmanship.

"But spend £800 on it at auction, invest another £10,000 doing it up, and you're going to be left with an instrument worth tens of thousands of pounds – and one of only 20 catalogued examples in the world."

The piano isn't the only lot in the auction to prove that even significantly damaged antiques can still be valuable.

A pair of 19th century Chinese vases standing at 66 cms tall carry an estimate of £500 to £800 – despite a large chunk of porcelain missing from the lip of one of the pair.

The vases are decorated with panels of figures and interiors, and feature decorative handles in the form of dragons. Bearing six character marks to the base each vase sits atop a hardwood stand.

Thankfully another stand-out lot has fared a lot better than the original on which it is based.

A replica of the Sovereign of the Seas measures over a metre long, and captures the most extravagantly decorated warship in the Royal Navy in intricate detail.

Sovereign of the Seas was launched in 1637. The most powerfully armed ship in the world, she was ordered with 90 guns but launched with 102 bronze canons over three decks at the insistence of King Charles I.

She was extremely expensive. Gilding alone cost over £1 million in today's money. Thankfully, the replica carries a far more realistic estimate of £200 to £300.

Sovereign of the Seas served for 60 years, seeing action in the Anglo-Dutch Wars and surviving the English Civil War to take part in the the War of the Grand Alliance against France.

At the end of her life Sovereign became leaky and defective with age. She was burnt to the waterline at Chatham Docks in 1697. The cause of the fire – and whether it was started deliberately or not – is unknown.

For a full auction catalogue, visit mooreallen.co.uk