Cawton Aston

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Cawton Aston (active 1693 – 1733) was an English builder of spinets.

He was the seventh and last apprentice of instrument builder John Player (1636 - 1707), and the only one to set up his own business.[1] In 1730 he was living at the Prince’s Arms in New Queen Street in London.[2]

Two spinets signed by Aston are currently known; the first is dated 1726 and has the range GG-g΄΄΄ (five octaves). The case is decorated with inlay. The natural keys are covered in bone, and the sharps are made of a “sandwich” of ivory and ebony,[3] sometimes referred to as “skunktail sharps” because of their appearance. The instrument was restored by Arnold Dolmetsch in 1898; Colonial Williamsburg purchased it in 1960.[4]

The second instrument was built in 1733 and also has the range GG-g΄΄΄. The keyboard has ivory-covered naturals[5] and skunktail sharps, just as on the 1726 spinet. Many parts, such as the bridge, nut, and stand are replacements; the soundboard rose is probably not original.[6] The instrument has been in a private collection in England for approximately thirty years.

A spinet built c.1700 whose lowest key is marked “C.A.” has been attributed to Aston; this instrument is currently part of the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection. It has the range GG/BB-d΄΄΄ (4½ octaves), with a broken octave. This compass is very common in spinets made between 1690 and 1710.[7] The natural keys are covered with ebony, while the sharps are solid ivory.[8] Overall the instrument is similar to those made by John Player.[9]

Peter Mole states that

Judging by the stylishness of the spinet by Cawton Aston dated 1726 at Colonial Williamsburg, Cawton Aston seems to have been a craftsman of great skill, and a firm constituted by him and by [Thomas] Barton would have been a significant competitor to the [Stephen] Keene firm in the period 1709 to 1712.[10]

Boalch mentions a spinet signed by Cawton Aston and Thomas Barton, dated 1709, that once belonged to Edwin M. Ripin.[11] Boalch believed it to be in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;[12] however, this instrument is not currently in that collection.[13]


  • Henry Purcell: The Suites for Harpsichord, Archiv Produktion 2533415 (1979) (c.1700 spinet)
  • From Two to Six, Finchcocks Press FPCD003 (2001) (c.1700 spinet)


  1. ^ Boalch, D. (1995). Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440-1840 (Third ed.). Clarendon Press. p. 8.
  2. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 8
  3. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 224
  4. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 224
  5. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 225
  6. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 225
  7. ^ Mole, P., The English Spinet with Particular Reference to the Schools of Keene and Hitchcock, p.285 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2009) Retrieved 7/22/14 from
  8. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 225
  9. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 225
  10. ^ Mole (2009), p.100
  11. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 225
  12. ^ Boalch (1995), p. 225
  13. ^ Mole (2009), p.100


  • Boalch, D., Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440-1840, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 1995
  • Mole, P., The English Spinet with Particular Reference to the Schools of Keene and Hitchcock (Doctoral dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2009) Retrieved 9/10/10 from

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