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Harps

The harp dates back to 2500 B.C. in ancient Egypt. It is the oldest-known string instrument. Ancient harps did not have a support column, so they only had a few strings. The frame harp, which included a support column, first appeared in Western Europe between 700 and 900 A.D. These instruments used 10 to 11 strings. Irish harps from the 1300s include a hollow sound box to amplify the harp's sound as well as a stronger neck and 30 to 36 strings made of brass.

Double- and triple-strung harps appeared in Europe during the late 1500s. These harps were designed to be played with two hands. Pedals were introduced in the early 1700s and further improvements followed. Sebastien Erard of Germany developed and patented many improvements to the harp, including developing the single- and double-action harps in the early 1800s. The double-action harp system is still used in modern harps.

A harp is considered an antique today if it was made prior to 1935. These instruments were handmade and hand tuned, so they vary in pitch and tuning. The strings used on antique harps are much lighter than strings used on harps made after 1936, so collectors should do some homework before re-stringing an antique instrument.


Quick Facts

  • Erard was the premier producer of harps in the early 1800s. An antique wooden harp with gilt trim by Erard made in France in 1840 is currently valued at about $25,600
  • Harpo Marx taught himself to play the harp even though he could not read music. He owned two gold Lyon & Healy harps that were donated to an Israeli university music department after his death
  • The most expensive harp available today is the Louis XV Special Concert Grand produced by Lyon & Healy Harps of Chicago, Illinois. The intricately carved instrument is covered in 23-karat gold leaf and sells for $189,000

Recommended Items at Auction

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Irish Harp
Nov 03, 10:00 AM EDT
Irish Harp
by Barry S. Slosberg Inc
Est: $3,000- $6,000
$802 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Harps


Barry S. Slosberg Inc

Barry S. Slosberg Inc