Historical sources of music mention Antwerp as the most important centre for harpsichord building. Dr Ch. Burney visited Antwerp in 1773. "The famous harpsichord-makers, of the name of Ruckers, whose instruments have been so much, and so long admired all over Europe, lived in this city" and the Encyclopédie méthodique of 1788 quotes: "les meilleurs clavecins qui jusqu'à présent ont été construits sont les instruments faits par les trois Ruckers (Hans, Jean et André) ainsi que Jean Couchet. Tous avaient leur atelier à Anvers pendant le siécle dernier."
For three generations, between 1575 and 1665, harpsichords and virginals were made in Antwerp under the supervisionof members of the Ruckers-Couchet family. It started in the early 16th century with the making of clavichords; the most prominent maker was Joos Kareest, already exporting harpsichords in 1543 to Germany, England and Portugal. In 1558, 10 harpsichordmakers addressed a request to the city's magistrate in order to be recognized as craftsmen making harpsichords.
But it is only with the arrival of Hans Ruckers around 1575, that harpsichord making became a well organized craftsmanship. At that time about 40 names of makers were known in Antwerp; they probably worked for the Ruckers-Couchet workshop. About 150 authentic instruments are still preserved in museums and private collections; but many instruments from that workshop were adapted to 18th century needs. They were signed by Hans Ruckers, both his sons Joannes and Andreas I and his grandsons Andreas II and Joannes Couchet.
During the 18th century, three harpsichordmakers were still active in Antwerp: Jacobus Van den Elsche, Joannes Daniel Dulcken and Joannes Petrus Bull
The art of traditional harpsichordmaking was lost during the 19th century and it took lots of research by prominent scholars to discover the 'secrets' of the craft by consulting original instruments kept in museums.
Antwerp has played an important role in the revival of the harpsichord and became again the capital of the historic harpsichord, thanks to the Ruckers Genootschap.
members of the Ruckers-Couchet family:
Hans Ruckers (° 1553/1555 - Antwerpen, 1598), originated probably from Germany; he got married in the Antwerp cathedral in 1575 and bought a house in 1597 in the Jodestraat, where he would set up his workshop. When he died eight children were still alive, two of them Joannes and Andreas I became harpsichordmakers.
Joannes Ruckers, (° Antwerp, 15.1.1578 - Ibid.,29.9.1642), continued the workshop of his father and took care of his nephew Joannes Couchet, whose mother, Catharina Ruckers, had died at the age of 32.
Andreas I, Ruckers, (° Antwerp, 20.8.1579 - Ibid., 1651/1653), after his father's death and the partition with his brother Joannes he had his own workshop; his son Andreas II, was also harpsichordmaker.
Ioannes Couchet, (° Antwerp, 2.2.1615 - +Ibid., 4.4.1655) was the grandson of Hans Ruckers. His mother Catharina Ruckers died when he was ten years old. His father Carolus Couchet was surgeon and married a second time in 1625 and so Ioannes Couchet was educated by his uncle Joannes Ruckers. After his death he went on in the workshop in the Jodestraat.
18th century makers:
Ioannes Daniel Dulcken, (° Hessen, 17.10.1716 - + Antwerp, 11.4.1757) was the first German harpsichordmaker , coming to Antwerp after the 1738 decree, by which the city magistrate wanted to create favorable conditions for old crafts .At that moment Jacobus Van den Elsche was still making harpsichords in Antwerp and later on Joannes Petrus Bull joined them.