Why are the white keys black and the sharps white, opposite to a piano?
The so-called ‘reverse keyboard’ was fashionable in France during the 1700’s. It was used on a famous harpsichord build in 1769 by Pascal Taskin. This was the first historical harpsichord to be copied in modern times (late 1800’s), by the Pleyel Piano company of Paris, and set the style for the other harpsichord ‘revivers’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We have come to think of it as standard for harpsichords, although it was not typical in other countries or at other times. The Italians topped their keys with a light hard wood, typically boxwood, and used a darker wood, usually a fruitwood such as pear or cherry, for the sharps. Keyboards of historical Flemish instruments look quite ‘normal’ to us, with white naturals — covered with slips of cowbone, not ivory — and black sharps made of ebony, blackwood, grenadilla or pearwood dyed black.