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Antique Pianos – an Introduction

Rather than being restricted to any formal definition of an antique being “at least a hundred years old” we will generally use the term on this site to refer to instruments that are at least somewhere in that vicinity. Other terms may be Vintage Pianos or Classic Pianos.

Depending on one’s perspective and interests the antique category can be further divided into areas that focus more on a particular aspect such as type, style or period (early pianos, those much older, are a special breed in which case we will identify them as such but otherwise we will use the term “antique” more generally).

For instance many of us love the old antique upright pianos for their nostalgia, looks and sound. It may be hard to find a similar wood or design in a contemporary instrument. Even if you find something close, it isn’t quite the same thing and we know it. Those old pianos even have a certain smell (although that could be good or bad).

Square grands hold a special interest for some. These are essentially a forerunner to the modern grand piano and although possessing some pleasing attributes they are hard pressed to compare to a modern piano in playability or sound. Nonetheless they do have their own peculiar charm.

As with anything in culture, whether cars, fashion or haircuts, older pianos can be recognized by the time period in which they were produced. Many of us like antique pianos so much because of their look. A gorgeous inlaid rosewood front board or carved tiger oak cabinet can be captivating. But if that’s your interest, you will be looking at instruments built pretty much prior to 1920.

In addition to furniture style, the time period will naturally determine certain aspects of the piano from a technical standpoint. Obviously newer innovations will not be found in earlier instruments. So it can be instructing, even fascinating, to compare pianos from different periods to learn more about their differences.

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157 Responses to “Antique Pianos – an Introduction”

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  1. Sue Chelini says:

    Thanks. Now to have someone look at it and see if it still is good.

  2. Tom Bilse says:

    Thanks so much for the opportunity to post a message. Your website is great.
    My wife and I own what I believe is an 1890 Emerson studio upright piano (serial # 49087. It is being restored.
    From viewing an 1889 Emerson catalog and noticing mount holes on our piano, it should have a mouse-guard plate which surrounds the (2) pedals where they “enter” the piano cabinet.
    Is there a resource for such an item?

    • Cool Piano says:

      Thanks Tom.

      I got my start in this business almost forty years ago restoring antique uprights and have a small stash of rare parts so it’s possible I could supply you something.

      We would need to clarify what you want. Strictly speaking a mouse guard was some sort of contraption that attached to the pedal to actually block entry into the inside of the piano around the pedal.

      On the other hand, decorative kick plates screwed to the cabinet behind the pedals were fairly common although they didn’t necessarily block the holes. In fact you will see something similar on some pianos today although they are mostly a very thin plain piece of brass rather than the very ornate and beautiful examples found on antique instruments.

      I don’t believe I have any actual mouse guards but I know I have several decorative plates. I would need to check my inventory and compare what I have to your instrument.

      I have emailed you so we can continue the discussion.

      • Tom Bilse says:

        Thanks for the prompt reply. Sounds good. I can fwd photos of our piano and the page from the Emerson catalog.

  3. Sandy Collins says:

    Thank you for your “cool” website and amazing information. I have a Steinhauer Cabinet Grand #69428. I would love to know the date it was built. Do you have that information?

    Thank you,

    Sandy

    • Cool Piano says:

      Thanks Sandy,

      We have a listing for the Steinhauer name, apparently used as a stencil in Chicago.

      It was not uncommon for a company to have a manufacturer build a piano for them and put their name on it, something called a stencil piano, a practice which continues even today.

      When that is the case, there isn’t usually much detailed information available about the instrument. In this case we do have some serial numbers but they range from 10625-37000 so either your number is not a valid serial number or our information is incomplete.

      The diagrams at the link below might help you find the serial number.

      http://www.piercepianoatlas.com/findno.html

      The years we have for the name are 1902-1920, a period of tremendous activity in the industry. Not long after that due to changes in entertainment trends, technology and economic issues, the popularity of pianos declined. The Great Depression especially had a devastating and lasting effect.

  4. Tom Bilse says:

    Though we’ve been communicating via e-mail, I feel compelled to “publicly” thank you for your prompt help in finding the pedal plate and sending it to me so quickly. I believe it will be a nice finishing touch to the Emerson once it’s restored.
    I will definitely inform the restoration shop about CPS, you and your website.

    Thanks again.

    • Cool Piano says:

      Tom, thanks so much for the kind thoughts. I’m glad I could contribute to the restoration of your instrument.

  5. Yvette says:

    I just acquired a Gibson upright piano with a serial number of 18459. The plate inside says Gibson @ Co. I can’t seem to find any information on this piano. Are you able to tell me how old this piano is and any other information? It has three beautiful carved panels on the upper part and lovely carved rails on the front edges and carved legs. I’m not sure what type of wood it is either which I’m also trying to find out. Not sure if you will be able to help me but any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    • Cool Piano says:

      Yvette, according to our records your piano was built c. 1902. We have listings for Gibson in New York from 1890-1908 but not much information beyond that. Your description of its appearance is typical of that era.

      If you want to learn more about your instrument I would recommend having a technician inspect it. To find a local technician you can visit http://www.ptg.org/.

      • Yvette says:

        Thank you!

      • Yvette says:

        I just pulled out all the keys to clean them and vacuum out the layers of dust in the cabinet and was surprised to find that someone had handwritten the date March 26, 1897 on the side of one of the keys. It looked like the ivory had been repaired so I’m assuming the date is the date of the repair to the key :-)

  6. larry jones says:

    trying to date a piano I am about to buy and can not find the info I want. It is a Morris piano made in listowel serial number 5278. any info would be appreciated

    • Cool Piano says:

      Hi Larry, thanks for visiting.

      Morris went through a number of name changes over time, not that uncommon. According to our information, it was established in Listowel, Ontario, Canada as Morris, Field and Rogers c. 1891-1892. If that is the name on your instrument and 5278 is the actual serial number the date is c. 1894 and yours was built in the first several years of the company. Here’s a bit more:

      http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/morris-pianos-ltd-emc/

  7. Lorette says:

    Hi. I have a F Helmholz piano which has been in my family for about 80 years or so. It still has the brass candle sticks, and the serial number is 7039. I have searched the internet to try and date the piano, to no avail. I would appreciate your help in this regard. Many thanks.

    • Cool Piano says:

      Hi Lorette, thanks for the question. Unfortunately we have no serial number information for F. Helmholz so can’t offer much help in dating the instrument other than the firm was apparently established in Hanover, Germany c. 1851.

  8. Pieter says:

    Hi!

    I’m trying to date and find information about my piano. It is a Fritz Kuhla (Berlin) upright with two pedals and ivory keys. It also states (engraved in the wood) “Steinway & Sons – Sole Importers”. on the inside of the lid covering the keys. I live in Cape Town, South Africa and assume that it was imported here? I have no information on the history as my parents bought it second-hand many years ago. Markings on the front panel can be seen where two candelabras were removed at some point. I could find the following two numbers printed/engraved onto the inside wood panels but on seperate ends of the piano: 26814 and 3507. I have searched top to bottom, but cannot find a date anywhere.

    Hope you can assist!

    • Cool Piano says:

      Hi Pieter,

      The Fritz Kuhla brand was established in Berlin, possibly in 1872, and was associated with Euterpe (which became part of Bechstein in the early 1990s).

      The serial numbers we have for Kuhla begin with 32000 in 1920. We have earlier numbers for Euterpe which were apparently used prior to that date. There is quite a difference between your two numbers but either could be a legitimate serial number. Here is what we have:

      3507 – c. 1882
      26814 – c. 1909

      The diagrams at the link below might help you confirm which of your numbers is the actual serial number.

      http://www.piercepianoatlas.com/findno.html

      The candelabra may indicate the earlier date. Furniture styles as well as the design of the action, stringing, etc. may also help identify the era. A local professional should be able to tell you more. You may find this link helpful:

      http://www.sapianotuners.co.za/piano-tuners.html

      As for the Steinway reference, it would seem whoever had the Steinway franchise in that territory at the time was also the importer, distributor and/or dealer for the Kuhla line, not an unusual arrangement.

  9. Melody Hardesty says:

    Hi, I am looking for information about a piano that was recently given to my father. He said it was a Herbert Milwaukee, vertical grand french repeating action. Serial # 43988. Can you give us any information on it. It has a very beautiful almost tiger like pattern in the wood.

    Thank You,

    Melody

    • Cool Piano says:

      Hi Melody

      According to our information, Herbert Piano Co., located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was in business c. 1912-1923, although apparently instruments were built by Kreiter Manufacturing Co. after 1920. That serial number is from 1923 so likely your piano was built toward the end of the business.

      The term “vertical grand” or “upright grand” was mostly a marketing slogan, meant to give the impression the upright had the sound quality of an actual grand piano. Some were better than others.

      The “french repeating action” refers to the type of action (not the source), which was an improvement over earlier designs.

      Other than that we can’t tell you much about the company. It’s not that uncommon to have an instrument with a name we know little about. There are actually a lot of names like this. Literally thousands of brands came and went in the heyday of the piano industry. Very few remain in business today and any detailed records are mostly lost except on rare occasions.

      Bear in mind the condition of your specific instrument is more important than brand name. To learn more about it I would have a professional inspect it.

      To find a local technician you can visit http://www.ptg.org/.

  10. Julie says:

    Trying to find the worth of a E. Gabler & Bro SS215.

  11. Pamela Hawthorne says:

    We have a Franz Meyer beautiful grand piano, can you tell us anything about this brand?

    • Cool Piano says:

      Hi Pamela,

      We have some basic information on Franz Meyer but not much more. The company was was in business in Chicago c. 1888-1912. We have serial numbers for years 1890-1905.

      If we have the serial number we can tell you the year the instrument was built. The diagrams at the link below might help you find the serial number. It should be something between 8000-11200.

      http://www.piercepianoatlas.com/findno.html

      For more specific information about your piano I recommend having a qualified technician inspect it. To find a local technician you can visit http://www.ptg.org/.

  12. Susanne H says:

    I have an upright piano that my great aunt brought over from Paris when she married my great uncle who was stationed there during the war. It states Grand Prix Mednille d’or Leguerinais Paris on the inside lid covering the keys. This is in gold on an inlay of a different direction of wood. Serial number is 29599. Do you have information on this type of piano or know how much it is worth?

    Thank you,

    Susanne

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