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Antique Pianos

The Golden era of Canadian and American piano making happened between the late 1800’s and 1930. By 1910 the North American piano market was booming and new piano factories were opening everywhere yet it wasn’t long before markets became saturated and factories began to close. By the early 1920’s many piano companies began to falter. What was the problem? The problem was that a product that was built to last a lifetime didn’t need to be replaced. Once a customer had a piano, they didn’t need another one unless they were looking for something better. Not only were these pianos not being replaced but they were often handed down to the next generation thus preventing the next generation from buying a new piano as well.

By the time the Great Depression descended on the world economy the problem of piano market saturation had been eclipsed by an even greater problem. Potential piano buyers could no longer afford the price of a full sized upright piano. The few piano manufacturers who survived in this downward market did so by producing cheaper, smaller pianos. They called these new mini pianos “apartment size” pianos and they soon became the norm. Unfortunately, these smaller upright pianos never really sounded very good compared to the older full size upright pianos. As a result musicians often preferred the older upright pianos and many of these pianos from “the golden era” are still in use today. The problem is, these pianos were meant to last a lifetime but not many lifetimes. Although many are still in use today, many have deteriorated to the point of becoming unusable and thus essentially worthless.

Many of the high end pianos of this era are still quite usable but unless they have had some restoration done they will have the typical issues that most “geriatric” pianos have. The hammers and damper felts get worn. The action gets sloppy and noisy, the strings wear out and the soundboard and bridges crack. Even though many of these older pianos still sound better than the smaller cheaper pianos that came along later they are still just a shadow of what they once were. This presents a problem in the current used piano market. Many of the upright pianos that were made after 1930 were never as good as the pianos that came before them and a large portion of the pianos made before 1930 are worn out and not worth restoration. The highest quality pianos from the “golden era” are still quite serviceable but are often a bit worn out in appearance and playability. The higher quality pianos of this era can be restored to their former glory but it will often cost more than the price of a new piano to do so. This of course has serious consequences for the market value of these instruments. The result is that an unrestored antique piano is usually worth very little. If a piano is a family heirloom then it could be worth rebuilding it to maintain it as a useable musically instrument for future generations. However, if you think your piano may be worth some money because it is so old then you are in for a disappointment. There is no increase in “antique value” for pianos.

My recommendation for a family that is looking for a used piano would be to look at pianos from the last thirty years. There was a definite improvement in quality in the pianos made in this time period over the smaller pianos from 1930 onward. If you are looking for an antique then only consider the best from the golden era. There are still some decent golden era pianos to be found and the price will no doubt be attractive but you would be well advised to consult with a piano technician before paying the price of moving one into your home.

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