HOW OLD IS MY PIANO OR ORGAN?
The most frequently asked question we receive is
“How old is my piano?”
Dating an instrument by serial number and brand name
The most accurate way to determine the specific age of your instrument is by cross-referencing the brand name with the serial number. There are a handful of historical publications that are used in the industry to cross-reference brand names with serial numbers in order to determine specific dates of manufacture. While most major manufactures are listed in these archives, we sometimes encounter smaller, lesser-known firms which are not listed. Sadly, the history of many smaller firms has been lost over time.
Estimating the general age of an instrument
In cases where a manufacturer is not listed in our archives, we must “guesstimate” the age of an instrument based on the evolution of design and construction. Our experts are generally able to estimate the age of an instrument within a 5 – 10 year period based solely on design and construction.
You may also get a general idea of the age and type of instrument you have by comparing it to the photos and dates listed on the Identify Your Instrument page on our website.
Where to find the brand name and serial number
In most pianos, the brand name and serial number can be found inside the instrument near the soundboard or strings.
- Upright pianos usually have the brand name and serial number located inside the piano, on the back near the top of the strings.
- Grand and square grand pianos usually have the brand name and serial number stamped on the soundboard or plate, as well as stamped on the top of each leg, pedal lyre, etc.
- Organs and melodeons usually have the brand name and serial number stamped inside the cabinet, sometimes on handwritten tags or stickers.
It is important to identify the brand name located inside the instrument on the soundboard or harp. While most instruments have the actual brand name label on the keyboard cover, some instruments have the name of the original retailer or distributor listed on the keyboard cover instead of the actual manufacture’s name. The manufacturer’s label is generally cast into the harp or stamped on the soundboard inside the instrument.
If an instrument has ever been non-professionally stripped or refinished, chances are that the original name label above the keyboard was lost with the old finish (these name labels are replaced when professionally refinished). If the manufacturer’s label is missing from the keyboard cover, it will likely be found inside the instrument on the harp or soundboard.
Once you determine the brand name and serial number of your instrument, email us at email@example.com and we will gladly assist you in determining the age of your instrument. Note that in some case when instruments are more rare or obsolete, we may require photos in order to help establish the age of your instrument.
Note: While searching for your brand name and serial number, you will likely find establishment dates and patent dates inside your instrument. It is important to point out that these are NOT manufacturing dates.
WHAT IS MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN WORTH?
Sadly, we see original, unrestored antique instruments selling for only a fraction of their potential restored value. Restoration is not cheap, but it is necessary to make any instrument worth top dollar. If your instrument was an antique automobile sitting on blocks, full of rust and ruining due to neglect, you wouldn’t expect it to fetch a very high price. If you invested in having the automobile restored to make it a show car, you could then expect it to sell for a tidy sum – likely at a nice profit after your investment. Pianos and organs are the same way. Restored instruments sell for high dollars – original, unrestored instruments simply do not.
The term “restored” refers to professional internal and professional external restoration and rebuilding, not just cabinet refinishing and internal cleaning, etc. Many people think that because grandma refinished their piano or organ in the garage 10 years ago that the instrument is “restored” and worth a fortune – not true. Like the antique automobile, piano/organ restoration includes rebuilding the internal mechanisms as well as the cosmetics.
Over the past decade, we have seen the value of antique pianos and organs nearly double across the board. Much of the credit goes to education – folks are now able to go to the internet and learn about what they have, often encouraged to invest and preserve their instruments.
The best way to get an accurate value for your antique piano or organ is to get it appraised. We do not offer formal appraisal services for antique instruments; we can only offer the general value ranges.
A good way to get a general sense of what your instrument is worth in its current condition is by comparing it to the instruments shown here in the value carousel below:
Circa 1850 – 1880
$400 – $1,200 in poor condition
$2,000 – $8,000 in average to good condition
$16,000 – $25,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1880 – 1900
$300 – $1,100 in poor condition
$1,600 – $6,500 in average to good condition
$15,000 – $22,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1900 – 1915
$200 – $1,000 in poor condition
$1,200 – $4,500 in average to good condition
$14,000 – $20,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1915 – 1930
$100 – $800 in poor condition
$1,000 – $3,000 in average to good condition
$12,000 – $18,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1905 – 1930
$500 – $1,000 in poor condition
$2,000 – $3,000 good, non-functional condition
$3,500 – $6,500 in functional condition
$20,000 – $25,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1850 – 1880
$1,500 – $3,500 in poor condition
$4,000 – $10,000 in average to good original condition
$35,000 – $75,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1880 – 1900
$1,200 – $3,000 in poor condition
$3,500 – $8,000 in average to good original condition
$25,000 – $50,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1900 – 1915
$1,000 – $2,500 in poor condition
$3,000 – $6,000 in average to good original condition
$20,000 – $40,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1915 – 1935
$800 – $1,500 in poor condition
$2,500 – $4,500 in average to good original condition
$18,000 – $28,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
SQUARE GRAND PIANO
Circa 1840 – 1890
$1,000 – $2,500 in poor condition
$3,500 – $6,500 in average to good original condition
$28,000 – $50,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
VICTORIA PUMP ORGAN
Circa 1865 – 1915
$1,000 – $1,500 in poor condition
$2,500 – $4,500 in average to good original condition
$6,500 – $10,000 totally restored to factory-new condition
Circa 1840 – 1875
$800 – $1,500 in poor condition
$2,000 – $4,000 in average to good original condition
$6,500 – $8,500 totally restored to factory-new condition
SPINET & CONSOLE PIANOS
Circa 1930 – 1985
Small spinet & console pianos built after 1930 fall into the “Mid-Century Modern” category. We do not deal with spinet & console style pianos. We suggest you contact your local piano technican for information about them.
IS MY ANTIQUE INSTRUMENT WORTH THE INVESTMENT OF RESTORATION?
Restoration and preservation of antique pianos and organs is largely considered a very good investment. With the high price of mediocre-quality new instruments being produced today, restoration is often a more affordable option than buying new. Sure, there are lots of cheap new pianos available in today’s market, but you have to consider that they are generally poor quality “throw away” pianos that won’t be here 100 years from now! Unfortunately, one has to spend a small fortune to get a quality new piano today, while restoration of a vintage instrument can give you much more dollar for dollar.
*When it comes to rare and historical instruments, there is no question that restoration is a good investment. Over the past two decades, we have seen historical pianos and organs appreciate nearly double in value, a trend that will only continue!
“It seems as if there are 2 basic mindsets in the piano industry: Those who love antique pianos, and those who think they are junk. It is a much divided world of opinions, and it is rare that we encounter those who seem to take much of a middle ground on the subject.”
I have clients approach me asking, “Is my antique piano worth restoration?” My immediate answer is unequivocally “Yes!” because of what I have seen in the real marketplace over the past several years. I realize that there are a lot of piano tuners and technicians out there who do not believe that antique pianos are worth restoration. There seems to be common school of thought in the piano world that “new is better.” However, there are those who love and cherish these vintage instruments – those that want to restore and preserve them for future generations.
Being a professional pianist is what got me so involved with piano restoration and preservation. I approach these vintage instruments from a pianist’s point of view first, and from a technical point of view second. I have personally sat down and played Beethoven piano sonatas on a restored pre-Civil War square grand piano. I got chills down my back because of the experience, knowing I was hearing the music the way Beethoven’s audience heard it firsthand. I have played Chopin and Schumann on restored turn-of-the-century uprights and grands, from which the power and warmth was incredibly moving. I suspect that many new piano dealers have not had the privilege of that experience. To me, the thrill was totally lost, almost sterile, sitting down to a new Yamaha. I admit that this is my own opinion as a pianist, and those who disagree are entitled to say so.
The fact is that the market has historically supported antique piano restoration and preservation, and seems to be a fast-growing trend. We have experienced this firsthand, as have many of our colleagues around the country. As restoration costs steadily increase, values of these antique instruments are steadily increasing as well. How can an instrument that cost hundreds of dollars a century ago (the cost of a house!), not to mention that the instrument has survived 100 years and is still functional and in one piece, be the equivalent of a useless, worthless piece of furniture today? While respecting the differing opinions of others, those who prefer new pianos over restoration are simply not our customers, just as those who are passionate about having an antique instrument restored are not likely to go out and buy a new piano. People who love and appreciate antique and historical instruments are the people who create the very real market for these instruments. People who do not share this love and appreciation will tell you the market isn’t there, and although we see it quite differently, we choose to respect their opinions.”
-Michael Stinnett, Founder
Antique Piano Shop, Inc.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PIANO OR ORGAN IS AN ANTIQUE?
We generally consider an antique piano or organ to be built prior to the Great Depression. Some dealers dictate that furniture must be at least 100 years old to be considered an antique, so the line is a bit vague.
*Pianos & Organs are not like most antiques – they are functioning machines like antique automobiles…and like antique automobiles, they generally don’t adhere to the same rules as antique furniture, etc.
IS IT TRUE THAT REFINISHING MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN WILL RUIN ITS VALUE?
NO! In fact, professional refinishing is almost always necessary for an antique instrument to be worth top dollar.
It is true that some furniture – very old and historical furniture – is worth more with the original finish intact. These antiques had shellac or French Polish finishes that stay beautiful for centuries if well cared for. Pianos, on the other hand, had primitive varnish finishes that rot and deteriorate over time. These varnish finishes crackle and become rough to the touch like old leather, and turn so dark that you would think the piano is black under the old finish.
*Again, like antique automobiles needing new paint jobs to be show cars, antique pianos and organs almost always require professional refinishing to be worth top dollar.
IF MY PIANO HAS A CRACKED SOUNDBOARD, IS IT RUINED?
How many times have you heard “that piano has a cracked soundboard so it’s no good”? CRACKED SOUNDBOARDS ARE COMMON AND NOT A PROBLEM! The vintage article listed below will give you real and accurate information about piano soundboards. This article has been widely used and circulated in the piano industry as a credible resource for accurate information:
“The Soundboard of the Piano”
From an article by Dr. William Braid White,
Chicago School of Pianoforte Technology
-Dr. William Braid White
Sadly, the “cracked soundboard” ploy has generated countless dollars for unscrupulous piano tuners over the years that use it as a scare tactic to earn extra money. As discussed in the above article, a crack in a soundboard is not detrimental to tone and is more cosmetic than anything. In fact, the nature of the soft sprucewood a soundboard is made of needs to be able to expand and retract with changes in heat and humidity. This is why so many pianos have separations and “cracks” in the soundboards but still sound good. Almost any piano with a little age on it will likely have soundboard issues which can be corrected and repaired properly.
*The soundboard and the harp (plate) are not the same thing. The soundboard is made of wood, and the harp is made of cast-iron painted gold (usually) which holds tension on the strings. A cracked harp is an important issue, but in most cases can be remedied by new technologies in welding and mending.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PIANO OR ORGAN KEYS ARE REAL IVORY?
Most instruments built before about 1960 had real ivory key tops. Keep in mind that an actual key itself is made of wood, and only the thin covering on top is made of ivory (or plastic in new pianos).
Ivory can always be identified by the hairline separation between the head and the tail of the key. Because of the way ivory was harvested, it was necessary that one piano key be made with two pieces of ivory, not just one. The head of the key is the part that sticks out in front of the black keys, and the tail is the thinner part of the key that is between the black keys. A second way to identify real ivory is that it has a grain-like texture similar to a human fingernail. Often times old ivory will turn yellow with age, but so will some early forms of plastic. Celluloid was also a very popular key top material, and was supposed to be the “key top of the future.” Unfortunately, celluloid is very flammable and the slightest cigarette ash will burn an unsightly hole completely through the key top. If your keys have cigarette burns, you most certainly have celluloid keys, not ivory.
*Plastic and celluloid keys were used on instruments as far back as the 1880s, so it is possible that some antique instruments may have original plastic key tops instead of ivory!
IS MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN MADE OF SOLID WOOD OR VENEER?
Many people seem to think that a piece of furniture that is veneered must be cheaply made and of poor quality. Nothing could be further than the truth! Veneer was commonly used in the finest furniture making of the 19th and 20th centuries, and was actually more expensive and labor intensive to produce. Veneer is a thin slice of wood glued over the top of a solid piece of wood, often glued in multiple layers. The veneer serves two purposes. First, it is nearly impossible to get a fancy burl or “ribbon cut” grain from a solid piece of wood. Veneer is cut against the grain of the log, and this type of cut is what produces the beautifully detailed wood grain in most fine furniture. Second, veneer adds substantial strength and durability. In antique pianos (and less commonly in antique organs), the cabinets were made of solid wood like oak, poplar, chestnut or maple. Then, two or three layers of a thick-cut veneer would be glued over the solid wood, with the grain running in opposite directions. This kept the solid wood from being prone to shrinkage and warpage, and increased the strength of the case.
Almost all antique pianos were veneered – we estimate more than 95% of them. Antique organs, on the other hand, were sold at a fraction of the cost of antique pianos, and their cabinets are usually solid woods like oak or walnut. Veneer was too expensive to apply to the typical Victorian parlor organ (although most 19th century melodeons are rosewood veneer).
I’VE ALWAYS HEARD THAT MY UPRIGHT PIANO WAS REALLY A “CABINET GRAND.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Most large upright pianos built before the Great Depression had string length and soundboard area much larger than baby grand pianos. As a result, makers would often call their upright pianos “Upright Grands” or “Cabinet Grands,” and even some makers hailed their instruments as “Concert Grand Uprights,” etc. Simply put, these were the largest upright pianos, and generally were the higher grades and the most expensive models. However, they are all upright pianos, regardless of what they are called. Upright pianos are always strung vertically, top to bottom, and grand pianos are strung horizontally, front to back.
*The typical full-sized upright piano has longer strings and a larger soundboard than a baby grand piano. For example, if a baby grand piano is 5 feet long, at least 12 inches of that length is going to be the keyboard before the strings and soundboard begin. Therefore, a 5-foot-long baby grand piano has the string length of a 48-inch console piano, and a 58″ upright has the string length of a full grand piano nearly 6 feet long!
CAN MY ANTIQUE PIANO BE TUNED TO MODERN CONCERT PITCH?
In the early 20th century and before, there was no real recognition of “standard pitch.” Standard pitch means that a note on the scale sounds exactly the same across the board with no variance whatsoever. Right around 1926, Universal Standard Pitch was adopted as A-440, meaning that the A above middle C on the piano keyboard vibrated at 440 HZ. All piano built after 1926 (and many before) were all designed to be tuned to today’s modern pitch of A-440.
Since many pianos built prior to 1926 were not designed with the A-440 standard pitch in mind, many clients question whether or not their antique pianos can be tuned to today’s standard A-440. In order to be tuned to this modern pitch, the strings must be pulled tighter, increasing the tension on the frame of the piano. The answer is YES – as long as an antique piano is properly restored, the majority of them can be tuned to standard pitch and be expected to withstand long-term tuning stability. The fact is that most antique pianos are built so much heavier and more durable than delicate new pianos that they can often take the extra stress of the tighter strings better than new pianos! It is important, however, to realize that 100-year-old strings and felts will have to be restored and replaced in order for the piano to be expected to hold tune.
*In summary, a restored antique piano can be tuned to standard pitch as long as it is in restored condition. Some earlier historical instruments, including most early and mid-19th century square grand pianos, were designed to be tuned at a lower pitch and may not be built to withstand the extra tension. Consult your piano tuner before having one of these early instruments tuned.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD MY ANTIQUE PIANO BE TUNED?
Most manufacturers suggest that pianos be tuned every six months at the change of seasons. Pianos built today are a bit delicate compared to pianos built 100 years ago, and are often more sensitive to changes in heat and humidity. In our antique ephemera collection, we see countless testimonials from clients 100+ years ago talking about how their piano was shipped from New York City to the wilderness of the midwest by horse and buggy, only to arrive in perfect tune! Pianos back then didn’t have the luxury of central heating and air conditioning, and they were usually exposed to the harshest of elements like frigid winters by a wood stove and sweltering summers in open windows with direct sunlight.
*For most folks, a piano can go a year or two without being tuned and sound just fine. Others swear by the six-month rule.
SHOULD MY UPRIGHT PIANO BE KEPT ON AN INSIDE WALL?
Today, most homes are well-insulated and have central heat and air conditioning. As long as your piano isn’t exposed to moving air, heat or humidity, a well-sealed outside wall should be safe for your piano. Always avoid contact with direct sunlight, heat registers, fireplaces, radiators, air conditioning vents, etc. The more stable the environment, the longer your piano will give good service.
How many times have you heard the notion about how bad it is to place your piano on an outside wall? It’s true that an outside wall was not the best choice for a piano 100 years ago when houses had little or no insulation. In those days, walls were not sealed from the outside elements. Somehow, now in the 21st century, the idea that an outside wall is a bad place for a piano has still managed to be a popular misconception!
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN ORIGINALLY CAME WITH A STOOL OR A BENCH?
We frequently have clients that specifically want a bench or a stool to go with their antique piano or organ. Sometimes it is difficult to match a 20th century bench to a 19th century instrument per a customer’s request, so we hope this information will help explain why such a match is not a good idea.
Benches are good for seating two people side by side and storing sheet music underneath, and stools are good for height adjustment and rotating around from side to side.
Historically, however, benches were rarely put with instruments until well into the 20th century. During the 19th century and turn-of-the-century era, the women of the family were often the pianists – and consider what they wore. Fashion of that era consisted of anything from hoop skirts to bustles and corsets, long flowing skirts and heavy tapestry. Imagine a Civil War era Southern belle sitting on a bench and her hoop skirt flipping up over her head. It would have been impossible for the Victorian lady to sit on a bench without seriously compromising her modesty! The piano and organ stools of the Victorian era were means by which an elegant lady could “perch” with her crinoline draped unspoiled while she sat at the keyboard.
In the early 20th century, as fashion trends changed and less restrictive garments (including pants) came into fashion, the piano bench began to become popular for its more utilitarian use.
*In summary, stools were used in the Victorian era up until the first part of the 20th century. The piano bench as we know it today became popular after the first decade of the 20th century when fashion trends allowed more flexibility.