Chickering & Sons (not to be confused with Chickering Brothers) was the first piano manufacturer in America. Chickering quickly became one of the largest and most successful piano manufacturers of all time. The firm was originally established in Boston in 1823 by Jonas Chickering and his partner James Stewart under the name of Stewart & Chickering. From about 1830-1839, Chickering entered into partnership with John Mackay, building instruments under the label of Chickering & Mackay. John Mackay was a sea captain that exported Chickering pianos to South America, and in return, would bring back ships full of sweet smelling rosewood and mahogany for piano building.
From 1839 – 1841, John Mackay’s son William H. Mackay was admitted as an additional partner, and pianos were built under the label of “Chickering & Mackay’s”. Pianos built under the “Chickering & Mackay’s” label appear to have been produced for only 3 short years. John Mackay was lost at sea in 1841, and this loss appears to have ended the partnership between Chickering and William H. Mackay. Pianos built under the labels of “Chickering & Mackay” or “Chickering & Mackays” are exceedingly rare today.
In 1852, the name of the firm was changed to Chickering & Sons when Chickering brought in his three sons, Thomas, Frank and George, as partners. Jonas Chickering died in 1853, and the firm was taken over by his son Thomas. Thomas Chickering died in 1871, and the firm was taken over by Frank Chickering. The remaining brothers died in the 1890s, as the firm continued to grow and thrive. In 1908, Chickering was sold to the American Piano Company, makers of some of America’s better brand names. In 1932, the Aeolian Piano Company and the American Piano Company merged to create the Aeolian-American Corporation, and they continued to build the Chickering name for decades.
Chickering was an innovative manufacturer and the firm was not afraid to take risks. During the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Chickering was constantly evolving and improving their designs in order to build the finest piano possible. Chickering’s unique approach to unconventional and improved design paid off in the 19th Century when celebrity pianists like Franz Liszt and Louis Moreau Gottschalk endorsed Chickering & Sons, stating that their instruments were the only instruments that would hold up to their strenuous performances! Liszt and Gottschalk always played Chickering pianos on their American concert tours.
Many vintage Chickering pianos are unconventional in design and some less experienced technicans may find them intimidating to restore. Although unique, a properly restored Chickering is a superior instrument. Chickering pianos are desirable for their exceptional quality and craftsmanship, deep rich tone quality, and attractive designs, making restoration and preservation well worth the effort and expense.
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