The Valley Gem Piano Company was a division of the famous Baldwin Piano & Organ Company. Dwight Hamilton Baldwin is first listed in 1857 as a teacher in the Cincinnati school system. Baldwin quickly established himself as a prominent figure in local churches and music circles. Perceived as an expert in the field of music, Baldwin was often asked for advice by members of his community who were purchasing pianos or reed organs. By 1862, D. H. Baldwin was acting as an agent selling pianos for Decker Brothers while gradually abandoning his teaching career. By 1865 he was listed as an agent for Chickering & Sons pianos with a shop located at 92 W 4th Street, Cincinnati.
In 1866 D. H. Baldwin’s firm occupied the second floor of Pike’s Opera House, but lost all but one of the instruments he had in stock when the building burned in March of that year. By 1871, D. H. Baldwin is listed in his own building at 142 W 4th Street, Cincinnati. (Note The Baldwin Piano Company conducted business at this location until 1955).
In 1873 Lucien Wulsin, Baldwin’s bookkeeper of several years, became a minority partner in the firm of “D. H. Baldwin & Company”. The firm was listed at having $50,000 in capital at that time. Lucien Wulsin’s business savvy helped Baldwin become the largest piano and organ dealer in the western states. Baldwin opened additional stores in Louisville in 1877 and Indianapolis in 1879.
In addition to retailing instruments like Chickering and Steinway, D. H. Baldwin contracted The Ohio Valley Piano Company in Ripley, OH to build instruments for his stores. These instruments were labeled as “Ohio Valley Piano Company” – “Expressly Made for D. H. Baldwin & Co.”. In 1887 Steinway terminated their contract with Baldwin, and Baldwin decided to start making his own instruments rather than relying on retailing instruments built by other firms.
Baldwin’s first manufacturing venture was the establishment of “The Hamilton Organ Company” of Chicago in 1888. The Hamilton Organ Company built reed organs under the “Hamilton” and “Monarch” brand names. In 1890, Baldwin hired Mr. John Warren Macy to design and build pianos for the firm. Their first piano was an upright built at their shop on Gilbert Avenue, Cincinnati, and was shipped to a retail store in Cincinnati in 1891 to be sold. Macy was named superintendent of The Baldwn Piano Company and the firm was soon building several lines of upright and grand pianos.
In 1893 Baldwin began producing a line of upright pianos under the “Ellington” brand name (named for a lifetime friend of Mr. Baldwin). The Ellington brand was sold as a more affordable alternative to the costlier Baldwin brand. The Ellington factory was located on the north side of Cincinnati.
Also in 1893, Baldwin purchased the Ohio Valley Piano Company and renamed it “Valley Gem Piano Company”. The Valley Gem factory produced the “Valley Gem” and “Howard” piano brands.
During the early and middle 20th Century, Baldwin enjoyed many celebrity endorsements because of their superior quality. Many famous artists including Liberace and The Lawrence Welk Show used Baldwin pianos exclusively. Baldwin enjoyed great success during the 20h Century, but later declined until being sold in the 1990’s and relocated to Arkansas and Missouri. Today, Baldwin is owned by the famous Gibson Guitar Company, with production once again resuming in the South.
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