Do not disregard the Acrosonic piano as one of inferior quality, or a knock-off brand. According to Living Pianos, “Acrosonic is the biggest selling brand name in the piano industry of all time.” The name Acrosonic, coined from the Greek words akros (“supreme”) and sonus (“tone”), was trademarked and used by Baldwin specifically for their spinet and console pianos. Spinets and consoles are the shortest of the upright pianos, with the spinets measuring just 36-40 inches tall, and the consoles standing at 40-43 inches. This compact design was made possible by placing the action under the keys. Many people esteem the Acrosonic as the finest spinet piano ever built.
Spinet and console pianos are quite useful in small rooms, where an instrument is desired, but space is at a premium. The Acrosonic pianos by Baldwin were both compact and elegant, being offered in a variety of different cabinet styles and finishes, from Louis XV to Danish mid-century modern. They also were, and still remain quite affordable, being valued at between $1000–$3000, depending on their condition; and there are several currently available on eBay, with prices ranging from $0.99 to $3,800. I even found one within 200 miles from home, so that I could spare the shipping charges and go pick it up. The price was right, and the piano was very lovely. It was tempting. But it still works, so I could not justify purchasing it to take it apart and make art from it, and I already have a piano in my home to play. So I resisted the temptation and left it to go to another home.
D. H. Baldwin
Dwight Hamilton Baldwin was a respected music teacher and church musician in Cincinnati in 1857. Over the next eight years, he transitioned out of teaching and into a position as a purchasing agent for Chickering & Sons with his own company, Baldwin Piano Company. He had a stock of pianos, but lost all but one in a fire in 1866. By 1871, he had moved his firm to 142 W. 4th Street in Cincinnati, and he remained there until 1955.
With the help of Baldwin’s shrewd bookkeeper, Lucien Wulsin, Baldwin became the largest piano and organ dealer in the western states, eventually opening additional stores in Louisville, Kentucky, and Indianapolis, Indiana. For several years, his primary focus was retail, dealing with the resale of Chickering and Steinway pianos. But in 1887, when Steinway decided not to renew their contract with Baldwin, he shifted his focus to the production of his own line of pianos. While he did make pianos with the name Baldwin on them, he produced instruments under other names as well, often to honor people whom he knew. For instance, he built reed organs under the names Hamilton and Monarch; he also built upright pianos under the names of Ellington, Valley Gem, Howard, and of course, Acrosonic, among others.
Because of the superior quality of his pianos, Baldwin enjoyed the sponsorship of several celebrities, including Liberace and The Lawrence Welk Show, who used Baldwin pianos exclusively. Baldwin’s success lasted into the 1990’s. During that decade the company was sold to Gibson Guitar Company; and thanks to Gibson, Baldwin pianos are still being produced.
The Acrosonic that came to me came because I do taxes. One of my tax clients saw it on the curb in their neighborhood and sent me a text with the address. I drove over there and took all the parts that I could remove—which was most of them—then left the heaviest pieces for the sanitation engineers to collect. So I didn’t keep the entire piano out of the landfill this time, but there wasn’t much waste. Since it was sitting on the street, it was easy for me to lay the piano down to remove the pedals and other pieces underneath, then stand it back up again, a testimony to the lightweight nature of this model, that I could do all that by myself.
By tracing the serial number, 512480, I found the piano to have been built in 1954. On the cast iron plate, below the serial number, is a stamp that reads in part: “Patented Full Blow Acrosonic Action Built Exclusively by Baldwin.” The words “Built by Baldwin” are also imprinted in the iron plate, and they appear on the fallboard as well. The keys were not genuine ivory, as the use of ivory had been discontinued by the 1950’s, but they were in very good condition. The cabinet, however, could have been cared for a little better. There was a ring from where someone had set down a cold beverage glass, and several scratches and nicks in the finish. Overall, however, I was thrilled to come across this piano, and even happier that everything I took off of it (barely) fit inside my Nissan Maxima.
Today I would like to offer you a special treat: a video demonstration of what an Acrosonic sounds like. It really does have a nice sound, as I think you will agree.
Not only am I impressed with the sound of this tiny instrument, but I’m impressed with how similar in style this particular model looks to my piano. The color is different, but that is just a matter of a paint job. The dealer pointed out the purpose of the style was to mimic the square grand. When he said that, I looked at it again and thought, “He’s right.” It does resemble a square grand, though understated. It’s just one more example of how great things can come in small packages.
Pierce, W. Robert. Pierce Piano Atlas. 12th Edition. Larry E. Ashley Publishing: Albuquerque, NM, 2008