Steinway Pianos, Part 2

My Steinway

The serial number in my Steinway upright piano (13175) dates it to 1866. In fact, the metal case found in this piano was patented on June 5th of that very year (according to the engraving on the plate). The patent reads:

Patent 55,385, William Steinway, dated June 5, 1866, Improvement in Piano-Fortes. This patent claims as new “The use in piano-fortes of a metal case cast in one solid piece, consisting of the plate a, braces b, rafters or brace-frame c, and a connecting piece or flange running round on three sides of the case and supporting the regulating apparatus, leaving one side open for the insertion of the sounding-board with its bars and bridges.”

Does this mean that the Steinway piano which has come to me was one of the first upright pianos with a cast iron frame? Wow! It’s certainly one of the heaviest of the 20+ pianos my sons and I have moved!

Another thing I recently learned is that Steinway began building pianos with 88 keys in 1868. I was curious, so I went back to my workshop immediately and counted—sure enough, my piano had only 85 keys, which was common in the 19th Century.

Steinway published their first illustrated catalog in 1865, just one year before my piano was built.

What I Did with It

When I had accumulated twelve pianos, I decided twelve was enough. I had more empty cases than I had room for, and enough action pieces to keep me going for years to come. But then someone approached me, saying, “I have an old Steinway. Someone started a restoration on it, but never finished, and now it’s too far gone. Would you be interested?” Would I be interested? Who can so no to a Steinway? A few days later my son and I showed up with a trailer, and we gladly took that rugged old piano off his hands. Incidentally, this man is now my choir director, and I enjoy keeping him apprized of what’s going on with his contribution.

When he said it was too far gone for restoration, he wasn’t kidding. The finish was very badly damaged and dried out; the veneer was peeling in several places; the action pieces were filthy dirty, and several were dry-rotted and broken; and the name had been removed from the fallboard when someone was preparing it to be stripped and refinished. Immediately I went online to see if I could find a replacement for the fallboard label. Indeed I found it. . .and paid $50 for it. Not long after that, I had cause to praise God for leading me to look for the label on that exact day; for the very next day Steinway revoked all rights to distributors to sell the labels. They didn’t want to the run the risk of people buying the labels and placing them on pianos not built by Steinway. I get that.

The label I purchased is still carefully preserved in the packaging, as I’ve still not gotten around to refinishing the fallboard. But when I do, it will become a wall-mounted shelf, and will be available for sale.

The keys were in pretty good shape. The wooden parts were original to the piano, but the ivory had all been replaced at some point. I have long since removed the action and keys and used them to make gifts for many of my customers. A few finished art pieces remain available for sale, and I still have some raw piano pieces waiting to be turned into their own forms of art.

Also, I’ve reserved the case, with the intention of turning it into a desk. Because of the engraving and the beautiful craftsmanship of the iron plate, I’ve left it inside the piano. The strings remain intact as well. The case is rather heavy, even without the moveable working parts, but it will receive a new set of casters, which will enable it to roll easily without marking the floor. In fact, I’ve borrowed a piano tilt from the same man who gave me the Steinway, to use in easily laying the piano down to do the repair underneath, then pick it up again. When I’m ready to begin the build, I’ll let you know, so that those of you who are interested may follow the process. But first, I want to practice on a lesser known model, since piano restoration and furniture building are new to me.

Other Events in 1866

My study of the history of the Steinway company piqued my curiosity about other events. Particularly, I wanted to know what was going on in the United States and in the world during the year when my Steinway was built. Here are some of the things I discovered:

In the United States

  • March 13 — The United States Congress (Republican majority) overwhelmingly passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, initiating protection of the rights of African-Americans; President Andrew Johnson (D) vetoed the bill on March 27, and Congress overrode his veto on April 9.
  • April 10 — The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in New York City by Henry Bergh.
  • May 16 — The U.S. Congress approved the minting of the nickel as a five-cent coin, and subsequently discontinuing the half-dime.
  • July 24 — Tennessee became the first U.S. State to be readmitted to the Union following the American Civil War.
  • July 25 — Ulysses S. Grant became the first man to hold the rank of General of the Army (now called five-star general).
  • Also in 1866, the Minneapolis Milling Company (now known as General Mills) built its own mills. The history of General Mills is a compelling read.

In the World

  • May 10 — A London bank collapsed, precipitating The Panic of 1866.
  • June 14 — Austria and certain German states declared war on Prussia.
  • June 20 — Italy declared war on Austria.
  • August 23 — The Treaty of Prague ended the Austro-Prussian War.
  • October 12 — The Treaty of Vienna ended the war between Austria and Italy; Venetia was annexed by Italy.
  • Also in 1866, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in Germany. (With regret for creating an instrument of destruction, he later established the Nobel Peace Prize.)
  • Sweden initiated a series of progressive reforms for women’s rights with recommendations from the Girls’ School Committee of 1866.

In the World

  • May 10 — A London bank collapsed, precipitating The Panic of 1866.
  • June 14 — Austria and certain German states declared war on Prussia.
  • June 20 — Italy declared war on Austria.
  • August 23 — The Treaty of Prague ended the Austro-Prussian War.
  • October 12 — The Treaty of Vienna ended the war between Austria and Italy; Venetia was annexed by Italy.
  • Also in 1866, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in Germany. (With regret for creating an instrument of destruction, he later established the Nobel Peace Prize.)
  • Sweden initiated a series of progressive reforms for women’s rights with recommendations from the Girls’ School Committee of 1866.

In Music

  • March–December — Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Symphony No. 1, “Winter Daydreams.”
  • May 30 — Bedrich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride debuted at the Provisional Theatre in Prague.
  • November 3 — German composer Paul Lincke was born. He is considered the father of the Berlin operetta.
  • Also in 1866, Theodore Thomas conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the American premiere performance of the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
  • The first Steinway Hall opened in New York, with a seating capacity of 2000 in the main auditorium.

Bibliography

americanhistory.si.edu

steinway.co.uk

pianobuyer.com

steinway.com

steinwaypianos.com

Published by Angela Umphers Rueger

Hello. I am a joyful wife and mother of three, just turned loose the last of my little chicks, and getting ready to spread my own writing wings. Twenty-six years ago I earned a B.A. in English because my heart's desire was to write. Since that time I've worked as a teacher, musician, cleaning lady, tax professional, and artist, but never as a writer. In the past year, several friends have encouraged me to pick up the baton and run with it. By creating this blog, I took the first baby step toward becoming a published author. The journey will likely be longer than I can imagine, but it has finally begun, and that's all that matters.

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