The Royal Piano Company did not exist a long time, and information regarding their organization and operation is hard to find. But in their short span on the industrial scene, they produced some of the finest musical instruments America has ever seen. Royal was established around 1895 and manufactured fine quality pianos for about half a century, producing a full line of uprights, player pianos, and baby grands. They also built pump organs in the early years of the company’s existence.
Royal was originally a division of the Krell Piano Company, and it was bought out by Werner Industries of Cincinnati shortly before 1920. The Starr Piano Company purchased the Royal brand in 1927, and thus kept the Royal name alive during the Great Depression.
The last Royal piano was built in 1949. Today they are rare, but if you happen upon one, you will find it to be an example of quality workmanship.
The One I Acquired
The Royal Cabinet Grand that came into my possession was not a gift, but was actually the only piano to date for which I have put down money (apart from moving expenses). I had been commissioned to make a headboard for a retired piano teacher who was confined to a hospital bed in her room. The former teacher’s daughter saw a coat rack that I had made from the music shelf of the Lyon & Healy, and she thought a headboard would be perfect for her mother, who had devoted her life to teaching others how to play the piano. How could I say no? I had several large pieces at hand, but none worthy of such an assignment. So I searched eBay, Craigslist, and other local listings until I found the perfect piano. It wasn’t free, but it was affordable.
Since I purchased the piano with a particular project in mind—the headboard, the majority of my photos of this piano are focused on the music shelf. Evidently, I didn’t even think to take a photo of the serial number, which is something I ordinarily do with every piano. Or if I did, I didn’t file the photo correctly. Unfortunately, that number is long gone by now, so I’ll never be able to determine exactly when this piano was made.
But there is a silver lining, for maybe someday, in a bin in the garage, I’ll find the cast iron plate that bears the Royal name. For I noticed in one of the photos that I removed the plate before letting Bobby haul the frame to the scrap yard. And in my search for information about the Royal Piano Company, I found a similar plate on a estate sale website that sold for over $200. Wouldn’t that be nice…. ☺
It has been noted that Royal pianos are known for their fine craftsmanship. I can definitely attest to this. At this point, I don’t remember which hammers, whippens, or stickers in my bins came out of the Royal Cabinet Grand, but I do remember the wood case, that it was both beautiful and solid. When we were preparing to move, some of my pieces got rained on, and I was horrified to learn (when the pieces swelled) that two of the pianos were partially built with press board! I was shocked! Most of them were not, however, and the Royal is most certainly made of solid wood. I don’t know for sure what kind of wood it is, but it is a hardwood. My saw and drill can attest to that (and my tired arm). Yet the most impressive thing to me—especially after taking apart thirteen pianos thus far—is not the fact that the cabinet is solid, or that it is made of hardwood, but the thickness of the wood, especially on the sides of the cabinet. On every piano, the side arm (the part that often resembles a grand piano in its shape) is nearly two inches thick, but the side board (the board that covers the length of the piano) is usually less than one inch thick, though it may have some trim along the edge to give the appearance of extra thickness. On the Royal Cabinet Grand, the entire side board was as thick as the side arm—just under two inches. And the cabinet’s finish was a gorgeous red mahogany.
The wood of the side board was too thick to use in large pieces, but too nice not to use at all. So I cut the wood into blocks measuring 6″ x 7.5″ and made game boards out of them, using tuning pins as the playing pieces. The concept was fairly easy to devise, but the implementation turned out to be difficult with hand tools. I made five games last year. They were imperfect at best, but my husband was impressed enough to purchase a drill press and power sander for me so that my next batch of board games will come out a lot nicer. Isn’t he sweet!
Of the thirteen pianos I’ve disassembled so far, the Royal Cabinet Grand is the only one to give me good quality wood that I can use to make these board games. Hopefully I’ll come across more pianos built with this level of quality in the near future.
If you happen to have a Royal piano, by all means keep it and treasure it. Tune it. Play it. Enjoy it. Pass it down to your children and their children after them. Don’t let it go the Piano Lady to be cut up and made into headboards, games, and art—not unless it absolutely must be thrown away. In that case, do call me first (if you live within 200 miles of Pensacola, FL). But please know that I no longer purchase pianos. I will, however, thank you for your donation by making you a souvenir piece of art from your piano.
Pierce, W. Robert. Pierce Piano Atlas. 12th Edition. Larry E. Ashley Publishing: Albuquerque, NM, 2008