Having played the piano for the past 20 years, I still have my old original upright Whitney piano. However, given that I’m moving abroad, I am heartbroken by the news that I now have to sell it. That piano lasted me through the banging “Freres Jacques” song of a five year old, the angsty operatic period of a teenager, and the Broadway musical era of my twenties. Built from sturdy wood, it has lasted through three moves and decades of love and crooning. It’s just killing me to have to let it go.
In the course of research the estimated value of my treasure, I ran across this fascinating article discussing the history and development of the 20th century piano. It includes all sorts of pictures and informative details, a great read if you are into music. Based on the photos, I was able to estimate that my Whitney is from circa early 1920s. It looks exactly like the photo! I didn’t realize that I got one of the last styles to have the really high backs. I don’t like the waist-high piano’s nearly as well. Of course, to be honest, I’ve yet to meet a piano that sounded as beautiful as my own ~ even the expensive grand pianos. Sadness, I’ll miss you baby!
If you’re interested, here is a brief portion of the article:
After the turn-of-the-century, tastes began to change and piano design began to become a bit more streamlined. The ostentatious styles of the late 19th century gave way for more classic and simple design. The first decade of the 20th century saw a calmer, less radical movement in interior design than the previous decades, and this change was immediately seen in the evolving styles offer by the major piano manufacturers.
From about 1900-1916, the Arts & Crafts Movement was a major force in American design. Although the Arts & Crafts design was very popular during the early 20th century, piano makers were slow to adapt to the Mission/Arts & Crafts design. Furniture manufactures were quick to jump on the new trend of the Craftsman style, but piano makers were slow to recognize just how important the Arts & Crafts Movement really was. A handful of manufactures attempted to build pianos in the Craftsman/Mission style, but because the Movement was so short-lived, most of them didn’t see the significance of the Arts & Crafts Movement until it was too late; the Arts & Crafts Movement was over before 1920. Sadly, very few manufacturers ever offered Craftsman style pianos, and as a result, original specimens are exceedingly rare today.
The 1920s era was considered the “Golden Age” of piano building. By this time makers had streamlined operations and the piano had evolved into a perfect machine. The upright piano had evolved into a very simple basic design, becoming more utilitarian in appearance than ever before. With the exception of period furniture styles like Louis XV and French Provincial, most upright pianos were without ornamentation or frills. Instead, plain square pillars and streamlined moldings resulted in a very “modern” looking upright piano which was considered “uncluttered” and “beautifully simplistic.” These simple-looking upright pianos were generally of excellent quality.