What Old Pianos are Worth
A friend called me up one time to come fix and tune his 1920’s (perhaps earlier) piano, so I did. In the process of getting it ship-shape he kept hinting that because the piano was older it was worth a lot of money. He, obviously, forgot the fact that he had received the piano “free”. All he had to do is go and pick it up.
I knew I would have to break the news to him gently that unless there has been a major overhaul done to his piano (which there was not) it was not worth very much on the market. It actually was just “old” and all the thousands of parts in it, big and small and even the tiny parts, are all as “old” as the piano itself (when you think about it). Worse than that they are ALL “fatigued”.
Now how do you tell anyone, let alone a friend, that bad news.
A Closer Look
Looking at the piano ads on Craigslist or Kijiji, others, I am very much aware that most people do not know a thing about the instrument… It is my observation that nearly all people believe that since the piano they are trying to sell is very old then it must be worth a lot of money. That is just not the case. Sadly most big old uprights from around 1880 to 1940 are just that, they are old pianos.
These old pianos were of very high quality when they were made… 100 years ago but over that length of time, if work has not been done, parts start to break down.
You’ll have hammers that not only wear but grow hard and sound like pieces of wood hitting the string. All felt and leather parts begin to deteriorate. Strings rust; tuning pins lose their grip in the wood pin-blocks; soundboards and bridges can develop cracks, ect. The list is endless.
The piano is in need of a serious rebuilding job at this point. A piano of this age has depreciated to $100-$500 unless the instrument has been very well taken care of. I have seen some posts asking $1500 for these aged pianos, and they are just not worth that kind of money without a rebuild. Not to mention that many people just say “Piano” in the listing and that does not tell the buyer a thing about what they are getting!
What Determines Antique Piano Values?
By way of interest let me give you some information on antique pianos which may seem kind of contradictory to what has been said already.
An antique piano is one which is at least 100 years old. The fact is though like antique books, antique pianos are not worth a lot of money just because they are old. In actuality these old instruments may be worth very little at all.
A Piano is a MACHINE
Did you ever think of that….it’s a machine. Some of us treat our pianos like puppies or Old Flames or worse. We give them pet names like Sally or Ol’ Sweety Pie etc and yet, in reality, they are simply a machine.
Now I admit they get this affection because of the joy and satisfaction they bring to us as players. Still, in the end, yup…..it’s a machine and every big and little part of that machine has been submitted to wear throughout its life.
So note very carefully what I will say next, which is, that each and “every one” of these parts may need specialized restoration to bring them back to their usefulness. That kind of work can cost the owner a lot of money.
The Cost of Restoration
Now, restoration by way of definition means “the act of returning something back to a former condition”. So, with that in mind the reality is that restoring and retuning a piano can easily cost $2,500 or more.
Sad to say that even when fully restored the piano may not play like a new piano and actually it is true that when all is said and done it may not even have that clear sound of former younger days.
If you want an antique piano as a showpiece in your vintage home then it is fine to get one. However, if you are looking for a piano that can be used for a serious pianist you will probably want to put your money into a new(er) piano.
That’s the reality of it all. I sit here wondering if after all the cost of restoring is over will we still pamper “Ol’ Sweety Pie” the same way. Perhaps we will rename her to something like “The Dollar Hound” or maybe “Tugboat Annie” or “The Old Goat” might even begin calling your piano a “Cash Cow”.
Now I will say this and hear me well that “ALL THIS CHANGES IF THERE IS SENTIMENTAL VALUE INVOLVED”. I run into this “all” the time and I absolutely respect the owners feelings. Stories of “My grandmother played this and gave it to me as an inheritance” or “The children played it and so I am keeping it”. These are real feelings and good for your memories. I’m simply being real here in this article. Your feelings are “your” feelings and will be “the reason why”. Period!
So, after all that reality stuff, if you are still curious about what your antique piano might be worth I leave you with the following handy chart found on Piano World.
Description of Condition
If you are going to be able to find the value of your piano you will need to understand the terms that appraisers use to describe condition:
Mint - This means the piano has been rebuilt and refinished (R & R). It is in excellent condition both mechanically and aesthetically. It looks new and plays new.
Like New - The piano looks great. It is free of blemishes, nicks, or scratches and shows little sign of use. It is in excellent mechanical condition.
Excellent - This means that the piano needs no reconditioning. It looks good, has a clean string compartment, and has no visible wear or defects. There should be no dents or rust. There may be tiny scratches or nicks in the wood.
Very Good - The piano has no major problems. The finish may have a few minor blemishes but there will not be mechanical problems. The piano will be very clean.
Good - The piano needs some reconditioning. It may have small dents or scratches and it may be dirty.
Fair - A piano in fair condition means that there are mechanical defects but the instrument still plays. The piano is scratched, chipped, dented, warped, and may have chipped ivory on the keys. It will need professional repair.
I do wish you the best and that this article will be of great help to you as you ponder what your old piano is worth to you.
Google these Related Articles for your reading pleasure:
(1) Antique Schoenhut Toy Piano (2) How Restoration Affects Value of Antiques (3) Antique Piano Bench