Antique Player Pianos
Information on Dealers, Value, Restoration and Rebuilding

The antique player piano was not so “antique” more than a century ago.

antique-player-pianoIt was a new invention back then and the innovative player piano was invented and developed by Edwin Votey. The prototype vintage player piano first came out of Votey's home workshop in 1895.

The prototype was a large cabinet made of wood that sits directly in front of a regular piano. The rear of the keyboard instrument is fitted with protruding row of wooden “fingers” covered with felt that are perfectly aligned with the keys. The felt-covered “fingers” struck the keys akin to that of real human fingers.

How Antique Player Pianos Work?

piano-roll-cabinetThe suction mechanism of the player piano was generated by the two foot pedals. The notes were the tiny perforations evident on paper rolls. The tracker bar with its row of holes, equally spaced, acts as the pneumatic device that read the perforations on the paper roll.

The music roll that “rolls” over the tracker bar opens a valve that triggers a pneumatic motor. The motor then operates the felt-covered “fingers” which in turn press the ivory keys.

Votey's system eventually became the basis of all player piano system. The Aeolian Corporation bought the rights from Votey and subsequently manufactured the first Pianola in 1897.

The Pianola became the generic term for the new musical innovation. The first roll operated player pianos were called “push-up” players because the mechanical system was simply pushed-up to a regular acoustic upright.

The push-up player was heavy and bulky. Thanks to Melville Clark of Story and Clark Pianos, the Apollo was introduced. This piano had a built-in player mechanism thus making this model the first real player piano.

Antique Player Piano Dealers

player-piano-dealersThere are a few good antique upright player piano dealers today. There are also some websites that offer different brands of used and old instruments.

For example, the Fayette S. antique player pianos were manufactured by the famed Fayette S. Cable and Cable-Nelson all through the 20th century up until the 1980s. A vintage piano under this brand (circa 1914) is appraised at $14,000. A cable coin operated antique piano value appraisal can be up to $20,000.

An antique Apollo upright pianola circa 1913 is valued at $ 15,000 after full restoration. Antique Aeolian player pianos are valued near this range too. Used player pianos are in demand for collectors. Some of the brands that are in the market for used pianola collectors are: Eilers, Cable, Kimball, Howard, Marshall & Wendell, Wurlitzer, Story & Clark, Walthman, Norris & Hyde and more.

Getting Parts for Restoration and Rebuilding

In the 1930s, the production of pianolas dramatically halted. There was just no market because of the Great Depression. WW II was not a time for luxury items too. However, in the 1950s, restoration of antique pianos was revitalized that in the 1960s Story & Clark started to manufacture this musical innovation again.

The production of player pianos eventually stopped as applied science geared towards digital technology. The antiquated pianola's present-day counterpart is the digitalized player keyboard.

A 20's era slef-playing piano video demonstration

Sourcing of parts for antique player piano is not a problem as there are qualified keyboard technicians who can restore and rebuild antique Pianolas. If you have a vintage piano that you want restored, you can source for websites that offer full restoration or rebuilding of all types of antiquated uprights and grands.

Restoration and rebuilding of an upright or grand costs a lot. More often than not, some old pianofortes are not really worth the time, effort and money to rebuild it.

If you have an old pianoforte that you want to rebuild or restore, seek the opinion of a professional tuner or technician before plunging in.

If the player piano in question belongs in the years from 1900 to 1930, then you could have a “winner” in your possession as uprights, grands and baby grands built during this time were superbly built and it will easily go for a very good price once put onto antique player pianos for sale auctions.

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Updated December 8, 2010
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