A square deal on a grand piano

The Habitat for Humanity has received a Steinway and Sons baby grand square piano to sell through the
Restore. They will be accepting offers on the piano which dates back to the late 1800s.

The Habitat for Humanity has received a Steinway and Sons baby grand square piano to sell through the Restore. They will be accepting offers on the piano which dates back to the late 1800s. Photo by Julie Smith.

A new contribution of an old musical relic now graces the aisles of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Jefferson City.

Down the the aisle of abandoned bathroom mirrors and past the pyramid of chairs is an antique square grand piano from Steinway and Sons, New York, that predates the 20th century.

The piano was given to Habitat from an unnamed donor near the area of Lohman, said Collen Carl from Habitat. The piano was purchased in 1868 by Joel Jackson, a music teacher and piano dealer from Sandusky, Ohio, she explained.

“The research that I have done said these were built from 1862 to about 1900,” Carl said about the piano. “The square grand pianos, when fully restored, are worth $35,000. Of course, this one needs to be restored if someone really wanted to use it as a piece to play … so it would be worth significantly less than that.”

The dark rosewood lightens on the sides and rear of the large wooden instrument. Its legs are hand carved and curved with what appears to be rose buds and leaves along the middle. It may not be in tune, but it will play, and there are no bird nests in it, Carl said.

This artifact is also one of the many survivors of the “Great Piano Bonfire” of 1904, according to an essay titled “Square but Grand” by Roland Loest, former curator of the Museum of the American Piano.

Several square grand pianos were burned in protest on May 24, 1904, at the American Piano Dealers Annual Convention in Atlantic City, Loest wrote. The dealers were supposedly upset about the sudden uselessness of the square grand piano because it was quickly outdated and replaced by modern grand and upright pianos.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to find replacements and parts for grand squares so dealers stacked them up and set them ablaze. It is ironic to think that burning them because they were worthless would decrease the overall supply and thus make them more valuable.

The New York Times reported more than 1,000 pianos were burned. The Daily News and the Colac Herald of Australia both reported it was approximately 200, while papers from Atlantic City wrote that it was closer to 15. The flames from the fire were supposedly so high that sailors could see it from miles off the coast, according to research from Chernobieff the Antique Piano Emporium.

Beginning today, the local piano will be available for viewing at the ReStore. Habitat officials say they will be accepting bids on the piano. The proceeds from the sale will help with projects for the Habitat for Humanity, such as preparing the three homes they are trying to sell this summer, said Kelly Smith of the ReStore.

“We are always are trying to remind the community that people can donate things like this,” Smith said. “It is not a cash donation, but it is a way to support the housing mission that Habitat has without actually writing a check. They can donate these items, and then our volunteers will sell them, and the money helps pay the bills.”

The Restore is open from 9 a.m.-noon on Thursdays and Saturdays, and from 12:30-5 p.m. on Fridays. For more information about the piano, Habitat or the store, call 635-6106.

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