Perspectives Of Piano History
If you’re anything like us, then you appreciate the way that piano history provides highly interesting perspectives into the lives of past musicians and equally interesting influences on both the musicians of the present and future. We’re particularly encouraged by the history of the Knauss piano and its contribution to the music that we’ve enjoyed for generations.
At its most fundamental level, piano history gives us an insight into why music developed the way that it did. But we’re now in the process of learning where this history will lead us and teach us not only who to appreciate, but why. The problem is that it isn’t always easy to neatly place things or events within a timeline, and sometimes, searching for the history of music can be as exciting as learning it.
Instruments Make History TOo
One of the things that makes learning history difficult is a failure to keep accurate sales records. Without adequate records, it’s difficult to track the trail of development. Another blockade is natural disasters, which literally destroy the evidence we need to understand our role as musicians. In these instances, we are left to seek the story behind our inventions through alternative sources — sources that have made a public impact through other means.
Musical history is made not only through song, it’s also made with the instruments that are played. So then studying the path of development through this route allows an instrument to make its mark in history from the people that play it.
The Knauss piano is one of those instruments and it was the preferred piano of Carl Hardebeck, a London native born in 1869. The Knauss piano is a German product that has a history originating from 1832. But what makes this pianist stand out in history (and thus place the Knauss piano in the archives) was his innate skill for music despite losing his sight as a baby. He moved to Ireland and taught Irish music as a professor, adjudicated competitions, and won awards for his own compositions.
A Knauss Pianist
Although Carl played other instruments, such as the harmonium, his role as a Knauss pianist greatly contributed to some of the beautiful Irish melodies and plainchants that we have today.
Someone somewhere makes history everyday with something — and the Knauss piano isn’t exempt from the chronicles of our studies. To some extent, the lack of significant material compels us to play a more active role in learning more about our interests and to pose questions that might not have ever been asked. New questions often lead to new directions, which of course, lead to new discoveries.
The history of the Knauss piano is prone to progress in a light of such discovery and all efforts will not only help preserve the knowledge that we’ve thus collected so far, it will additionally preserve our potential to learn more about ourselves as a whole.
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PIANO NUMBERS AS A GUIDE TO DATE
The majority of pianos cannot be reliably dated purely on the basis of their serial numbers, and you only have to look at the listings here for Collard or Eavestaff to understand why. There is a widespread belief that numbers are the be-all-and-end-all for dating pianos, but the length of this page should indicate to you that it is not that simple, and I do not intend to perpetuate the myth by blindly repeating other people’s lists, although I have included some confirmed dates in the second section, further down this page. Don’t forget that if your computer has a keyboard, you can use the usual CTRL F to search for a name on this page. Only a minority of piano makers have ever published dates of their serial numbers, and many of these are incorrect or misleading, so on this page, I have only included dates for which I have some evidence. Some are estimated.
If you open the top of a piano and peer inside, you will often find one or more numbers in there. Sometimes, they are harder to see, and may be underneath a grand, so be aware of the dangers of crawling under there. Removable wooden parts of the case are often imprinted with a number, but this may only be the last 3 digits of serial numbers, which are usually long numbers, at least 5 digits. Remember that any handwritten information is probably not from the factory and could have been added at any time. Numbers preceded by a letter are not usually serial numbers.
Some more modern serial number dates for British pianos are listed in date order near the bottom of this page. A growing number of websites offer apparently simple dating of pianos by their serial numbers. Dating a piano in this way is notoriously unreliable, partly because so much misleading information has been published. These websites are often quoting from books which are incorrect, many of the date-ranges they give are very vague anyway, and they may expect you to PAY for this misinformation, so why not make a donation to us instead? Armed with over forty thousand images for reference, we can usually make a more objective assessment of the age from photos which show what the WHOLE piano looks like. These estimates are not distracted or misled by numbers or other information.
“I looked up my car’s VIN number, and it would be 1914 if it was a Steinway.”
Date-marks inside the piano, if available, are often a much more accurate and reliable guide to the age of an instrument than numbers. Hallmarks for silver and porcelain, etc. are published widely in many books, but the same kind of information is not normally available for pianos, except on this website, and if there are no date-marks, serial numbers are one option, but there are many examples on the internet of dates of serial numbers blindly stated for pianos, based on incorrect information, with no crosschecking of anything else. The result is that an exact date will be stated as if it were fact, with no reference to whether the piano is of a type that could possibly have been made then. In many of the items in our files, the American use of the hash sign or sharp (#) has been adopted (rather than the Italian "No.") to denote numbers, especially serial numbers: this is useful to know when a number looks like a year. Also, in order to make long numbers easier to read, several readers have asked me to insert commas after the thousands, although these do not appear on the pianos. You may think of a year starting at January 1st, but this is not always true of serial number dates, for example Kemble numbers are from December to December, whereas Bentleys' are October to October. As explained on our date-marks page, it is pointless to attempt to date an antique piano to a precise day within a year, because the manufacturing process was often so long that we should be grateful just to know the year.
When iron frames are made, in bulk, nobody knows which piano they will end up being used in, so any raised numbers cast into the frame are not specific to one piano, and not serial numbers, which would be written or painted if they appear on the iron frame. Numbers on keys or actions are not usually serial numbers, and not usually helpful.
Dating a piano by its number depends on four things…
1. THE PIANO MUST HAVE A NAME AND A NUMBER!
Some of the enquiries we receive don't even give the name of the piano, just numbers: numbers are not usually any use without a name, but sometimes, if you can send photos of the whole piano, so that we can estimate the date, the numbers may give a clue to the makers’ identity. If you are lucky, you may just open the top of the piano, and immediately see a number, but sometimes, the number is so well hidden that you may not find it. (If you do find just one, don't assume that it is necessarily the right one.) Patent numbers and registered design numbers can be researched through official channels, but are often a lot of trouble and expense for very little result.
2. THE NUMBERS MUST BE PUBLISHED.
Many are simply not available, although our files include many dates of individual numbers which are not published anywhere else. Books which give number dates are known as "Piano Atlases" after the original - Michel's Piano Atlas, which later became the Pierce Piano Atlas.
Others include the Europe Piano Atlas, and also the Musicians' Piano Atlas, for which I supplied amendments, and an appendix with action and key numbers, although that information has been updated and improved in this page. Sometimes, in an antique piano, the action makers’ name and number is the only clue to its identity, and the best guide to its date.
Names listed in the Europe Piano Atlas include Acrosonic, Aeolian, Albert, Allison, Anelli, Angelestein, Angerhofer, Apollo, Arnold, Arirang, Aristocrat, Atlas, Bach, Bachmann, Baldur, Baldwin, Bathur, Barratt & Robinson, Baumbach, Baumgardt, Bechstein, Bentley, Berdux, Berger, Berry, Bieger, Biese, Billberg, Bluthner, Bosendorfer, Bord, Breitkopf & Hartel, Brinkmann & Goebel, Brinsmead, Bristol, Broadwood, Brother, Burgasser, Burger & Jacobi, Fibiger, Cuawberghe, Challen, Chassaigne, Chappell, Choiseul, Christensen, Chu-Seng, Collard, Conover, Cramer, Danemann, Dietmann, Markennamen, Dohnert, Doina, Dorner, Donath, Duck, Duysen, Eavestaff, Ecke, Ehrbar, Eisenberg, Ekstrom, Elcke, Erard, Estey, Euterpe, Fazer, Feurich, Fibich, Finger, Forster, French, Fuchs, Furstein, Gaveau, Gerbstadt, Geyer, Giles, Gillot-Straube, Gors & Kallmann, Goetze, Grand, Grotrian, Guckel, Gulbransen, Gunther, Gustaffson, Haegele, Habn, Hain, Hals, Hamburger, Hamilton, Hanlet, Harwood, Hautrive, Hellas, Heintzmann, Heppel, Herrmann, Herz, Horugel, Hofberg, Hoffmann, Hofmann, Hofmann & Czerny, Hofmann & Kuhne, Hopkinson, Hornung & Muller, Howard, Hupfeld, Ibach, Inbal, etc..
I am grateful to the Castle Museum, York, for lists of piano serial number dates compiled by Mr D.R. Homan, a piano tuner from Scunthorpe. Names include Bechstein, Biese, Bluthner, Bord, Dogel, Dorner, Duysen, Feurich, Forster, Grotrian Steinweg, Hofberg, Ibach, Irmler, Kaps, Krauss, Lindholm, Lipp, Mannborg, Quandt, Ritmuller, Schiedmayer, Schimmel, Schwechten, Seiler, Steinway, Thurmer, and Zeitter & WInkelmann. Most of these lists end around 1935-6, so we imagine that they were collected at that time. Some agree with other published numbers, some do not, which brings me to...
3. THE PUBLISHED NUMBERS MUST BE CORRECT!
In 1958, 5 years before I became so heavily involved with pianos, N.E. Michel published the first "Piano Atlas" of serial numbers: This work was a tremendous achievement, listing thousands of American and other names, but it’s a bit like train-spotting, many entries say no more than can be found written on the piano anyway, and quite apart from the appalling spelling, conflicting entries, duplicated misspelt entries, and the absence of proper cross-reference, an increasing number of the items he published have proved to be wrong or misleading, and this discredits the others. In the seventies, I wrote to his successor Bob Pierce about this matter, giving specific proof of inaccuracies, but he did not act on the information. Many numbers do not correspond to the instruments, including those for Aeolian, Allison, Aucher, Bauer, Bentley, Bluthner, Bord, Brinsmead, Broadwood, Cadby, Cecilian, Chappell, Clementi, Collard, Eavestaff, Erard, Euterpe, Gors & Kallmann, Hopkinson, Jarrett & Goudge, Karn, Kirkman, Knauss, Koch & Korselt, Kuhse, Monington & Weston, Murdoch, Nelson, Nunns, Perkins, Pleyel, Ritmuller, Rordorf, Spencer, Schiedmayer, Schroder, Spencer, Steck, Stodart, Tolkien, Wieck, Winter and Wornum.
Neither do the little Bristol Miniature pianos, which he wrongly attributes to Duck, Son & Pinker. I used to tune one of these for an old lady until, unable to sell it, she stored it in the loft, where it probably fell to bits rather quickly! We are still puzzling over the connections between Bristol, KK, K.Kawai, LHH, Princess Piano and some similar but un-named examples from around the twenties and thirties. KK could mean K.Kawai, but Kabushiki Kaisha is apparently a general term for a company, a bit like a Japanese version of our “Ltd.”, yet it sometimes appears on its own as if it were a brand name. To add to the numbers mystery, by 1979, the electronics firm Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha’s modern American patent for an electronic device bears the same number 101957 as KK’s old piano patent.
Bentley numbers start from 1919, and the name was mentioned in Booth & Brooks’ archives for 1903, yet the Bentley name was apparently not used by the Stroud Piano Co. until 1930, so we don’t know who made them before. Several sources have assumed that this was a made-up name, perhaps leaning on the prestige of Bentley cars, but it seems likely that they bought the rights from someone else. Perkins' numbers seem to be estimated, and are not supported by our information. These and other mistakes have been perpetuated by other books and websites reprinting them without evidence to support the information, but then it is a difficult trap to avoid, and everyone quotes published information sometimes, taking it on trust. Julian Dyer says "The numbers generally quoted for Steck pianos are highly misleading, at least for the European production. They clearly make no sense, and do not allow for the fact that these pianos were made in three different countries using three different sets of numbers". Some, like a 1906 example we saw recently, do seem about right, but the published numbers might suggest 1930 in what looks more like a 1920 piano, and a Steck dated 1926 also has a number suggesting 1930.
4. THERE ARE OFTEN DIFFERENT NUMBERS ON THE CASEWORK, KEYS,
ACTION, WRESTPLANK, SOUNDBOARD AND IRON FRAME:
WHICH IS THE CORRECT NUMBER?
Some people solve this problem simply by choosing the number which suits their purpose, or makes the piano oldest. In discussing the way that numbers are marked in a piano, it is best to avoid the word "stamped", because there are two different kinds of stamp. Ink marks can be made by a rubber-stamp, and these are often found on the sides of keys. Metal stamps have traditionally been used to IMPRINT names and especially numbers into woodwork, although they may be coloured as well.
Contrary to popular belief, these are not usually burnt, embossed,
or engraved, buthammered, like some of my friends.
Often, the serial number may be imprinted into the wood of the casework, sometimes conveniently located on the top edge, but this is by no means reliable, and grand case numbers are often harder to find, being hidden on removable parts, or underneath: Remember, too, the dangers for you, your children and pets, of crawling underneath a grand: Check that the legs are safe first, with no movement whatsoever in the joints.
It's worth mentioning that the capital letter "I" may sometimes be used to double as a number one. Occasionally, two are superimposed at right-angles, serving as an asterisk, to confirm that this is the serial number. Metal stamps may also be pre-formed into the name of a senior worker, such as a supervisor who is responsible for quality control in a particular department of a factory. James Stewart's name, for example, was imprinted in some Clementi or Collard pianos while he worked for the firm, from 1826 to 1852, so such imprints can sometimes be useful guides to date. Wooden top bridges are sometimes imprinted too. Pianos were known in the factories as "cases", and they had CASE NUMBERS. By the late 1800s, removable case parts such as legs, music desks, etc. were often imprinted with the last 3 digits of the case number, so that the parts of the case could be kept together during manufacture, and this helps to confirm which is the case number. Steinways used very small stamps so that they could mark even the tiniest pieces of moulding in this way. Having said all that, case numbers are not necessarily the published serial numbers, which may be imprinted on the soundboard, or painted onto the iron frame.
A problem that occurs with Collard & Collard is that although the case number is sometimes confirmed by being repeated in several places, it is not the published serial number! Some makers, such as Bechstein, Broadwood, Tomkison and Wornum, had separate numbers for different models, as well as a main series, and odd things can happen.
NUMBER OR DATE?
Numbers for most makers will go through a period when they are in four figures, and may resemble a year, for example, in 1791 Broadwood square pianos had serial numbers in the 1700s and 1800s. In 1789-1790, Erard numbers also resembled years, and around that time, Southwell’s numbers, displayed on the front of the piano, were slightly earlier than their years. Windus numbers were in the 1880 range during the 1860s. It is important to realise that pianos made after about 1810 are hardly ever marked with a straightforward year of manufacture, and if a year is written on a piano, it will often represent the date the firm was established, or the date of an exhibition medal. A notable exception is Erard, who marked the years on the actions of the London pianos, or the soundboards of the Paris pianos. Pape marked the year under the strings but some, like one of ours, have unfortunately faded.
SOME MISLEADING NUMBERS
1792 John Broadwood square piano in the Mobbs Collection, Bristol, has the number 1931.
Circa 1805 Thomas Tomkison, London, square piano #1965 in the Smithsonian.
1833 John Broadwood & Son upright piano #1778 in the Mobbs Collection, Bristol.
1931? Dagmar piano #85,425, keys marked 1931, James Smith & Son, sole agents, 76/72 Lord Street Liverpool. Also marked JS&S September 1947, so perhaps 1931 is a just number?
Circa 1931 Two G.Ajello & Sons pianos numbered around #28,500 are dated quite
reliably by Malcolm action numbers, in spite of the mark 2.10.9 on the iron frames.
1931 Monington & Weston Piano #50,347 has 2.12.9 on the frame, a very similar mark to the example above. Number on a bracing #15,502.
It might seem logical that serial numbers should, by their very definition, run in a single, unbroken series starting from the first piano a company makes, and therefore represent the number of pianos that have been made up to any given point in the list. Steinweg, for example, made 482 pianos before he emigrated to New York, and these were numbered from 1 to 482, so his New York pianos started at 483. Jay Mallory’s research in the Erard archives has shown that each new Paris piano had the next number. However, the same is not always true of their London pianos, or of Pleyel, and although several authors have estimated production figures for various firms on the basis of serial numbers, it is often not that simple: around 1898 for example, Squires were producing pianos with numbers in the 18,000 and 28,000 ranges. Some makers would (like Steinweg) start from a good, honest #1, and number every piano as they went, but some preferred to start at a much more generous figure. H.P. Nelson's company was established in Chicago, 1908, and started their serial numbers at 6000, but the published lists are confused, and dates are duplicated, some are out of sequence, and some have digits missing. Around 1910, Murdochs' ad boasted "fifty thousand pianos in use" and perhaps Spencer, whom they took over, had made that many, but it is quite likely that the statement was just based on their serial numbers. Another point worth remembering is that because some conventions in numbering developed gradually over a period of many years, they are less applicable to early instruments.
NUMBERS - THOUSAND PER YEAR
Certainly, some firms opted for allotting a thousand numbers per year, even if their production figures were nowhere near that many. Indeed, it may have been based on the assumption that they would never need any more than that. This convention can be seen in many lists of serial numbers, but in view of the fact that some of these were originally published in Michel's Piano Atlas, I thought for a while that they might be Michel's own estimates, until other examples began to appear in our files from quite independent sources, such as the pianos themselves. An interesting angle here is to see how few pianos whose numbers go up in thousands have a high number of hundreds on the end. Strip away the thousands, and you'll find relatively few which have a remainder over five hundred, perhaps a glimpse of the real output. Ernst Kaps also used a thousand per year. Pleyel numbers went through a period of being a thousand per year. Witton, Witton & Co. were said to be producing a thousand pianos per year in 1915, but this may well be based on serial numbers. LePetit's pianos are numbered at a thousand per year from 1940, but this is unlikely to represent real production. By 1946, Welmar numbers were the same.
Eavestaffs' first back-action minipiano was made by Brasted in 1934. Their serial numbers, again, may have been based on a thousand per year from 1934, rather than the main sequences of Eavestaff or Brasted numbers.Strangely, a Piano Times article on Chappells says their piano production had risen to one hundred per week (5,200 per year) by 1922, yet in that period, the serial numbers still only went up by a thousand per year! Warranty labels show that Chappells' separate "Elysian” numbers also went up a thousand per year, and these used date codes within the serial numbers, by placing the last 2 digits of the year at the beginning of the number, so #23,000 means 1923. The labels also carry a lower number with the same last 3 digits. By 1928, Marshall & Rose serial numbers were counted in steps of a thousand per year, with the first 2 digits also representing the year, so #28,000 would be 1928, like the Elysian numbers. There is the possibility that Steinberg Berlin numbers also worked like this. From 1946, Welmar also used numbers in which the first 2 digits represented the year. Ajello (the Manchester one) on the other hand, placed the two digits of the year at the other end, which has a peculiar effect on the sequence of numbers: If these were rounded down, they would give no clue to the date.
A number on the soundboard preceded by the letter K, near the left end of the keyboard, is probably a piano made by Kemble. Other letters usually indicate retailers’ stock numbers…
Retailers’ stock numbers often add to the general confusion, and unless they are preceded by the dealer's initials, it is difficult to know what they are. For example “R&D” in the picture means that the piano was sold by Rushworth & Dreaper. “C&S” means Crane & Sons, they were unable to help us with archive material, and although their premises were said to include “factories”, we have been told by various trades people that they did not make the pianos, certainly some were made by Kennard, Harold, or Cremona, so serial numbers do not help. Their stock numbers for new and secondhand pianos that they sold are preceded by “C&S”, and may give us clues to the approximate date of sale: some are listed further down this page. These are not to be confused with a C&S mark in a triangle on iron frames. “W&G” means Waring & Gillow, although if you search for it on the internet, you will get an endless list of items about TV’s “Will & Grace”. (“&S” usually means “and son”, and “&C” is “and Co”. “L” on the end may mean ”Ltd.”.) Sometimes, numbers are preceded by a letter or letters representing the branch, such as "MP" for Manor Park, or (more commonly) "HO" for Head Office. The letter P (for piano) may also appear in the case of a firm which sold other goods as well. We have some individual dates of stock numbers on file, as well as a few lists, and although these are incomplete, they are often useful. Harrods used metal or plastic plates with stock numbers preceded by the initial H, and they kindly gave us some dates for these.
Model numbers rarely exceed 3 digits, whereas serial numbers are usually much bigger. Many makers use model numbers, and these may tell us several things about the piano: German firms like Bechstein and Grotrian used the size of the piano in centimetres - the length of a grand, or the height of an upright. Bentleys used the number of notes, so a “Concord 88” had 88 notes. Berrys did a similar thing with the number of octaves, and followed it with two digits of the year it was introduced, so the Berry 758 was a 7-octave model introduced in 1958. Collard & Collard pianos usually have a smaller number, thought to be the model, as do Spencer and Murdoch.
NUMBERS OF ANCILLARY TRADES
Keys are almost always numbered left to right, and they have their own numbers, which would have meant something to someone at the time, although very little of this information survives. It is not usually possibly to trace the history of an individual piano, but we sometimes have more information than the makers themselves, and we may be able to provide a useful cross-reference by looking up action and key numbers, frame markings, or historical data such as name changes, dates of addresses, etc.. Action makers’ numbers progress much more rapidly than piano numbers, because they sold actions to a number of piano factories.
SERIAL NUMBER LISTS FOR PIANO NAMES, ACTION MAKERS, &c.
As well as pianos. the following alphabetical list includes approximate dates for the serial numbers of various action makers, which are often useful when the piano name has disappeared, or especially when no dates are available for the piano’s own number. However, I only list the small minority of numbers that I have been able to confirm or estimate. Up to 1914, it was common to import cheap German actions for London pianos, and even if the action makers’ name is not there, the numbers may suggest possible dates. See also the modern numbers nearer the bottom of the page.
Now that so many people are viewing these lists of numbers on iPhones and small tablets, I am experimenting to try to find a layout that is not destroyed when the screen is very small.
The various members of the Allison family worked and advertised quite separately, but sometimes shared premises. In 1878, George Sherborne was indicted at the Old Bailey for trading in pianos whilst he was bankrupt. He took pianos on credit from various makers, and sold them at auction, sometimes for less than cost. This case can be found on the internet, and includes a useful selection of prices and serial numbers for 1878, which have allowed us to reconstruct part of his stock record, such as the Allison numbers, consistently in the 19,000 range, which do not correspond to published information. Arthur Allison’s pianos are often dated inside…
1878 #19,000 is confirmed, but disagrees with the others!
Circa 1886? #17,900
AUCHER FRERES, PARIS
Be wary of what you read on the internet about Aucher dates. I should perhaps mention that “Freres” means brothers, it is not a name. The following list of Aucher Freres numbers (on your left) was given to me some years ago by the late John Davis. His occasional snippets of piano history were sometimes questionable, but combining this set with my own estimates of individual Aucher pianos, (on the right) they do line up quite well in most cases, and seem to be a great improvement on the previous published lists, which are nonsense. Goodness knows where John got these!
1820 - Not making pianos yet, in spite of the published numbers.
1845 # 1? - the year the firm was established.
1847 # 1,000
1854 # 2,000
1859 # 4,000
1872 # 8,000
1916 # 4,552 - according to Begg's stock records. If this really is the main number, it may be that production had been taken over by another factory. My own estimates seem illogical, bearing in mind that some of the pianos appear to be almost identical, but we have evidence that Bord's pianos were up to 6 years out of sequence leaving the factory, so perhaps Aucher's were too. Many examples are marked “Modēle No.1” even though they are not the same design. I would be grateful if anyone out there can provide real, hard evidence about genuine, definite dates of Aucher numbers, such as actual dates inside the pianos, or documents of sale.
The following list shows numbers for dated pianos made by the wholesalers, Bansall. They supplied pianos for the trade, including Barnes, Binns, Caldecourt, Hopkinson Successors Ltd., Moore & Moore, Russell & Russell Ltd., and possibly Sames and Watson, but rarely displayed their own name, most were bought in by various retailers, who put fictitious names on them. The most likely way to identify one is by a label under the keys of the bottom notes, as shown above. The keys were often by Shenstone, order numbers do not help us, they are not piano numbers.
BECHSTEIN BELLY NUMBERS
Beware of the Bechsteins of the 1890s, with extra numbers that seem to imply a date in the 1850s. Bechsteins' belly numbers run in separate sequences for uprights and grands, and exist in addition to the main series. They can be found on the edge of the soundboard (as shown) and underneath. Here are a few examples, very useful if the main number is faded, or painted over. Can anyone help us with more of these?
Uprights: 1899 #22,000
Grands: 1899 #15,761
Blankenstein Rough Dates
1880 Not listed in London directory.
1884 L.Blankenstein & Co., 25 Red Cross street, Barbican EC.
1886 L.Blankenstein, 62, Finsbury Pavement EC.
1899 L. Blankenstein & Co. had a branch at 44 Windsor Road, Penarth.
1913 - "Over 30,000 sold" - The Cabinet Maker magazine.
Because there are three sets, these later numbers can easily be confused with earlier ones, but the middle column seems to be the makers’ own idea of the proper serial number.
If you see what looks like a number LE1P216 in a piano, it is probably a word - LEIPZIG!
Bluthners, of Leipzig said "Our records were destroyed during the last war". James Reeder confirmed this in 2004: "Dear Bill, All records were destroyed during World War II, as well as the factory and offices, so there are no production records available." The following estimates are my own, worked out by me on the basis of pianos I know of, so if you find these same numbers on the internet, accredited to someone else, they got them from me. My estimates of individual pianos turned out to be so close to a thousand per year, I rounded them up.
1856 Patent for an action (mechanik) is mentioned on some pianos, which must therefore have been made after 1855.
1860~ # 678 owned by Chester Stegman mentions the 1856 patent, but does not mention the 1865 medal, so the mean date for this piano is “circa 1860”.
1867 # 2,000
1868 # 3,000
1869 # 4,000
1870 # 5,000
1871 # 6,000
1872 # 7,000
1873 # 8,000
1874 # 9,000
1879 Welmars began importing Bluthners, and kindly gave me the following entries, which continue for a while at 1000 per year.
Then, production appears to have increased to a point where a thousand numbers per year was not sufficient, so the makers allowed 1,500. Some pianos have two numbers, for example #18,187 also has #20,939.
Then as published previously.
A maker for whom we have a long list of surviving instruments is Anton Bord, of Paris, established in 1840: because of fancy script, his name is often misread as K.Bord, but the stencilled signature inside is clearer…
Bord’s pianos were cheap and mass-produced, in fact he laid down many of the principles that came to be used in other trades for production lines. However, these are surprisingly good, durable pianos, with Schwander actions, and reasonable wrestplanks. Published dates of their numbers are not always reliable, but the original stock records of Rudall, Carte & Co. are a useful source of serial number dates: Robert Bigio very kindly supplied this information for the period from about 1870 to 1876, and I have ploughed through it in search of Bord's numbers. The following pianos are listed here in number order, with dates of sale, not manufacture, and they don't run in order: it is evident that pianos didn't come out of the factory in order, and may also have been in stock at the shops for up to four years. In most instances, the purchase price is also given. The numbers range from to 18723 to 27414, and were sold between 1871 and 1875. This information shows that numbers in the 18,000 range were still being sent out to shops in 1871, and some were sold as late as 1875.
1871 #18,788 £40 Sep 14 1871
1875 #18,901 £17.10s Jan 19 1875
1872 #18,911 £27 May 15 1872
1871 #18,950 £ Oct 4 1871
1872 #18,950 £60 May 6 1872
1870 #19,193 £27 Dec 29 1871
#19,213 £33 Mar 21 1873
#19,617 £25 Jan 4 1872
#19,682 £35 Dec 29 1871
#19,686 £35 Mar 8 1872
#19,882 £29 Dec 29 1871
#20,241 £39 Feb 17 1872
#20,591 £63 July 10 1872
#20,620 £47.5s Oct 6 1874
#20,929 £32 Sep 12 1872
#21,103 £25 July 1872?
#21,195 £32 Mar 3 1874
#21,521 £21.19s Jan 15 1873
#21,584 £ May 11 1873
#21,613 £21.10s Dec 12 1873
#21,660 £50.15s Feb 12 1873
#21,664 £18.10s Dec 11 1872
#21,696 £22.8s Jan 6 1873
#21,734 £22.16s Jan 6 1873
#21,824 £21.10s Dec 12 1873
#21,825 £26 Oct 10 1873
#22,357 £ Apr 21 1873
#24,433 £42 Apr 12 1874
#24,719 £31 Apr 4 1874
There are many questions about the accuracy of the published dates…
1880 #45,000 1890 #74,000
That represents about 3,000 per year, which lines up roughly with their ads stating that they were making 12 pianos a day. In 1900, they announced their hundred-thousandth piano.
1900 #100,000 1926 #132,000
By 1926, they were saying they had made 132,000 pianos, yet their published serial numbers were only increasing by 500 per year at the time. Some can also be dated by their Schwander action numbers, but those numbers are not so easy to find.
Although some were imported by Keith, Prowse & Co., most of the Victorian and Edwardian Bords in Britain arrived through the London importer Charles Stiles, of Southampton Row, and his stock numbers may appear inside the pianos in addition to the serial numbers, adding confusion. He occasionally put his own name on instead of Bord’s, but later Stiles pianos were made by Kemble. John Markham was one of my bosses when I worked for Berry Pianos, and he had lived next door to Charles Stiles when he was young, so I suspect there was more than one generation of Charles working from at least the 1870s to the 1930s. Stiles’ stock numbers…
In music, the "Three Bs" are Bach, Beethoven & Brahms. In the piano trade generally, the "Three Bs" are Bechstein, Blüthner & Bosendorfer, except in London, where they are Barnes, Berry & Boyd, three large retailers who had many branches around London in the 1900s. Surprisingly, Bansall, Brasted, Barratt & Robinson & even Broadwood and Brinsmead didn't get a look in, although Bechstein, Broadwood & Blüthner were a popular trio of names in some old dealers' ads. I used to work for Berrys, and have tuned so many Barnes, Berry and Boyd pianos over the years that it would seem pointless to put all the details on this page, but specific enquiries are welcomed. Boyd pianos were not all made by Boyd, and dating them purely by serial numbers is not reliable, no complete lists are published.
1916 #31,233 Boyd has 23.5.16 on the frame
1921 #50262 Boyd Coronet grand, different sequence – different factory?
1927 #44,100 Boyd piano, frame date 20.1.27
1927 #45,300, Boyd piano frame date 8-7-27
1928 #46,900 Boyd piano, frame date 12-6-28L
1934 #3,200 Boyd piano different sequence
See also Brasted…
Harry Brasted established his factory in 1873, and by the early 1900s, Brasted Brothers were making pianos for the trade, rarely displaying their own name. I have tuned many Brasted pianos, but only a handful had the name Brasted on the front. Their iron frames are sometimes marked BB. The following list is partly estimated, and can be very useful if you find the Brasted name inside a piano. As with Bansall, the most likely place is a label under the keys. Some “Boyd” pianos were made by Brasted, and Harrods sold them as “Reger”. Other names include “Challen”, “Paul Gerard”, “Ehrmann”, “Emile Auberon”, and “Reun”. This list may also help with some Eavestaff models. See also the modern numbers near the bottom of this page, as well as notes on Brasteds at the bottom of our Archives page.
BROOKS, London, Action & Key Makers
No useful number sequences have been found in Brooks actions or keys, but there are some clues in the changes of name and address of the firm. The principal London action maker of the 1800s, they are said to have been established in 1810 by Henry Brooks, but this is incorrect, it was originally Cox Brooks, and we have no precise date for their start, probably around 1822. Cox Brooks & Sons were certainly in business between 1842 and 1845, but by 1841, they were also being listed as T.& H.Brooks, described as “Pianoforte Hammer Rail Makers” at the same address, Little Albany street north. They didn’t just make hammer rails, they made the whole action. The name T. & H. Brooks on an action suggests a date in the 1840s or 1850s or “circa 1849”.
By 1850 they were at Cumberland market, and around 1858, Thomas ceased his involvement in the firm, which then became Henry Brooks & Co.. They became a limited company around 1889. The nameplate is from 1907…
1889~ #2359 1892 C13659 1895~ #7711 1904~ #7033a 1906~ C11920
These Brooks Ltd. numbers are stamped into the damper rail, they do not run in sequence, they may be models or types. In 1920, They merged with Herrburger, Paris - see Herrburger Brooks.
Looking inside the top of a Cadby piano, you might think you can just write down the number and find a date. You have two main options here, either trusting the published dates of their numbers on the left, or trusting my information on the right, which sometimes does not agree. There may be more than one number, but the main one usually appears below the imprinted name C.CADBY.
1838 # 1 ?
1850 # 5500?
1855 # 8000?
Circa 1870 #8000
Circa 1857 #9000
1862 onwards, the pianos should mention a medal they received at the 1862 London Exhibition.
After 1862 #9500
Circa 1867 #14900
1874-1877 The firm was known as Cadby & Sons and this name should be on the piano in that period.
Circa 1877 #1512..
Circa 1877 #18800
Circa 1877 #19200
George Sherborne was indicted at the Old Bailey for trading in pianos whilst he was bankrupt.
His Cadby Rosewood Cottage pianos had numbers from 19300 to 19661 in 1878.
1885 The company closed down after the death of Charles Cadby, but the name was used later by another factory, although the new serial numbers were very much like some of the earlier ones…
according to Chas. Begg’s stock records.
The Challen firm was famous in modern times as the “Piano of the BBC”, but it is not widely known that it all began with Alexander Watlen, before Challen joined the firm. He took over from the partnership in 1837, and was certainly not established in 1804, although their modern literature included a sketch of an alleged 1804 upright. Serial number dates are published in various "Piano Atlases" for Challen pianos from 1850 onwards, but the earliest of these dates can be misleading, and the earliest confirmation of these I have found so far is 1872. The Challen firm was unusual in providing a date on a vertical wooden post inside the bottom of upright pianos, in a position where it could only have been done before the piano was completed. There were various changes of name in the 1800s, which provide clues to the age…
1834-1837 Watlen & Challen
1830-1838 William Challen
1840-1850 Challen & Hollis
1853-1862 Challen & Son
1863-1866 Challen Duff & Hodgson
1867-1877 Challen & Hodgson
1878 onwards Challen & Son again.
1872 # 9100
1872 # 9400
Circa 1960 The manufacture of Challen pianos was taken over by Brasted Brothers, of London. Published dates of these modern serial numbers vary, and are not reliable, but we have some dates found in the pianos, usually on the keys. See the modern numbers near the bottom of the page.
CHAPPELL & Co., LONDON
Samuel Chappell was involved in the music business by 1810, but although they quote serial number dates from 1840, the company didn’t start making their own pianos until 1861. The main numbers for Chappell pianos are hard to find in some of their Victorian pianos, and their other numbers are misleading, quite apart from the Chappell Elysian numbers mentioned below. By 1870 the numbers are said to be 10,000, but the stock records of Rudall & Co. show that in 1870, Chappell serial numbers were around 71,730, apart from one with the quite different number 6,007, which should be 1860, according to the published numbers! Strangely, a Piano Times article on Chappells says their piano production had risen to one hundred per week (5,200 per year) by 1922, yet in that period, the serial numbers still only went up by a thousand per year! Some modern serial number dates for Chappell pianos are listed near the bottom of the page.
Warranty labels show that Chappells' separate "Elysian” numbers also went up a thousand per year, and these used date codes within the serial numbers, by placing the last 2 digits of the year at the beginning of the number, so #23,000 means 1923. The labels also carry a lower number with the same last 3 digits.
CLEMENTI & COLLARD NUMBERS
The serial numbers for Collard & Collard are without doubt the most confusing. In 1972, I wrote to Collard & Collard Ltd. at an address which I knew to be that of Chappell & Co.. They were unable to help me with any information, having lost their archives in the 1964 fire, so they passed on my enquiry to the late Frank Holland at the Musical Museum. He followed his normal procedure, and PASSED IT ON TO ME to answer! (Good ol' Frank, bless 'im!) Collard serial numbers are among the most confusing and difficult, especially the 5-digit ones. Many of the Clementi and Collard dates quoted by Michel are complete nonsense, and the 1832 paperwork shown below proves beyond doubt that the firm became known as Collard & Collard (late Clementi Collard & Collard) immediately after Clementi’s death in 1832.
This proves that the dates given for later Clementi numbers are too late, and the early Collard numbers are too early. Michael O'Hara wrote from Arizona about an Edwardian upright with an elliptical name transfer “Clementi & Co.” but this is obviously not the original firm. After Clementi's factory fire in 1807, some of their various numbers seem to work out at a thousand per year, a sequence which was continued for some years by Collard & Collard when they took over the firm.