By Ashley Montevago
This week’s object is a player piano that was made in 1901. It is currently on display in the Deyo House and is a brand new addition to the HHS Permanent Collection. It was constructed from a dark quarter sawn oak wood and has a simple, minimal design, which was common among upright pianos at the beginning of the twentieth century. Upright pianos were made popular in America during the last quarter of the nineteenth century replacing the large square grand pianos which were much too large for people’s home that were becoming smaller as the twentieth century approached. The manufacturing of upright pianos in 1880 and 1890 began to increase causing the once popular square grand piano to disappear from the market. Being that this was the height of the Victorian Era, the early upright pianos were made using exotic woods and ornate carvings, producing lavish models that matched the décor of the time.1
So why is HHS’ player piano rather plain? At the end of the turn-of-the-century, the public’s taste began to change causing piano design to become more streamlined than those produced during the Victorian era. During the first decade of the twentieth century there was a shift to a calmer, less extravagant movement in interior design than the previous decade and this change was made apparent in the styles offered by the major piano manufacturers. Upright pianos became more utilitarian in their appearance with simple, basic designs. This created upright pianos to have a more modern feel which was considered “beautifully simplistic”.2
This electrified upright piano is one that plays itself. According to the Antique Piano Shop, “a conventional player piano is operated via a perforated paper roll inserted above the keyboard, and large pumping pedals below the keyboard. While pumping these pedals, vacuum is created which pulls air through the holes in the paper roll, causing the piano note to play.” Between 1900 and 1930 more player pianos were built in America than any other type of piano. Before the phonograph and radio were invented, the player piano was used as a source of entertainment for members and guests of the household. Many different songs were available for the perforated paper rolls and were sold by the millions.3 People would gather around to listen to the player piano play itself, which was often in the living room of a home. In the Deyo house, we decided the player piano would make a great addition to our holiday programming because it is the season of families coming together to celebrate- an excellent occasion to show of a piano that plays itself. The player piano sits in the Living Room for guests to now enjoy over 200 different rolls of music.
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This is our 1901 player piano, now on display in the Deyo House. Learn more about it on our Object of the Week blog at hhscollections.wordpress.com and see it in person this weekend, our last weekend of regularly-scheduled guided tours for the year. #NewPaltz #DeyoHouse #GildedAge #antiques #collections #playerpiano
1 “Identify Instrument: Upright Pianos.” The Antique Piano Shop, n.d. Web. 9 Dec 2015.
3 “Identify Instrument: Player Pianos.” The Antique Piano Shop, n.d. Web. 9 Dec 2015.