Antique piano values vary widely according to many different criteria, from the specific model to the period that it was designed in. Given the sheer volume of pianos that have been manufactured over the past few hundred years, it's nigh impossible to find a fully comprehensive antique piano value guide to ensure that you're either listing or purchasing your pianos at fair price. Yet, using a few general guidelines, you should be able to feel confident talking with a potential buyer or insurance representative about your beloved heirloom.
What Determines Antique Piano Values?
Antique pianos are pianos that're at least a hundred years old, and, like antique books, they're not worth a lot of money just because of their age. In actuality, these old instruments may be worth very little at all, depending on their brand and condition. This is because pianos, like most instruments, are at their most worthwhile when they're fully functional. Yet, with antique pianos, each of the parts has been submitted to wear over the course of its long life. This means that each of the many parts may need specialized restoration to put the piano back in working order. That kind of work can cost the owner a lot of money and in turn mean that there isn't much value in selling it in the first place.
Restoring and retuning a piano can easily cost $2,500 or more. If you want an antique piano as a showpiece in your vintage home, then it's totally fine to get one that hasn't been restored or refinished in any way. 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 piano or one that's gone through a rigorous restoration process..
What Condition Is Your Piano In?
One of the first things to understand before jumping right into the world of evaluations is to know the terms that appraisers use to describe condition. That way, you can get a good idea of where your piano stands and if it might need to be restored.
- Mint - This means the piano has been rebuilt and refinished (R & R). It's in excellent condition both mechanically and aesthetically and looks and plays new.
- Like new - The piano looks great. It's free of blemishes, nicks, or scratches and shows little sign of use. It's also 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 shouldn't be any dents or rust, though 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, and it'll 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. These pianos'll need professional repair.
Which Type of Piano Do You Have?
Another significant factor that can affect an antique piano's value is the type and brand of instrument that it is. Generally. the larger the size of piano, the more expensive its value's going to be. For instance, a grand piano is worth far more than a keyboard brand new, and the same can be said for their antique counterparts.
Antique pianos are divided into a few common size categories, including:
- Spinet - Spinet pianos are the smallest vertical pianos, normally amounting to less than 40 inches in height.
- Console - Slightly larger - by about four inches - than the spinet is the console piano, which is also compact like the spinet and is best suited for non-professional players.
- Studio - Between 44 and 47 inches tall, the studio piano feels substantially larger than the smaller two vertical pianos, and with the added spaces comes the advantage of a richer, broader sound.
- Upright - The most common antique piano on the market, upright pianos had a huge boom during the late-19th and early 20th centuries. These pianos are taller than studio pianos, and are equipped with a full range of sound.
- Grand - It's much less common to find antique grand pianos for sale in non-specialized markets, but they do occasionally turn up. These horizontal pianos come in a number of sizes, ranging from five feet to nine feet, and can sell for thousands of dollars.
- Player - Player pianos, though not a specific designation, get their own mention because they were incredibly popular in the 19th and early 20th century, meaning that you can find a number of antique examples for sale online and in stores.
How to Identify Your Antique Piano
Of course, a quick fire way to see if your piano--if it's already in working condition--can bring in a nice chunk of change or be worth the trip to the insurance office, is to figure out what brand of piano you have. According to the Antique Piano Shop, you can find manufacturer names and serial numbers for upright pianos inside the piano itself, towards the top of the strings. For grand pianos, you'll want to look at the soundboard and the top of each leg or pedal lyre for its brand.
In general, the older the upright or grand piano, the more valuable it's going to be. Now, you'll be able to date most pianos within a few years using the serial numbers you find, as these dates will give you a good estimate of what your piano might end up being worth.
Here are also some antique pianos that've recently sold on eBay to give you an idea of what the current market looks like:
Where to Find Piano Restorers
There're many people and companies that specialize in piano restorations, some of which may even be in your area. Restoration is not an inexpensive route and you should understand what can and cannot be accomplished before you get the restoration done, and if you're ever in doubt about what's being suggested, inquire with another professional to get a second opinion.
How Do Restorations Affect Value?
Unusually, restorations aren't a death sentence for antique pianos. In fact, depending on the degree of restoration and the quality/age of the piano itself, restorations can sometimes boost their prices quite significantly. While this is limited to premiere pianos from top-tier brand names like Steinway and Mason & Hamlin, small restorations to improve playability or appearance on lesser-quality antique pianos will be able to, at the very least, make the instruments more desirable to potential buyers.
That being said, significant restorations that replace fundamental aspects of the piano's original frame can be detrimental to their values, particularly if they're from notable European brands of the 19th and 20th centuries. Think of it in terms of how altering a Stradivarius violin could completely ruin the sound, quality, and tone of the music the violin could make and how that would naturally decrease it's worth at market.
How to Incorporate an Antique Piano Into Your Home
Of course, you may just want the look of a beautiful piano and antique piano bench in your parlor. There's nothing wrong with buying a beautiful antique piano with display in mind.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Match your style - Look for pianos that complement the design aesthetics of your home; for instance, minimalist homes might prefer the stylings of a simpler design.
- Mix textures and colors together - In Victorian homes, pianos were often draped with shawls to keep the dust off, and piano babies--figurines that looked like children--were used to hold these shawls in place. Throw a shawl, table runner, or similar textile over the top of your vertical pianos for some color.
- Add intimate lighting - Since there were often candelabras or oil lamps atop these piano to light their playing after dark, you can add imitation or authentic lamps and lights to go with the aesthetic.
- Display old sheet music - Thankfully, old sheet music isn't usually expensive and can add a lived-in quality to your decorative antique piano. You can also go a step further and add a sheet music cabinet nearby to bring authenticity to your historic room.
Feel the Rhythm of Your Antique Piano
Whether you have your piano completely restored or choose to use it as display, an antique piano is an eye-catching addition to any home. While antique piano values may not be high, and may be costly to bring back to life, they're still a lovely reminder of the past.