For generations, children have loved mimicking their parents and older siblings by picking out tunes on their antique Schoenhut toy pianos. The sweet sounds of Beethoven's Ode to Joy have been carefully plucked in homes around the world on these musical toys for nearly two-hundred years. Considered by many to still be the ultimate toy piano, a Schoenhut is a great piece for any antique buff or music lover to find.
History of the Schoenhut Piano Company
Albert Schoenhut, a German immigrant with a family tradition of toy making, began making toy pianos in his home at an early age. Over time, he perfected his technique, and his piano's quality rapidly increased. Eventually, people who bought Schoenhut pianos were amazed by how they stayed in tune for years and years thanks to the precise way that Schoenhut made them.
John Dahl, a buyer for John Wanamaker and a prominent American figure and politician, heard of Schoenhut's amazing work and brought him to Philadelphia with a job offer. While working in Philadelphia at only 17 years-old, Schoenhut took the imported German toy pianos which had been broken during shipping and fixed them.
Thus, the Schoenhut Piano Company began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1872. Soon, more instruments and other toys were added to the company's roster and by 1900, the blistering operation was the largest manufacturer of toys in the United States.
The Antique Schoenhut Toy Piano's Allure
Because of Albert Schoenhut's unique way of creating his toy pianos (which the modern company still uses to some degree), the Schoenhut toy piano has become known as an innovative design which consistently has a unique, beautiful sound. Despite their name, these pianos aren't mere toys and are considered to be authentic musical instruments by many collectors and musicians alike.
Each key on one of these antique instruments is chromatically tuned and able to create true notes. The keys are correctly spaced on the keyboard so that proper finger placement is learned even during play. The toy pianos have a varying number of octaves depending on the model, meaning depth and range can be instilled in young minds while they fiddle around mimicking their elders' play. Interestingly, while a full-size piano has seven and a half octaves, the Schoenhut's have from one and a half to three octaves, giving a limited but rich scope for the young minds to enjoy.
Schoenhut Piano Designs
Schoenhut manufactured many different pianos over the years. Although the company's namesake died in 1912, they continued to manufacture pianos, and by 1934, there were over 40 different models of Schoenhut pianos. Some of these model styles include:
- Grand pianos
- Carved fronts
- Decals and stenciling
- Contemporary styles
How to Care for Your Antique Toy Piano
You should clean your antique Schoenhut toy piano carefully, using a few simple steps:
- Dust with a soft cloth.
- Polish using a beeswax based polish - never a spray polish.
- Keep away from sunlight. The sun will not only fade the finish, but it'll also dry out the wood.
- Check your piece monthly for loose joints and other problems that may need repair. Minor repairs can turn into major problems if they're left undone.
If you do have to have repairs done, always find a reputable restoration specialist. There are some repairs that could potentially lower the value of the piano, and if you're thinking about selling, you'll want to address them sooner rather than later. However, refinishing isn't usually recommended as most antique collectors value the natural patina and wear of the piece.
How to Put Your Schoenhut on Display
Displaying your antique finds is part of the fun of collecting them and an antique toy piano is no different. Ways for you to incorporate an antique piece into your modern home include:
- Set your piano up in a safe place and arrange other toys around it. Dolls and teddy bears are a natural match for a toy piano, but other toys will work as well.
- If it is a smaller piano place on top of a chest or other flat surface. Place vintage sheet music around it.
- Place several pianos together in a group.
- Keep the antique piano away from sunny windows and out of high-traffic areas.
Places to Find Schoenhuts Online
Schoenhut still manufactures toy pianos in a variety of price ranges and models if you're not looking for an antique or vintage piece. However, since they're often out of stock of their current line of toy pianos, you'll probably want to browse around online to see what options the internet can cook up for you. Websites to keep an eye on for these toy pianos include:
- eBay - If you're in the market for antique and vintage Schoenhut toy pianos, eBay is the best place on the internet to go. With a constantly changing inventory and easy-to-use interface, it's the number one spot to acquire moderately priced antique goods.
- Etsy - Although Etsy doesn't quite have the scope that eBay has, it's definitely a strong contender. With both a user-friendly app and website, as well as a substantial inventory, you'll definitely be able to find one of these toy pianos there.
- Ruby Lane - Ruby Lane is one of the largest auction websites on the internet and is a great place to head to for more professionally curated goods. Their products go through a higher vetting process, meaning that there's very little doubt that you're getting the product you've asked for when you make a bid on one of their auctions.
- EBTH - The auction website that gives you the greatest chance of getting what you want for the lowest amount of money is EBTH. An auction website that performs on a smaller scale, what this estate-sale resourced operation lacks in consistent inventory, it makes up for in having fewer bidders and lower winning bids (on average).
Of course, you can also let your local antiques dealer know that you are looking for a Schoenhut antique toy piano. There's always a chance that they'll be able to locate what you are looking for, but their scope is limited to both their contacts and the region you're located in. That being said, you should always deal with someone you trust to make sure that you're buying a genuine piece and not a reproduction.
Let These Toys Strike a Chord With You
Let the decor of your room strike a chord with your guests by adding a finely crafted, antique Schoenhut toy piano to your curated design. These miniature, though powerful, musical instruments will add a refined, old-world touch to any room they're put into in a pinch.