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The Value of Old Player Pianos

Hi Frankie,

Most people don't like to hear this, but it has been my professional 
experience that for every dollar you spend restoring a 1920's vintage 
player piano you can expect a $0.50 return. What you do get in 
return is hundreds of hours on entertainment, which has no real 
dollar value in terms of the fair-market value.

Standard, which was made by the Harrington Department of the 
Hardman, Peck & Co, NY, is listed as an instrument of  'established 
name and character' in the 1926 Piano & Player Piano Buyer's Guide 
along with 400 other piano manufacturers. (There have been over 
10,000 piano makers in the US since the 1800's.) This puts the 
Standard in the top 4% category, which is notable.

Player pianos are fairly rapidly becoming 'collectible' items. However, 
they are not yet considered antiques by knowledgeable (and honest) 
dealers. Most feel that players will become legitimate antiques 
around the year 2020, when they become 100 years old. Regular 
pianos become antiques when they are 125. This is because pianos 
are/were so well built that they are expected to be viable instruments 
for at least 50 years, and often work quite well into their 70th year 
if well maintained. The key word here is maintenance.

When parts of the player mechanism deteriorate, replacing those 
parts is considered routine maintenance, and therefore having the 
work done adds little value to the instrument. It's similar to taking 
care of routine maintenance on your car. Naturally, those vehicles 
that are well maintained usually command a higher resale value 
down the road as compared to those that were not well maintained. 
But as most of us have experienced, the difference in resale value 
is typically only a fraction of the monies we've invested in maintenance 
because it's fairly difficult for anyone but a professional to know which 
vehicles were well maintained and which ones were not. However, 
what we have gained, over those who don't do proper maintenance, 
is the peace of mind that the car will take us where we want to go, 
and bring us back home without unnecessary delays.

I feel the same way you do with regards to the tonal quality of 
the circa 1920's uprights as compared to the modern uprights. But 
this has more to do with string length than overall quality. Longer 
strings means the unit has a bigger soundboard, and the soundboard, 
being the 'speaker' for the piano, has a profound effect on the 
overall power and majesty of the instrument. It is the same as 
listening to music over small speakers verses bigger speakers.

The cost of restoring an 80-year old instrument can exceed 
$10,000 if everything that can wear out is replaced (including 
the finish) with new parts. However, routine maintenance, 
such as replacing hoses and rebuilding selected bellows seldom 
exceeds $1,000. It does cost about $4,000 to replace all of the 
soft materials in a player mechanism, but this is not always 
necessary if you are satisfied with slightly reduced performance. 
The big bucks come in when parts like the valves and all of the 
bellows (about 100) need to be replaced.

The bottom-line is that it is a judgement call. If you plan to keep 
the instrument for 20-40 more years, and you truly love listening 
to player piano music, spending the money isn't unwise. However, 
if your intent is to make a profit, the best advice is 'sell it AS IS'. 
As I said before, for every dollar that goes in, only about $0.50 
comes back out.

Hope this helps.

Musically,

John A. Tuttle

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This page was last revised July 1, 2017 by John A. Tuttle, who Assumes No Liability
For The Accuracy or Validity of the Statements and/or Opinions
Expressed within the Pages of the Player-Care Domain.
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