I've had this conversation with quite a few people and we all basically agree....
There are three basic problems with the player piano industry. One, there are too many old players still available. So, they aren't 'rare'. In fact, they won't become legitimate antiques until they are 100 years old. So, the ones made before 1917 is just now becoming antiques. The people who buy antiques are primarily collectors. Problem is, there are way more players available than there are collectors. So, it's a buyer's market, and there are very few buyers. Two, the cost of restoring players to a point where they work well enough to be truly enjoyable puts them out of the reach of the average family. Add to that the cost of maintaining them so they sound good and they become 'affordable' to only the people in the upper-middle class. Problem there is that people in that class rarely have the time (or take the time) to sit back, relax, and enjoy piano music from the past. On top of that, the idea of having to get up every three minutes to change the music roll becomes a 'job' in itself. In fact, about the only time they use the machine is to show it off to their other upper-middle class friends. Lastly, there's the music. For the most part, music (except classical) is basically generational and about the only reason we listen to 'old' music is because it brings back fond memories. As the people who have fond memories of the early part of the 20th century dwindles, so does the desire to seek out ways of enjoying that music. The point here is that even if a person 'is' interested in the antique quality of a player and 'can' afford to own one, they have to have the desire to listen to the music or the player will be just another piece of furniture that needs to be dusted every week.
Now the good news.... As the number of available players decreases and they actually become somewhat rare, the value of the ones that remain will start to increase. It's been suggested, by those who know about such things, that this might start happening around 2025 if the number of available units keeps decreasing at its current rate. The point here is that I see efforts to 'keep' old non-working players around, for whatever reason, as only increasing the length of time before it might once again be profitable to buy, restore, and sell player pianos. By then, the number of people who can do the work will have decreased to the point where they will be able to command more than just a living wage for their labor and the focus of the player industry will be on doing complete soup-to-nuts restorations and creating 'show pieces' for the rich. However, by then it's highly unlikely that the rebuilders will be restoring the original internal parts of the machine. Instead, they will be making new replicas of those parts. That's already happening in the field of the old nickelodeons, orchestrions, and band organs because the original wooden and metal pieces are so deteriorated and/or damaged that it's less expensive to make new parts than it is to try to restore the original parts. That being the case, there's an effort in those fields to accurately document every facet of the original parts, and to a lesser degree, it's also happening in the player industry. However, in the player industry there are still plenty of 'examples' of the original parts. So, there isn't very much of an urgency to do the documentation. Naturally, there are some exceptions. In fact, I've been trying to completely document the pot metal transmission frame from the Baldwin Manualo player system for over a year, and I'm still not done. I've even gone so far as to recreate a working transmission from a pile of broken pieces.
The point here is that simple things like block valves, air motors, tracking devices, and exhauster assemblies are relatively easy to replicate. So, there's no real need to keep 'spare' parts around. They end up just taking up a lot of space, and they eventually deteriorate to the point where they're useless.
Sorry for the long-winded reply, but I've been meaning to write this down for awhile and now seemed like a good time. The information will be put into another webpage at Player-Care.
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