One of THE most difficult questions that I am constantly being asked is, "What is my player piano worth?" Honestly, I can't tell you with any degree of accuracy. It is the condition of a unit, both inside and out, which establishes it's basic value, just like with any other consumer good. There are, of coarse, classes of instruments ranging from 'unknown origin' to 'elite'. The fact is, there have been more than 12,000 different piano makers in just the past 150 years. (And you thought there were a lot of car makers.)
It is actually much easier to approach the topic of value from an entirely different perspective. First, let's talk availability. Today, on the Internet, there are people who are selling 'complete' circa 1920 upright player pianos in unrestored condition for $250.00 to $450.00, and there are dozens to choose from. As far as prices at auctions, upright players hardly ever command more than $1000.00 in working or semi-working condition. The same is true at sites like CraigsList. Here in New Jersey, if you can get $1200-$1500 for a fully functional circa 1920's player piano, you're having a great day. Reproducing players can go for as high as $14,000.00 to $16,000, and higher, but only when the piano is in the highest class and in perfect working order. Again, we come back to condition, for it is the condition of a unit, both inside and out, which determines it's basic value.
Let's say you have a working player that looks pretty nice and is regularly maintained by a qualified player piano technician. I can almost guarantee that the technician has a good idea of the units value and would be happy to tell you. If the unit looks nice and is not well maintained, you will most likely have to hire a professional to evaluate the units condition and he will give you an idea of it's approximate value. Let's say the unit looks pretty rough, has chipped ivories, a few corners crushed in, ding marks here and there and the player doesn't work but it's intact. Well, it's considered unrestored and it's worth less than $300.00.
What about restoring the unit. Surely they must become more valuable if they have been professionally restored. WRONG! At the present moment, it costs more to restore a player piano than it's worth. Remember those units that I was offered for the cost of moving? I usually decline the offer because even at cost, it's almost impossible to sell a restored unit for what I've put into it in time and materials. Generally speaking, the return one can expect is $0.35 for every dollar spent in repair or restoration costs. Then you might wonder, "Why have it restored?" Answer... because you love it. That's the only reasonable answer. Player pianos are not an investment!!! Unlike a fine violin, player pianos get WORSE with AGE and every single one will have to be restored, at a healthy fee, at least every forty years (much sooner on certain types). Ouch!
So, what's it worth? If you haven't figured it out by now, you need the services of a profession technician who will charge about $80.00 to $95.00 an hour for his talents. Frankly, that's a lot less expensive than just two of the main reference books that any qualified technician has in his office and most good technicians have dozens of books. Have we got the time to do all the research for free? Frankly, No! It's best if you hire a professional rebuilder and have him perform a complete evaluation. If you have the Name of the Manufacturer, the Serial Number and the units General Condition, i.e., working or non-working player mechanism, appearance, etc., then visit the Blue Book of Pianos website and write to Bob Furst. He has collected quite a bit of information about numerous piano companies.
As a final word, all of the above is simply my opinion based on forty years as a player piano technician. I could be wrong!
Hello my name is Jim and I reside in London, Ohio just east of Dayton. I am an owner Milton Player Piano with numerous rolls of music. I am in great debate with myself as to what I should do with it. It was painted prior to me receiving it. I have tried to strip it and restore the finish but I am afraid that I have not done a very good job. I am now considering paying for the restoration, repainting it myself, or selling it the way it is. Before I make any final decision, I am seeking an estimate of the worth in each of the three conditions, and the cost of restoring it. Can you provide me with any or all of this information. Thanks, Jim ----------- Hi Jim, I can't give you the information you desire. Here's why: The value of a player piano is dependent on its exact overall condition, both inside and out. Terms like "very good", "excellent", or "average" have no significance because they are 'subjective'. Only a trained technician, who also buys and sells such instruments, can give you realistic numbers. Also, it usually costs twice as much to restore a unit than it's worth once the work has been completed, i.e. spend $10K, it's value is $5K. I've also been told by those in the business of buying and selling player pianos that a painted case reduces the potential value of the piece by $300. Lastly, when someone tells me they want to get their player piano "restored", I interpret that to mean they want a "soup-to-nuts" rebuilding of the entire insides of the piano, plus the keys and wheel casters. Such a job would run $14K-$16K. However, what people usually mean when they say "restored" is 'make it play again'. That's a whole different 'ball game', and it costs considerably less because only specific parts of the insides actually get rebuilt. Parts like the strings, hammers, piano action parts and keys do not get restored, they get repaired or 'refurbished' (very few new parts are installed). Also, the potential fair-market value is based partly on the quality of workmanship completed by the rebuilder... For more information about 'values', see: 'Player Piano Values' by John A Tuttle
This page was last revised on February 2, 2012 by John A. Tuttle.
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