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#308672 - 09/08/01 12:28 PM Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Linder Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/08/01
Posts: 2
Loc: New Hampshire
We own a Chickering concert grand, built between 1875 and 1879. We plan to have it refurbished so we can sell it. Of course, we want to ensure that what we have done increases its value and doesn't decrease it.

The people who will refinish it are well qualified to do the work, but we want to ensure that we have the right things done. What should we AVOID doing and what should we be sure to do?

Thanks for the advice
Linder

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#308673 - 09/08/01 01:32 PM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Penny Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 2943
Loc: San Juan Capistrano, CA
Linder,
It would be very difficult for anyone here to give precise advice (ooh, that rhymes!) without seeing the piano first. First, whether a Chickering grand is worth rebuilding. Generally, yes, although I'm not sure about the age of your piano. I have seen many turn-of-the-century Chickering grands (you don't tell us how long) in the $10-$20K range for 6-footers, depending on the styling (traditional-classical versus more art case, BTW, I thought the $20K price was too high). Of course the longer grands and more ornate cases fetch more money.

But the thing that concerns me most is you talk about refinishing the piano, meaning a cosmetic upgrade. Unless you're looking to sell this piano to people who are only concerned about its furniture value, you'll HAVE to evaluate the inside of the piano, how it plays, how it sounds. If it has NEVER been rebuilt, I'm sure it is due for an extensive overhaul. The rebuilders here can give you more details, but two of the more obvious areas of problems (and expensive to replace) for a piano this old would be the soundboard (the board underneath the plate) and the pin block (which holds the tuning pins). The pin block is especially important as the stability of the piano's tuning depends on it. These must be custom-made.

If I were you, I'd get several estimates from re-builders, or, if you're concerned about their objectivity, hire an independent technician to give an evaluation on the agreement that that person would not be the one to do the work but merely provide the specifications.

Good luck and keep in touch!
penny

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#308674 - 09/08/01 02:29 PM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Linder,

Penny is largely on the right track. You will not get this piano's full value simply by refinishing it so don't do that. Your piano is definitely worth rebuilding and can fetch between $15K-$20K when done well, even more if it is in fact a full concert grand, 8 ft 5 in to 9 ft in length, these go in the high twenties, low thirties.

So first let's get its true length. Take a long tape measure and run it from the front end of the keyboard straight back to the farthest part of the "tail" of the piano to get its exact length.

Look inside under the music desk on the plate and find the serial number. That will tell us precisely how old the piano is. Then get a piano technician to look it over. Don't tell him what you intend to do or he may get bold enough to ask you if he can do the work as some who have no business rebuilding a piano may occasionally do. Every piano technician is NOT a competent piano rebuilder. You will want to find out the following things;

Is this an old fashioned Chickering; straight scaled, or do the bass strings cross over the other strings as in a modern "Steinway system" piano? This will affect the final sale price of the piano as antique pianos are not as highly valued as "modern" ones, although I have personally encountered a few genuine antiques that when masterfully rebuilt sounded wonderful.

Are there any cracks in the plate? Rare, but if this is the case, the piano is not worth rebuilding.

What is the condition of the soundboard and ribs? Cracks? Crown? Down bearing?

What is the condition of the bridges? Cracks?

We can assume that the action, including the hammers, and the pinblock will be replaced as these will greatly enhance the final value of the instrument.

The final basic considerations are at the keyboard end. Are the ivories ijn good condition? If so, and they can be reconditioned to look as new, the value of the piano is enhanced as this is a "feature" that is increasingly rare. If not, the keyboard will have to be recovered and by a shop that does this as a specialty. This is one are where one can judge the quality of a rebuilt piano. If the keyboard looks awful, the rest will be awful too. You also want to take note of whether your piano has a "Boston close" or "New York close" fallboard, popularized by Steinway and adopted by everyone else. The modern, New York style is where when open the fallboard, it goes from just behind the keys right to the top of the piano rather than folding into the piano, as in the more old fashioned Boston style. A good rebuilder can replace the Boston close with a modern fallboard with gentle closing so that little fingers wont get mashed. The Boston close had the virtue of usually allowing for a lock to be installed so that little fingers could be locked out. But fashion seems to have dictated that this feature was not as important as how the fallboard added to the unfettered display of the piano's decal when open.

Now after we have an idea of what we have here, we consider what the usual considerations are; action, hammers, soundboard, pinblock, strings.

Here's my recomendations: a genuine Renner action, Renner, Abel, Isaac or Steinway hammers, a Balduc soundboard (this will cost you the most money but will guarantee that the piano sounds the best and gets the most money) and it should be a "physically crowned" design too, can be Delignit or five ply maple but should be "full fit" as in a Steinway grand, strings can probably be Mapes' best except for the bass strings which can be handmade by either Isaac or Sanderson. The piano will definitely be rescaled.

If done well, you'll end up with a "killer" concert grand that would do the stages of the best concert halls in the world proud.

You can contact me off the forum for further information.
_________________________
David Burton's Blog
http://dpbmss041010.blogspot.com/

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#308675 - 09/09/01 06:03 AM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Niles Duncan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/27/01
Posts: 513
Loc: Pasadena, CA
If you were interested in restoring this piano with the intent to keep it and use it yourself I would say that is probably worth restoring. However since you simply want to sell it and are doing the work in order to get a higher price I would say forget it and sell it as is for whatever you can get for it.

If your use of the term "concert grand" to describe it is precise, meaning this is a grand in the 8.5 to 9 foot range there are some additional considerations. Excluding institutional buyers who generally only buy new concert grands anyway, there is only a very small market for concert grands - only a few people have the space or desire for one of these. Second, probably for 8 out of 10 buyers of concert grands the only concert grand they are willing to consider buying is a modern Steinway D. This makes any concert grand on the private market a difficult to sell white elephant, and that goes double for any concert grand that isn't a Steinway. Therefore money spent on something like an antique Chickering that has to be recovered out of a sale is problematic.

No matter what size grand this is - concert or otherwise - as other writers have said, simply refinishing this piano isn't going to do it. This is a piano in need of a full rebuilding. Again this is expensive work if done properly and the cost of doing this could equal or even exceed the additional money that could be recovered from the sale. Realize that many of the advertised prices seen in such places as www.pianomart.com are unrealistic, and that generally only a dealer operating out of a retail space with an inventory and a fat advertising budget can get top price for a piano. Usually I'd say that a private owner paying retail for rebuilding and refinishing work then expecting to recover that amount or generate a profit by selling the piano is going to come out sucking his thumb.

Niles Duncan
Piano rebuilder, Pasadena, CA www.pianosource.com

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#308676 - 09/09/01 04:11 PM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Linder,

I believe I responded too quickly without knowing more about your piano. I want to sensibly review the remarks of Mr. Duncan, whose credentials and caliber are not in dispute, and in fact I may want to UNDERLINE much of what he has to say:

 Quote:
Originally posted by Niles Duncan:
If you were interested in restoring this piano with the intent to keep it and use it yourself I would say that is probably worth restoring. However since you simply want to sell it and are doing the work in order to get a higher price I would say forget it and sell it as is for whatever you can get for it. [/b]


This is certainly an option, PROBABLY THE BEST ONE. After reading what you said about the piano today; it is a straight scaled "antique" design rather than a "modern" piano and that presents difficulties to many buyers. Niles' option might be the best one for you as putting money into this is not likely to come out for you unless you are very lucky.

 Quote:
Originally posted by Niles Duncan:
If your use of the term "concert grand" to describe it is precise, meaning this is a grand in the 8.5 to 9 foot range there are some additional considerations. Excluding institutional buyers who generally only buy new concert grands anyway, THERE IS ONLY A VERY SMALL MARKET FOR CONCERT GRANDS - only a few people have the space or desire for one of these. Second, probably for 8 out of 10 buyers of concert grands the only concert grand they are willing to consider buying is a modern Steinway D. This makes any concert grand on the private market a difficult to sell white elephant, and that goes double for any concert grand that isn't a Steinway. Therefore money spent on something like an antique Chickering that has to be recovered out of a sale is problematic.[/b]


Yours is in fact a concert grand and it was made between 1875 and 1879, probably closer to 1876. These are BIG pianos and few private people have the space and as Niles says, if they do, they will usually want a Steinway D or some other "modern" piano.

 Quote:
Originally posted by Niles Duncan:
No matter what size grand this is - concert or otherwise - as other writers have said, simply refinishing this piano isn't going to do it. [/b]


I agree with this. Better to sell it as is than spend money refinishing it. Hope you haven't signed any contracts or put in any money yet.

 Quote:
Originally posted by Niles Duncan:
This is a piano in need of a full rebuilding. Again this is expensive work if done properly and the cost of doing this could equal or even exceed the additional money that could be recovered from the sale. [/b]


Let's put it succinctly: putting money into this in hopes of earning a profit is a very big gamble.

Now, being also quite fair and honest about it, Mr. Duncan is in an expensive location with a different caliber of people to sell to than we have here in the Northeast. People up here have some pretty long memories and understanding of where such things as nice big Chickering grands fit in some of the nice big Victorian or Colonial homes we have here. And there are competent rebuilders here who can afford to charge a lot less than Mr. Duncan can. But let's be honest here; we're talking an expenditure of at least $10K and how much are you likely to get for such a piano?

There's one, albeit a pretty ornate one, that's of the same type and vintage as yours on the Country Pianos website (Hillside Way, Burdett, New York, that's the boonies, finger lakes region, low rent district, 607-546-2712) at http://www.countrypiano.com/chickering1878.htm
Go take a look at it. Is this one at all like yours? I post this for information purposes only. I have never been there and don't know whether they still have the piano. I do know one thing though, they have priced the piano so as not to sell it quickly (which in any case could be a matter of years) but to those who want it for decorative as well as musical reasons.

Mr. Duncan goes on to inform us a bit about the inflated retail prices some people have on their pianos who don't know what they're really worth.

 Quote:
Originally posted by Niles Duncan:
Realize that many of the advertised prices seen in such places as
www.pianomart.com are unrealistic, and that generally only a dealer operating out of a retail space with an inventory and a fat advertising budget can get top price for a piano. Usually I'd say that a private owner paying retail for rebuilding and refinishing work then expecting to recover that amount or generate a profit by selling the piano is going to come out sucking his thumb. [/b]


Yes, I did laugh when I read this.

Look folks, there are a lot of easier ways to make money than fixing up old pianos and selling them. The absolute key to it all is the market. It varies from place to place depending on the depth of musical culture in the area, the particular interest in pianos, the SATURATION of the market with pianos, and a host of other variables. The internet is helping develop this market as well as intensifying competition among suppliers and retailers. The results are better products at predictable prices for the consumer, at virtually every price point along the line.

There are a lot of stereotypes out there and some that I have seen that are way off the map. Here are a few:

The lady with a broken down old parlor grand of reasonable make that's already been rebuilt by a hack job artist (and basically ruined) that she thinks is worth $25K when in fact it's only worth about $700. She can probably get as much as $2,500 for it from a sucker, but she'd never sell it that low so she'll never sell it. She'll be sucking her thumb.

A store with a couple of the WORST rebuild jobs I've ever seen on again respectable venerable old classic brands of parlor grands selling for around $8,000 and THEY WERE SELLING! Oh God, I pittied the poor people who bought them!

A young man with an incredible repertoire who could BANG out 10 or 12 Beethoven sonatas from memory who is playing, no I'm not kidding, a Wurlitzer spinet! He wants, and needs an upgrade, so he saves up his money and ends up trading it in for a beat up old Everett that needed to go to the piano boneyard years ago (as did his spinet) and he parts with $1,100 of very hard earned money into the bargain! He should be sucking his thumb if he isn't.

There was the really weird story about a guy who ruined what could have been an ok piano (an Asian upright) by trying to tune it himself with his own hand tools thinking he could save some money. The tech who showed me this was between gritting his teeth in disgust and bursting out laughing and uncontrollably rolling on the floor. He managed to get the guy to part with it so that all the damage could be repaired and the tech could resell it. The tech paid $400 for the piano which by the time he's through could sell for $1,600. Not sure who is sucking their thumb here. The tech might if he can't sell the piano.

There's the piano (an old no name upright) that was let out in the rain, soaking pouring rain, by a landlord who evicted the tenant who had owned it and then tried selling it for $300? No takers, luckily. The piano and all the rest went to the dump at the landlord's expense. The landlord is probably sucking his thumb, at least a little, now and then.

One sees the odd ad for a vintage _____ grand piano, must sell. When all the details are in, it turns out that the poor thing is in a miserable state, a no name baby grand that isn't even worth hauling away so it is left where it is when they move. Who sucks their thumb then? The guy who placed the ad probably.

Then there's reason. Somebody has a pretty good make parlor grand that they own and want to keep that they could have rebuilt into quite a nice piano. Is it worth doing rather than buying a new one? In many cases it is.

Another reasonable thing is when someone has a nice piano, 80 to 100 years old, but that needs a total rebuild because it is too old or is worn out. They want to sell it and are not too picky about what they get for it; a few hundred dollars. Some qualified, experienced rebuilder buys it, turns it into a beautiful modern piano and sells it for a few thousand dollars. Nobody's left sucking their thumb here.
_________________________
David Burton's Blog
http://dpbmss041010.blogspot.com/

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#308677 - 09/09/01 10:14 PM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Steve Miller Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 3290
Loc: Yorba Linda, CA
A most thorough and balanced discussion, David - the sort of which I have come to admire you for. If I may add something to your last few lines:

 Quote:
Originally posted by David Burton:


Some qualified, experienced rebuilder buys it, turns it into a beautiful modern piano and sells it for a few thousand dollars. Nobody's left sucking their thumb here.[/b]


This is the key. People who do not do their own work (or at least know how to) rarely make any money at all in the restoration business. Most lose their shorts. I see it all the time in houses; motorcycles and cars are much the same. If you are to make money doing restorations, you have to do the work yourself or at least know what parts of the work can be farmed out to others at low cost without compromising the end result.

The broad market is such that prices for nearly any commodity (like old pianos of a restorable nature) are based on what that commodity will sell for when restored, less nearly the exact cost of the restoration. The Internet is evening out this spread more than ever, and it is becming correspondingly tougher to find anything worth restoring for profit.

The market spread does not generaly allow for carrying costs, hidden damage, unforseen expenses, changes in public taste, storage fees, tax law changes or the disappearance of a favored craftsman. In short, there are a thousand things that may result in your being glad to get out of a project with your investment intact, never mind the fact that you made about $2 per hour while you were working on it.

So Mr. Linder, I believe the advice you have been given is sound. Sell the Chickering in it's current condition for whatever the market will bear. If you have an eye for a more modern piano, perhaps you can fold your piano in to a deal on a newer one; perhaps with a rebuilder or technician who does his own work.

Good luck!
_________________________
Defender of the Landfill Piano

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#308678 - 09/10/01 01:10 AM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Norbert Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/03/01
Posts: 14413
Loc: Surrey, B.C.
Whenever "resale" or purported "investment"
value is at stake there is a simple way to
test the thesis. I recommend that people should advertise these pianos as if they are already fully restored and ready for sale.
You will see on the number of calls - or the
LACK OF THEM - if it is worth to go ahead!

Of course you will loose yor $ 50.00 expense
for the ads - but this beats loosing $10.000
....for an unnessary restauration project!

Norbert Marten
www.heritagepianos.com
_________________________
www.heritagepianos.com
Greater Vancouver B.C. piano dealers for : C.Sauter, Estonia, Brodmann, Ritmuller
604-951-8642

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#308679 - 09/10/01 01:49 AM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Ed A. Hall Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/23/01
Posts: 272
What's a Balduc soundboard? Is it a specific type of spruce like sitka spruce?

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#308680 - 09/10/01 02:23 AM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Andre Bolduc, who used to have a website, all in French, which seems to have disappeared, is the French Canadian maker of some of the reputed best soundboards in the world. They are made exclusively of Northeastern white spruce from Quebec, a close cousin of the famed Addirondack white spruce used for Steinways, Mason & Hamlins and others of the golden age of American piano making. But there is something else involved besides. M. Bolduc favors actually building the crown into the soundboard as opposed to forcing or "compressing" the soundboard into a crown as it is installed into the piano. Those who favor this method believe the soundboards are stronger, project more, less subject to cracking, etc. It's a running technical argument which is best, physically crowned or compressed. I have heard respectable arguments on each side. Apparently Bechstein and other German makers prefer to make their soundboards "physically crowned" whereas Steinway and other makers use the compressed soundboard method. I brought this subject up simply because these methods seem to bear the most fruit when applied to smaller grand pianos, the targets of many of the rebuilders.
_________________________
David Burton's Blog
http://dpbmss041010.blogspot.com/

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#308681 - 09/10/01 11:04 AM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Linder Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/08/01
Posts: 2
Loc: New Hampshire
Thanks to all of you who responded to my questions. You certainly have given my husband and I food for thought. The only investment we have made so far is the $100 we paid for the piano, the $400 to move it, and about $200 for supplies for work my husband did on it. All in all, not bad. Especially since it is not in terrible condition. We got it for next to nothing because it was in an old New England town hall and the town didn't know what to do with it!

We appreciate the very thoughtful and insightful responses.

Thanks to all of you.
Linda

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#308682 - 09/10/01 03:35 PM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Norbert Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/03/01
Posts: 14413
Loc: Surrey, B.C.
THANKS for coming on line at the end again!

Most people here have a habit to disappear...
..after they made their "information profit"!

[P.S. After all, not everybody here is an 'alligator' or 'crocodile'!] Best of luck!
_________________________
www.heritagepianos.com
Greater Vancouver B.C. piano dealers for : C.Sauter, Estonia, Brodmann, Ritmuller
604-951-8642

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#308683 - 09/10/01 10:05 PM Re: Restoration and piano value of Chickering grand
Steve Miller Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 3290
Loc: Yorba Linda, CA
My apologies, Ma'am, for referring to you as Mr. Linder. Looking back, I amnot sure why I thought you were a Mr. rather than a Ms.

Thanks for your post at the end of the thread as well. So many times there is much discussion but no closure on the issue. Inquiring minds want to know!

I look forward to hearing what you decide to do.

Cheers!
_________________________
Defender of the Landfill Piano

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