The Collection: Living Room

We’re in the living room today, looking at the inlaid piano, although there is also a Stickley piano upstairs in the girls’ bedroom.

Inlaid Piano
Dimensions: 62 1/2″ W x 57″ H x 29″ D
Materials: Oak with inlays of pewter, oak and tinted woods
Works: Serial number 37370. Works manufactured by the Everett Piano Company, Boston
Inlay panels and marquetry band: Made by the firm of George H. Jones, New York City
Date: ca. 1905 – 1906
Designer: Harvey Ellis
Gift by Paul Fiore to The Craftsman Farms Foundation.

Apparently the first piano built by Stickley’s firm was the one photographed for the October 1903 issue of The Craftsman. Certainly designed by Harvey Ellis, it had an elegant rectilinear case of dark fumed oak. The flat surface above the keyboard had a central music rack flanked by inlaid rectangular panels.

These decorative panels consisted of a stylized plant stem rising through an oval motif and terminating in a bright spot of color, a “blossom.” The blossom was placed within a small rectangle bisected by a line of string inlay that formed a larger rectangle; this is a visually satisfying unifying motif, with the two inlaid rectangles repeating the shape of the panels they are set into. The surface below the keyboard was a gridded panel. Its horizontal and vertical lines were echoed in the laths of the music rack as well as in the rectangular decorative channels cut into the front and sides of the case. At the top of the case, there was a shaped and beveled cornice surmounting a line of applied dentil molding.

Stickley took this first piano home to his Columbus Avenue house, and later, when the family left Syracuse to move to New Jersey, it went into the girls’ bedroom at Craftsman Farms. It was inherited by his second daughter, Mildred, and remains with her descendants. This piano has eighty-five keys and two pedals, and its work are by Carl Rhönisch, a German firm that also manufactured works for pianos designed by M. H. Baillie Scott. A replica of this piano case, made in 2003 by Mitchell Andrus is now in the girls’ bedroom.

The piano originally in the log house living room is now lost, though it was similar to other Craftsman pianos now known. They have eighty-eight keys, three pedals, and works made either by Vose & Son, Boston, or, like the present example, by the Everett Piano Company. The cases of these pianos are slightly different from the first piano. Instead of a separate music rack, for instance, they have a gridded panel above the keyboard, and their feet are made of heavier, more substantial boards. These minimum variations aside, the cases remained essentially unchanged for the remaining ten or so years that inlaid Craftsman pianos were made. Including the piano now at Craftsman Farms, there are perhaps six examples of this rare model known today.

Though The Craftsman magazine often published Craftsman interiors that included the firm’s pianos, Stickley’s catalogs rarely showed them. A drawing of a Craftsman piano appeared in the booklet “Chips from the Craftsman Workshops” (1907), and photographs were published in the catalogs “Some Chips from the Craftsman Workshops” (1909) and “Craftsman Furnishings for the Home (1912). The promotional copy in these two catalogs sheds light on the rarity of Craftsman pianos today. According to the 1909 catalog: “We have one of the pianos on exhibition in our New York showrooms and one in Boston, and will gladly furnish by mail any particulars concerning them.” This is evidence that the firm made samples for retail display and did not keep pianos in stock. The 1912 catalog offered the piano without inlay, saying, “we find that many people do not wish to buy a piano as expensive as our original design, and others would prefer the piano case simpler, without the decorative inlay in wood.” The price of the piano without inlay was $450 and the inlaid version – its price not given in either catalog – would have sold for more. $450 amounted to a considerable outlay in an era when many middle class families were living on incomes of about $1,000 to $1,500 a year. With or without inlay, the handsome Craftsman piano was evidently too high-priced for Stickley’s middle-class customers and it is likely that few were made.

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