American Victorian Pianos
(1875 – 1899)
The Victorian era was named for England’s Queen Victoria, who ruled Britain from 1837 to 1901. Stylistically it was an age of romance and eclecticism. After a century and a half of logical and orderly neoclassical design, Victorian style burst forth with its ideals of abundance, imagination and diverse cultural richness. At the height of this Rococo Revival period in America, the pianos were bedecked with garlands, floral swags, scrolls, ribbons of sinuous leaves and vines, cornucopia and blossoms.
In the Victorian era pianos were viewed as a universal symbol of culture, breeding and refinement. In the 1880′s, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, mass production of pianos began in the United States. Piano manufacturers embraced the industrial techniques of interchangeable parts and coupled them with an assembly line. The resulting efficiencies led to extraordinary price reductions. Victorian details were factory produced, making elaborate decorations affordable to a broader public. Decorative motifs ranged widely-from classical designs to floral patterns to repetitive geometric forms.
The domineering design factors of the 1880′s pianos were turned legs dripping with ostentatious ornamentation and fabric-backed front panels of open jigsaw fretwork. The cases of the 1890′s still have the lavish carvings made of exotic woods. The cabinet veneers were mainly walnut-burl and figured, and rosewood. Rich color and high polish were characteristic of these adorned woods. Ebonized cases were also very popular. The open filigree panels were replaced by etchings carved into the three architectural panels. The legs were still heavily ornamented. Victorian pianos are characterized by the small fold-down shelf that holds the music on the piano, either on the front board or on the fall-board.
A severe economic “panic” brought the music industry’s upward progress to an abrupt halt in the latter half of 1893. Few pianos were produced between then and 1897. Not many pianos out of this limited production remain structurally sound. For this reason, you will find only choice ones from this period offered at the Immortal Piano Company.