“Upright Pianos”

Having played the piano for the past 20 years, I still have my old original upright Whitney piano.  However, given that I’m moving abroad, I am heartbroken by the news that I now have to sell it.  That piano lasted me through the banging “Freres Jacques” song of a five year old, the angsty operatic period of a teenager, and the Broadway musical era of my twenties.  Built from sturdy wood, it has lasted through three moves and decades of love and crooning.  It’s just killing me to have to let it go.  

In the course of research the estimated value of my treasure, I ran across this fascinating article discussing the history and development of the 20th century piano.  It includes all sorts of pictures and informative details, a great read if you are into music.  Based on the photos, I was able to estimate that my Whitney is from circa early 1920s.  It looks exactly like the photo!  I didn’t realize that I got one of the last styles to have the really high backs.  I don’t like the waist-high piano’s nearly as well.  Of course, to be honest, I’ve yet to meet a piano that sounded as beautiful as my own ~ even the expensive grand pianos.  Sadness, I’ll miss you baby!

If you’re interested, here is a brief portion of the article:


Identify Instrument

via “Antique Piano Shop


Upright Piano, Circa 1870

Upright Piano, Circa 1870
Upright Piano, Circa 1880

Upright Piano, Circa 1880
Upright Piano, Circa 1890

Upright Piano, Circa 1890
Upright Piano, Circa 1900

Upright Piano, Circa 1900
Upright Piano, Circa 1910

Upright Piano, Circa 1910
Arts & Crafts Upright, Circa 1912

Arts & Crafts Upright, Circa 1912
Upright Piano, Circa 1920

Upright Piano, Circa 1920
Upright Piano, Circa 1930

Upright Piano, Circa 1930
Spinet Piano, Circa 1940

Spinet Piano, Circa 1940

The upright piano didn’t become popular in American culture until the last quarter of the 19th century. Prior to that time, the square grand piano was the preferred choice that dominated the American piano market. Most of our vintage ephemera collection doesn’t show upright pianos until the 1870s, although upright pianos were built on a limited scale all through the early and middle 19th century. It is exceedingly rare that we see an upright piano dating prior to 1870 come through our restoration shop, indicating that the extant models of mid-19th century upright pianos are very scarce today.

As the 20th century approached, makers began shifting their production from the square grand piano to the upright piano, as the public’s tastes were beginning to change and homes were becoming smaller and less suited for large square grand pianos. In the 1880s and 1890s, upright piano production increased substantially and by the last decade of the 19th century, the square grand piano that had dominated the market for the past century had all but vanished. Since this was the height of the Victorian era, manufacturers were building their upright pianos with exotic woods and lavish carvings, often producing incredibly ornate and lavish models to suit the décor of the era. The last decade of the 19th century saw some of the finest craftsmanship and quality ever to be put into piano manufacturing.

After the turn-of-the-century, tastes began to change and piano design began to become a bit more streamlined. The ostentatious styles of the late 19th century gave way for more classic and simple design. The first decade of the 20th century saw a calmer, less radical movement in interior design than the previous decades, and this change was immediately seen in the evolving styles offer by the major piano manufacturers.

From about 1900-1916, the Arts & Crafts Movement was a major force in American design. Although the Arts & Crafts design was very popular during the early 20th century, piano makers were slow to adapt to the Mission/Arts & Crafts design. Furniture manufactures were quick to jump on the new trend of the Craftsman style, but piano makers were slow to recognize just how important the Arts & Crafts Movement really was. A handful of manufactures attempted to build pianos in the Craftsman/Mission style, but because the Movement was so short-lived, most of them didn’t see the significance of the Arts & Crafts Movement until it was too late; the Arts & Crafts Movement was over before 1920. Sadly, very few manufacturers ever offered Craftsman style pianos, and as a result, original specimens are exceedingly rare today.

The 1920s era was considered the “Golden Age” of piano building. By this time makers had streamlined operations and the piano had evolved into a perfect machine. The upright piano had evolved into a very simple basic design, becoming more utilitarian in appearance than ever before. With the exception of period furniture styles like Louis XV and French Provincial, most upright pianos were without ornamentation or frills. Instead, plain square pillars and streamlined moldings resulted in a very “modern” looking upright piano which was considered “uncluttered” and “beautifully simplistic.” These simple-looking upright pianos were generally of excellent quality.


Chinese Artist: Wang Bu

“Vases with Bird-and-Flower Painting” by Wang Bu (1898–1968)


Wang Bu was a 20th Century Chinese artist that specialized in working with Ceramics.  He was officially trained in the blue and white art, working under an expert tutor for several years.  Wang Bu’s first significant work came when popular ceramic artist, Wu Aisheng, hired him to design porcelain items in the style so popular during the Ming and Qing periods.  He would continue working with porcelain and ceramics for the rest of his life, preferring to decorate them in the blue and white coloring his father and mentor had loved.

Wang Bu made two great contributions to the art field.  First, He created the innovative method of using Chinese brush drawing to add the blue and white colors onto his ceramics and porcelain works ~ a technique that many other artists would soon pick up.  Second, he invented a “coloring pigment” by using the Chinese ink painting technique.  This pigment helped the colors used on ceramics to stay bright and colorful, as opposed to dulling and spotting as it dried.  

He briefly abandoned the blue and white style  during the tumultuous period of WWII an the Anti-Japanese War. However, he would later return to his roots, and eventually earned the title “King of Blue and White.  In the sixty years that he worked, he designed millions of works, many of which are still famous today.


  • His father, Xiuquing, who was an expert in blue and white painting. 
  • Xu Yousheng, his teacheer and another expert artist that worked with blue and white painting.
  • Ming and Qing Dynasty ceramic artists.

Stylistic Characteristics

  • Blue and White Coloring ~ particularly over-glazed with colors underneath or paste on paste.
  • Ceramics and Porcelain canvases.
  • Use of Chinese brush drawing or ink painting.
  • Bright, smooth coloring.
  • He seems to have like flowers, animals, and natural subjects.
  • His signature in his later years was often “the old man Taoqing.” 

Preview: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” at the MET

“Charles James: Beyond Fashion” at the MET

By Eugénie Trochu, translated by Charlotte Sutherland-Hawes via

L'exposition  Charles James : Beyond Fashion  du Met Costume Institute 2014

Anglo-American designer Charles James (1906-1978) is one the biggest names in mid 20th century American fashion, a designer who thought of fashion as a mathematical science. From Thursday May 8 to Sunday August 10, 2014, the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is opening to the doors to the “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibition, which celebrates the work of the visionary designer. With just a few days until it officially opens, brings you a look at some of the iconic images on display in this year’s MET exhibition, which draws huge crowds every year. (more…)

Coming Exhibition: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion”

Current Exhibition:

“Charles James: Beyond Fashion”

Austine Hearst in Charles James Clover Leaf Gown, ca. 1953


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street)
New York, NY 10028
Phone: 212-535-7710 (TTY: 212-650-2921)


May 8, 2014 – August 10, 2014

Sun-Thurs. ~ 10:00 am – 5:30pm

Fri-Sat. ~ 10:00am – 9:00pm


Adults: $25    |   Seniors (65 + ): $17    |    Students: $12    |    Members: Free    |    Children (12 – ): Free

Further Information:

MET Website 

“The inaugural exhibition of the newly renovated Costume Institute examines the career of the legendary twentieth-century Anglo-American couturier Charles James (1906–1978). Charles James: Beyond Fashion explores James’s design process, focusing on his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence designers today. Approximately sixty-five of James’s most notable designs are presented in two locations—the new Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery in the Anna Wintour Costume Center as well as special exhibition galleries on the Museum’s first floor.

The first-floor special exhibition galleries spotlight the glamour and resplendent architecture of James’s ball gowns from the 1940s through 1950s. The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery provides the technology and flexibility to dramatize James’s biography via archival pieces including sketches, pattern pieces, swatches, ephemera, and partially completed works from his last studio in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel. The evolution and metamorphosis by James of specific designs over decades are also shown. Video animations in both exhibition locations illustrate how he created anatomically considered dresses that sculpted and reconfigured the female form.

After designing in his native London, and then Paris, James arrived in New York City in 1940. Though he had no formal training, he is now regarded as one of the greatest designers in America to have worked in the tradition of the Haute Couture. His fascination with complex cut and seaming led to the creation of key design elements that he updated throughout his career: wrap-over trousers, figure-eight skirts, body-hugging sheaths, ribbon capes and dresses, spiral-cut garments, and poufs. These, along with his iconic ball gowns from the late 1940s and early 1950s—the “Four-Leaf Clover,” “Butterfly,” “Tree,” “Swan,” and “Diamond”—are showcased in the exhibition.”