Even if your musical skills are limited to a brief performance of chopsticks, you don’t need to be an expert to find out if it’s worth something. This guide to antique pianos will help you identify what model you have, when it was created, and most importantly – whether it’s worth anything.
Pianos are beautiful instruments but they can easily fall into disrepair. This is a problem because the conservation techniques and repair techniques used can either enhance the value or destroy it completely!
So, if you have an old piano, make sure you find out if it could be valuable first, and then discover the correct way to restore it into a valuable antique.
How Old are Antique Pianos?
Pianos were officially invented in Italy during the early 18th century, but they were built on a knowledge of string instruments that dates back to the medieval period. So, the earliest true antique piano you could possibly find is no older than 322 years old.
But the majority of pianos that were created and are valuable today were manufactured in 19th century (1800s) and the very early 20th century. This was a time when many different styles and types of piano were developed, as we will explore below.
Furthermore, pianos of this era are more likely to still be operational today. This is important because age is not as important as historical significance, rare design, and superior performance. Just because a piano is centuries old doesn’t mean it will be worth much. Antique dealers and people at auction will pay a higher price for an ornate piano that plays superbly even if it is fairly modern in the grand scale of things.
This is a key thing to keep in mind if you are looking to purchase a piano to repair or sell on for a profit.
Antique Piano Identification
When you are identifying your piano, there are some key things to look for. One of the most important is a serial number or code that is located somewhere on the piano, which will tell you when the piano was created and who manufactured it – if the brand isn’t automatically visible.
This serial code or stamp will be located somewhere hidden. On a grand piano, it is likely to be under the lid, by the tuning pins. If it’s not there, examine further under the hood.
On an upright piano, the serial number is always on the back of the piano where the strings are. Check the upper right and left corners first, as this is where it’s most commonly located. It may also be hidden behind a metal plate. If you do find a metal plate or any component that needs removing to find the serial number, it’s best to hire a professional to do this. You don’t want to damage your piano!
Identifying the Serial Number
Once you have the serial number, which is typically a 5-digit number with additional numbers to identify cases and extra parts, you need to look it up in a catalog. We recommend using the Clinkscale database, which allows you to input the number or search using the features of the piano, to see if it was made between 1700 and 1860.
If you believe the piano to be more modern than this, don’t panic. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily less valuable! The best way to find out who made it is to use a catalog again. However, these are rarely free. The most reasonable service we have found is from Pierce Piano Atlas, but feel free to do your own research and find identification services online and in your local area.
You should now know who made your piano, when it was made, and any other details about the manufacturing and rarity of the antique.
But what if you can’t find a serial number?
- Check Clinkscale (link above) which lists very early pianos going right back to their invention,
- Contact the manufacturer if you think your piano was made by them, and ask for help identifying it,
- Pay for a professional to evaluate the piano – many piano manufacturers have gone out of business, so you won’t be able to research them yourself.
Once you have the piano identified, you can move onto our valuation process below.
Antique Piano Brands and Styles to Look For
If you want to buy a piano and want to know what to look for, here are the basic types and manufacturers of antique pianos. Bear in mind that it’s more than just the age and manufacturer of the piano that determines its value.
Square Grand Pianos
No square grand pianos have been produced in the last 125 years or so, meaning that these pianos are always classified as antique… but not always valuable antiques. Modern restoration services and piano tuners won’t know how to handle a square grand piano, so those that are left have usually fallen into disrepair.
Square grand pianos were first created in the 1760s and were popular thanks to their space-saving design in both America and Europe.
Ah, the classic! Grand pianos are named based on their size. The most well-known size is 1.5 meters, which is the baby grand piano (see below). Up to 2.2 meters is a parlor grand piano, and up to 3 meters is a concert grand.
Steinway & Sons is one of the most well-known grand piano makers who are still in business today.
Baby Grand Pianos
Baby grand pianos are very popular due to their small size, which more easily fits into domestic homes. This style and size is still very popular today, so you are more likely to find a modern baby grand piano than some of the other types.
Alongside Steinway, Schiedmayer are one of the manufacturers who created baby grands that are often valuable today – very few are in America, however.
Upright pianos were invented in 1826 and were very popular due to their size for domestic homes. When they were first sold, upright pianos were significantly cheaper than grand piano alternatives – and the same is still true today. However, this often also applies to antiques, unless the upright piano has significant historical significance (e.g., it was owned or played by a famous musician).
If you have a mirror piano, you’ll know immediately because it will be short and certain sections of the piano will be replaced with mirror paneling. Mirror pianos were created during World War II, when piano manufacturers were focusing on the war effort. So, many people tried to modernize old upright pianos by removing panels and replacing them with mirrors for a more “modern” look.
Unfortunately, this means that a mirror piano is rarely valuable, and you’ll struggle to sell one for more than a few hundred dollars.
Mid-Century Modern Pianos
Mid-century modern pianos were built during and after the Great Depression, as a way to save the piano industry. Mid-century modern pianos are also known as console and spinet pianos. They are characterized as simply a very short upright piano!
These pianos are classified as vintage, rather than antique, however if you find one that has historical significance or is rare in some way, it may still be of value.
Antique Piano Value Guide
When it comes to valuing a piano, it’s best to familiarize yourself with pianos first. To assess the value, you’ve got to first identify who made it and when. Use our guide above to figure that out. You might immediately be able to tell if your piano is worth something by the serial number, if it was limited edition or rare. But most of the time, you need to assess the piano to find out its value.
Here are the key factors that impact the value of your piano:
- Age, to a degree. Obviously, a vintage piano that’s only 50 or 60 years old isn’t going to be worth much just because of its age. However, the older the piano is, the more ornate and beautifully designed the piano is likely to be. The grand pianos built during the 1800s were particularly spectacular. So, in this sense, age can be a determining factor.
- Ornate casework. Basically, if the piano is utterly gorgeous and beautifully crafted, it’s going to be more attractive to buyers and collectors. The mid to late 1800s was an era of some particularly beautiful pianos. Pianos built after 1900 tended to be more classic and uniform in shape and style.
- Historical importance. If the piano was the first built by a specific company, or was owned by someone of importance, then this could give the piano value. However, don’t get your hopes up too high. This kind of historical importance is only valuable to some academics and doesn’t guarantee a high price in general.
- If the piano is still in great condition or provides a superior performance when played, then this can increase the value.
One final factor that greatly impacts the price is whether it has been restored. If original parts have been replaced with modern alternatives, this can bring down the price even if the alterations have made the piano more playable!
With fixes, repairs and restorations, it’s integral that proper conservation techniques are used. This can be very costly, depending on the type of piano. A square grand piano, for example, is especially difficult to work with because this style hasn’t been manufactured for over a century – not many people have the knowledge to fix them nowadays.
If you do have the piano serviced or repaired, you must keep a log (or at least the receipt) as any potential buyers will want to know its history.
How to Value Pianos Yourself
If you are incredibly lucky, you may be able to find your exact piano model being sold at auction – this gives you a good indication of the price. If not, here’s what you can do:
- First, Google the name of the piano brand to see if their antique pianos sell for much money in auctions. Steinway, Sauter, Mason & Hamlin, etc. These are just a few names to look out for.
- Find the records for the piano. If it has ever been serviced or repaired and you have maintained the receipts, this makes valuing it much easier.
- If the condition has not been maintained at all or there is no history, you need to get it valued professionally. See below.
- Determine the original purchase price. If your piano was made in the last 100 or so years, it may depreciate in value. Knowing the original purchase price is therefore a good starting point.
- If you haven’t found a rough price or quote from your research at this point, it’s time to upload photos to forums.
How to Get Your Piano Valued Professionally
A professional piano appraiser won’t work for free, so we highly recommend that you do your own research before hiring one. You don’t need to go to extremes to identify the piano model, but just have a look to see if similar pianos sell for any considerable amount.
Once you’re confident that your piano is worth the time and money it takes to get it appraised professionally, here’s what you do:
- Find a piano appraisal service in your area, if possible.
- If not, find an online appraisal service like Pierce Piano Atlas, David Estey, or Antique Piano Shop that can also restore your piano professionally.
- With your professional valuation, find a great place to sell your piano.
Where to Buy and Sell Antique Pianos
Many independent antique dealers and piano specialists will buy and sell valuable pianos. But there are also some more mainstream places to look.
With eBay, there’s always a risk. You might not get what you pay for! But it is a good place to find cheap pianos that may be restored or sold on for a profit, if you know what to look for. It’s a good idea to find pianos with a warranty and service history.
Etsy is a good place to find smaller piano paraphernalia as well as antique piano benches and stools. However, you may get lucky and find a full-size piano sold here too – just follow the same rules for eBay and look for a warranty and signs that the piano is genuine.
Amazon mostly specializes in new products and you’re certainly more likely to find a keyboard sold on Amazon rather than an antique piano. Nonetheless, there are some third-party sellers on Amazon that may have refurbished pianos and piano stools to purchase. Antique metronomes and piano repair items are also found on this platform.
With Craigslist, you view secondhand items that are nearest to you. So, find your nearest location from this list to access to Craigslist you need. There are so many items on Craigslist including numerous antiques. Sites like Craigslist are good for purchasing large items like pianos because you aren’t shipping the antique halfway across the country!
If you want to guarantee that your antique piano is authentic and worth the money you spend, then 1stDibs is the best site for you. Only verified and professional antiques dealers can apply to sell their products on the site, so it’s better for buying than selling.
At the time of writing, Pamono has an extensive selection of piano stools to select from, but no actual pianos. As they sell vintage and antique items, their available selection is always changing. So, it’s worth checking with Pamono. Furthermore, you can contact Pamono if you are looking for something very specific!
Are antique pianos worth much?
It really depends on the piano – the brand, age and condition are all very important. Whether the piano has been restored is also very important. For a vintage piano, a few hundred dollars is an average price. The most highly valued antique pianos can be valued at tens of thousands of dollars.
Are vintage pianos worth much?
A vintage piano may be worth tens of thousands of dollars if it is kept in good condition and is highly sought after. Most vintage pianos will sell for less than this, however. Read our valuation section above to find out how much your piano is worth.
Is my piano vintage or antique?
The general rule is that if an object is older than 100 years, it is considered an antique. This applies to pianos, however as you can find pianos that are 50 years old and still relatively “modern” many antique pianos are far older than this.
Which antique pianos are worth lots?
Antique piano prices aren’t just based on their age. It’s not uncommon to play a 50-year-old piano and call it modern, even though other items would be referred to as vintage at that age. The pianos that are worth the most are limited edition or rare in some way, as well as restored to the point that they are playable.
How can I date my piano?
Many pianos, particularly modern ones, are stamped with a brand name, serial number, and model. This information will help you find the time when that particular piano model was created.