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MMD > Archives > January 1999 > 1999.01.13 > 13Prev  Next

Stencil Pianos
By Andy Taylor

In the last Digest Bruce Clark wrote that American Piano Company also
put out stencil pianos.

I noticed That American piano Company did this very thing as far back
as 1908, possibly earlier. I don't think they were 'stencils' in the
true sense of the word.  This was rather a manufacturing technique,
and a good one.

I am under the impression that American Piano company made their
own plates.  The "Presto Buyers Guide of 1926" refers to the "East
Rochester Iron works" being owned by them, so it would stand to reason
that they cast their own plates and hardware.  It would be easier to
manage only one upright plate and strung back for all the brands they
produced.  It would be far easier to cast different nameplates than to
prepare molds for each piano plate for each brand.  It seems that they
assembled the backs and then decided which brand it should be!

I did manage to build one very nice piano from some old gutted American
Piano Co. clunkers.  None of the pianos were restorable by themselves.
It has a 1918 Foster strung back, A 1919 Marshall & Wendell art case
(ex-Ampico) and a 1920 Foster player action!  Looks factory.

I am not sure if these pianos were sold outside of the American Piano
CO's house or not.  I would say probably.  In the early years (1909 to
at least 1920) all Fosters, Haines, Armstrong, Fishers, Marshall &
Wendell's and Stratfords were indeed the same strung back, plate and
action.  They used one player action, and one piano action and had a
scale count of 25,30,33.

This is not to say that there were some differences.  The Haines
and Marshall & Wendell generally used better woods and better case
construction than Foster and the other brands.  The plate itself
underwent almost constant change every year, with subtle differences
(just enough to give you a headache if you attempt to switch them,
requiring a new pinblock).

Somewhere between 1921 and 1922 the single valve Standards appeared,
and a much shorter piano made an appearance.  These pianos still had
the same scale count, but the Marshall & Wendell then has its own
plate without the removable name plate.

An MMDer sent me a picture (I forgot who) of an upright Ampico that for
all practical purposes is a Foster, as the serial number seems to agree
with that.  But the nameplate proudly states "The Stoddard Ampico".
It would be interesting to find out how many names that these pianos
was actually sold under.  The nameplates from these clunkers hang
everywhere on the wall of my shop; I have collected them since I was
14, Including the nameplate of my first Foster that burned in a house
fire.  "Sir, would you rather have a Foster or a Franklin?" <grin>

Bruce also wrote, "As much time as I spent in and around the factory,
I never questioned this practice, and still wonder why this was done."

I hope that you will share your experiences with us.  What years did
you work there?  I do know the Foster brand was dropped after Aeolian

Andy Taylor

(Message sent Wed 13 Jan 1999, 18:17:13 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Pianos, Stencil

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