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MMD > Archives > December 1998 > 1998.12.12 > 12Prev  Next

Steck Pianos in Europe
By Dan Wilson, London

In 981211 MMDigest Paddy Handscombe (there's a D in the name, Robbie !)

> As far as we know, no Steck pianos were made in Britain until
> after WW1, when heavy duties were applied to German imports.
> Before the war 'European' Stecks were made at the Gotha factory
> of Ernst Munck, which Aeolian took over around 1904.

> Extremely fine instruments, Gotha Stecks are very similar to
> earlier Munck pianos and are undoubtedly Munck designs, usually
> in Aeolian house-style cases.  After 1918 British-designed
> Stecks were manufactured at Hayes, Middlesex, and few Gotha
> Stecks seem to have reached Britain; the Gotha factory was taken
> over in the 1920s by Philips AG.

Paddy's first line is in direct contradiction of my message on Gotha
Stecks in MMD 961207, which said, in part:

 -- quote from MMDigest 961207 --

Some time after the Aeolian Co. acquired the George Steck piano
company in the United States, they started making Stecks not only in
England (mainly run-of-the-mill but solid pianos, with maybe one in
six very good by accident) but in Germany, at Gotha.  These German
Stecks were nearly always quite outstanding pianos, having a subtlety
to their tone worthy of much more famous makes. They were supplied in
England by the bigger Orchestrelle Co. dealers along with the English
Steck (but not the American) up until the Great War when we can
assume the works were sequestrated as for German assets in England.
The bigger grands are like Bluthners crossed with Steinways.

It was quite obvious that no one could make a piano like the Gotha
Steck without having been at it many years, so evidently Aeolian had
simply bought up another piano firm.  The question is, which, and
when ?  Denis Hall here has a gorgeous 1915 Gotha grand (we think
bought by mail order direct from the Choralion Co. in Berlin by
German South Africans), and when I raised this question, he referred
me silently to the (London) Player-Piano Group's Bulletin for June
1995, which has a run of seminal Pianola ads 1905-1908 reproduced in
it.  In the Nov. 1905 ad we find:

> The Pianola Piano (Broadwood Piano).  The Broadwood Piano needs no
> eulogy from us.  It is the representative English piano and has ever
> held a high place in piano art.

> The Pianola Piano (Munck Piano).  Many people prefer the tone of
> German Pianos to any other, and for that reason we have secured
> control of the whole output of Ernst Munck, Gotha.  These pianos
> rank with the best instruments of any firm, and are fully
> guaranteed.

> The Pianola Piano (Weber Piano).  The interests of the celebrated
> Weber Piano Company, of America, have now been secured by the
> manufacturers of the Pianola.  The Weber Piano ranks as one of the
> finest products of American genius, and is one of the very highest
> grade.  It is the leading American piano.

(So much for Steinway, Knabe, Chickering, Mason & Hamlin, etc.,
etc.  !)

--end quote --

This ad makes it plain that UK-made Stecks were certainly not on
offer in 1905.  Yet familiarity with British and American Stecks both
here and in Australia, where both were marketed by different dealers,
leads me to the inescapable conclusion that the London-sold Stecks
that were not Gothas were all made -- or at least assembled using
American parts -- in the new factory at Hayes from around 1906 onwards.

Why do I think this ?

a) American uprights of the period are all much more ornate than
   British pianos.  They're typified by the Wheelock or Stroud, with
   a dozen ledges to gather dust -- big impressive bits of furniture
   to drape lace coasters on.  The American Stecks I've seen are all
   of this type, while Stecks found in Britain and dated between
   1906 and 1914 are far more modest affairs, almost diminutive by
   comparison and self-effacing in appearance.

b) American Stecks approach Gothas in the grandeur of their tone.
   They perhaps don't have the subtlety, but they do have depth and
   projection.  They are, in this, true descendants of the pre-Aeolian
   Steck of which I've also heard a few.  Benet Meakin, the renowned
   and almost obsessive collector who died two years ago, had
   examples of all four kinds of Steck upright -- one of them was
   even a huge 1901 pre-Aeolian retrofitted with an 88n player
   action in 1908 ! -- and never failed to delight in comparison.  In
   his opinion and that of most observers I know, the Hayes-made
   Steck, with rare exceptions, was the least satisfactory piano, so
   much so that it is a recognisable type as soon as you meet it.  And
   the type goes back to 1906.  My grandmother bought one new for her
   new house in 1911, I owned one just like it, dated 1912, for a year
   or so around 1967 and I've given opinions on the restorability of
   five or six others.  The very earliest of these did have expensive
   Art Nouveau casework which could have been shipped from America.

The question is, who's right ?  Can we believe that Aeolian made
especially inoffensive-looking and indifferent-sounding pianos for
export to Britain ?  I say no.

Dan Wilson, London

Key Words in Subject:  Europe, Pianos, Steck

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