I agree with everybody! My motto has always been, "Just tell me what
you want it to look like." I personally think that as long as an owner
of an old piano wants me to just get it playing like original but leave
the finish just as it is, well, I'm happy to do that too because that's
how he wants his piano to look.
I do have to warn him, however, that in the course of the rebuilding of
the rest of it, the case is bound to acquire some "yellow scratches",
as known in the touch-up trade. Old finishes are fragile and dry, and
they will get scratched during the normal course of a rebuild.
Just a light fingernail dragged along the old finish will often do it
(which might make one wonder then what kids would do with an armload of
player rolls). These blemishes can be obscured fairly easily as long
as they aren't deep. The reason is that most American pianos finishes
were of shellac-based "varnish," and the limitations and tradeoffs of
this finish were all known to the trade even back then. Lacquer was a
far superior finish, like on the pianos done in Europe. But heck, if
some people consider refinishing a shellac-coated piano to be destroying
history, I'm not going to argue with them about that.
Then you have the people who believe that changing anything about the
piano would be destroying history. After all, there are none of the
original materials left to use. They are all, 100% of them (including
the leather), a modern approximation, a cheaper version with many steps
left out, or a synthesization. So one might also use the same argument
to discount all restoration, if, in your mind, "history" is lost when
one removes the timed out materials and finishes and makes the
instrument playable and handsome again. In which case, I wonder why
are such curators are reading this newsletter, anyway? What we do
should be anathema to them all.
I went to a small museum once and asked the owner why none of the
instruments he had collected played. The answer was, "That would be
changing history. What you are looking at is an original, all the way
I guess it's just too bad we don't have noses like bloodhounds, so we
could all stand there and admire the ages through its many acquired
odors (and maybe an occasional packrat) then.