I'd like to add to Dave Bower's excellent posting last week [190606
MMDigest] regarding the market value of reproducing pianos as well as
all types mechanical musical instruments, and their music in general.
There are a couple other thoughts that I have regarding this.
In the 1960s and '70s (as well as into the 1980s to a lesser extent),
the folks who desired and were financially fortunate enough to be able
to collect these instruments in many cases actually remembered seeing
them as children, perhaps being owned by their own parents and
grandparents. So, in that way these machines were nostalgic to them,
and so kindled the desire to own one.
These people often only wanted one instrument, perhaps the one that
they remembered from their family living room when growing up. Likely,
they were fans of classical music and the popular hits of the 1920s
and '30s as well. Today, these people are mostly no longer with us,
being replaced by their children and grandchildren.
The later generations, I find, are much less interested in the large
pianos or orchestrions in their living rooms, and even less fond of
the mechanical nature of the music they play, not to mention the older
"style" of popular music which most people today find interesting,
but more humorous than serious. Musical taste has certainly changed
in the past 30 years. Few people even appreciate (or even remember)
the music of WW2 or the 1950s, let alone the late '20s.
I don't think that the advent of the electronic reproducing piano had a
lot of effect on the interest in roll-operated instruments. I feel like
the reproducing piano market was always driven more by nostalgia to have
an "original" instrument, and not really desiring perfect renditions
of classical piano music through the most advanced electronic system
available. However, among a minority of owners I'd say that could have
certainly been the primary motive and I can understand why that would
be the case, especially among true classical music enthusiasts.
When I play a 1920s popular tune on a player piano roll or an
orchestrion for someone outside the hobby today, they almost always
remark that it sounds like a merry-go-round. I've always found that to
be an odd comment. None of them ever show an interest to possess such
an instrument, or even a recording of it. The prices of mechanical
musical instruments today are just a reflection of this sentiment.
Looking back on old catalogs from Hathaway and Bowers, American
International Galleries, and Mechanical Music Center, it astonishes me
the prices that were on these instruments -- and this is over 40 years
ago. Today, I feel prices are much more down to earth. Now just about
anyone with a little extra pocket money can buy a Seeburg nickelodeon.
Back in the 1970s I could only wish for these things that today I can
easily own. So, while I do applaud the more realistic prices of today,
this lower market value reflects the overall apathy today toward
original instruments which is unfortunate.
Another thing that has changed is that we now have a thing called the
Internet. What we used to think was rare now frequently turns up as
common. I remember when it was hard to find a nice reproducing piano
or a pristine unrestored player piano, and when you did, you really
thought you had something.
Today, one only needs to scan eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace
and you'll find what you seek in less than an hour, and often for the
price of hauling it away. True, this doesn't always apply to the finer
instruments, that's for sure, but the fact remains that very nice and
desirable instruments do continue to be found regularly for bargain
prices, so the stuff is still out there.
I have a few nice reproducing pianos that sometime soon will be
offered for little money to downsize part of my storage space. If they
don't sell they will be going unceremoniously to the Baltimore County
landfill, along with about a half-dozen other player pianos I've
accumulated over the years.
Storage is too expensive for projects that will never be completed,
and having the space is getting to be more important to me. Life is
only so long.