EXHIBITION MEDALS & AWARDS
(Updated November 2017)
At a time in history when huge superstores and shopping malls did not exist, the international exhibitions were very impressive to people who had never seen anything on that scale. We receive a great many emails (as well as enquiries on the Piano History Forum) from people who are puzzled by the pictures of medals shown on their pianos, some of which have realistic miniature reproductions of one side of a medal, flat on the back so that they can be glued onto the piano. What they show us, mainly, is that the piano was made after the last exhibition that is listed. This information is often shown on hundreds or thousands of the pianos produced by that maker after the event, and it is only on very rare occasions that we find that the piano is the very one that was actually exhibited.
As early as 1819, Erard received a medal at the Paris Exposition for his pianos, and many other pianos were awarded prize medals and awards at later exhibitions: these became important to the makers, but also to us looking back to learn more from a piano. The makers liked to show them off in the form of transfers or labels stuck inside, or in more obvious positions on the front. The medals are usually dated, and people often run away with the idea that this is the date of the piano, but the medals can only tell you that the piano was made in or after the latest year you can see.
For example, no reliable dates of Hagspiel serial numbers are available, but the dates of medals shown on the piano may help. These include 1873, 1875, 1876, 1880, 1884, 1893 and 1897. If a Hagspiel piano shows the 1880 medal, but not the later ones, we can assume that the piano was made after the 1880 exhibition, but probably not as late as 1884. Sometimes, the medals reveal that published dates of serial numbers are incorrect, as in a Nelson piano supposedly made in 1907, although it mentions a 1909 medal. Makers usually showed both sides of a medal, with the result that they looked like twice as many.
The pictures above perhaps give some idea how important it was for German makers to try to include medals on their nameplates, or even two sides of just one medal, but this did not only apply to German makers, or to pianos. If they didn’t have any medals, they sometimes designed their logo to look like one, as Laurinat did. Richard Lipp received lots of medals, but he was on some of the judging panels for the exhibitions too, as was Anton Bord, who boasted the fact on his pianos.
What is clear is that some claims are misleading, and there are anomalies in the descriptions of medals and awards, often involving several different makers claiming the “Grand Prix” or "THE Gold Medal" or "Highest Award" at the same exhibition. The word "highest" may seem to imply that it is higher than anyone else's, but this is not always the case, and the highest award is usually a gold medal, sometimes awarded to a number of makers. Some names claiming medals are not even listed in the exhibition catalogues, and their claims seem dubious.
In this Allison example, the latest date shown is 1885, and this tells us that the piano was made after 1884. It has been suggested that some pianos were placed in unexpected subject classes, where there were less pianos, to give them a greater chance of obtaining a medal. Here are some of the medals awarded for pianos at early Paris Expositions, before London got in on the act…
1798 The first Paris Exposition.
1819 Erard frères Gold Medal.
1819 Pfeiffer, Paris Silver Medal.
1823 Erard frères & Jean Henri Pape received Gold Medals.
Petzold, Pfeiffer & Roller received Silver Medals.
1827 Erard & Pleyel received Gold Medals.
Beckers & Bernhardt received Bronze Medals.
1834 Paris Exposition: Pleyel received a Gold Medal.
Kriegelstein & Plantade received a silver medal, and another in 1839.
1836 Paris Exposition: Cluesman, Paris received a Gold medal.
1839 Paris Exposition: Pleyel received a Gold Medal.
Pape showed his Piano Console.
1844 Paris Exposition: Pleyel received a Gold Medal.
De Rohden received a Silver Medal for piano actions.
1849 Paris Exposition: Pleyel received the Hors de Concours.
Mussard Freres received a bronze medal.
THE GREAT EXHIBITION
1851 Medal from the Exhibition Of The Works Of Industry Of All Nations, London, appears courtesy of Mary Thrower, and I scanned it from the medal itself. The original object was much bigger than the picture you see. This event was so much larger and grander than previous exhibitions, it soon became known as the GREAT exhibition, and was held at the purpose-built Crystal Palace. Erards ambiguously claimed that theirs was “the only medal for pianos and harps”, but there were several for pianos.
Some of the pianos shown in our catalogues of the Great Exhibition.
1853 New York built its own Crystal Palace, and even imitated the name for their “Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations”.
1855 Erards received the highest award at the 1855 Paris Exposition.
Gaveau received a Bronze medal.
Having received medals in 1851 and 1855, Erards produced commemorative discs which resemble small medals, but are easily spotted because they have both dates on them. Although desirable, these are not especially rare or valuable, they are thought to have been distributed to Erard dealers around the world, and stuck onto some Erard pianos.
1862 London Exhibition: Pleyel and Hopkinson received medals, but we have no evidence so far that Erard was even there. Foster later claimed a medal as well, but so far, we have no evidence of the existence of a real maker of that name in London during the 1800s, and certainly no sign of him being there in 1862. William Crick’s pianos depicted a medal from the 1862 exhibition, but he is not listed in the catalogue as even being there, much less winning a medal. He also claimed Royal Letters Patent, but no evidence has been found to support this.
Schiedmayer & Soehne received a medal at the Great Exhibition, 1851. Here are their medals up to 1862. By 1890, they were boasting 19 first prize medals…
1865 Anglo-French Exhibition, Australia. Henry Brinsmead received a Gold Medal.
1867 Paris Exposition: Chickering’s literature implies that the Cross of the Legion D’Honneur was the highest award given to a piano manufacturer at this exhibition, superior to the Gold Medal, but in reality, the Cross was awarded to people, not pianos. At different times, these included Baldwin, Bord, Brinsmead, Chickering, Sebastian Erard and Pierre Erard.
1867 Erard received a medal.
Jules Rinaldi received an Honourable mention.
Gaveau received a Silver Medal.
Medals awarded to Alois Kern, Vienna, in 1867, 1870 and 1873.
Medals from the Chile Exhibitions of 1873 and 1875 show these images of the goddess Minerva, easy to recognise if you can’t read the wording.
1878 Paris Exposition. Gaveau received a Gold Medal at the Paris Exposition.
Charles Gehrling received a Silver Medal for Piano Actions.
1879 Berlin Exhibition: "Dem Verdiensje Seine Krone" is a phrase to which references can be found from at least 1849 to 1903, the latter the title of a literary work: It means "The merits of his crown" but should perhaps translate more like "To the service of his crown", probably a bit like "By Royal appointment". The same phrase appears on exhibition medals awarded to Bergstein, Dietzer, Haller, Laurinat, Lubitz, Reisner, Schiemann, Schotz, & Weber, and these are mostly from the Berlin exhibition of 1879.
1880 Gehrling received a Gold Medal for actions.
1884-85 H. Kohl received a medal at “Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Exhibition”, which is odd because her Jubilee was in 1887!
1885 INTERNATIONAL INVENTIONS EXHIBITION
A small ad in the Music Trades Review 1887 mentions Schiedmayer's 1885 medal, describing it as THE gold medal, in spite of all the others.
1885 Schwander received a medal for his piano actions.
1885 Arthur Allison's medal is attributed to the International Inventions & Music Exhibition 1885. This was possibly the same Inventions Exhibition at which Steinways won 2 gold medals.
1885 J.D. Cuthbertson, Glasgow piano is also marked “G Klingmann & Co. Berlin”. It has small gold discs which read “Gold Medal Alexandra Palace and International Exhibition 1885”.
1885 Hopkinson received the Gold Medal at the London Inventions Exhibition. Chappell, Ajello & Allison also received prize medals.
1885 Robert Grout received an exhibition award for his pianos.
1885 Gold Medal awarded to G. Ajello at the International Inventions Exhibition.
1885 Squire & Longson Exhibition medal.
1885 Niedermayer received a medal at the International Inventions Exhibition.
1887 Another International Inventions Exhibition was held in Sweden.
This transfer shows that Fritz Kuhla’s pianos received medals at the Melbourne Exhibition, 1880, and the Berlin Exhibition, 1896.
Victorian Hopkinson pianos were “Awarded the First Class Prize Medals 1851, 1855, 1862, 1865 & 1872”.
Single sides of 8 different medals awarded to Hopkinson up to 1910 are shown here. Among those, Hopkinson claimed to have received “the only Gold Medal for Great Britain” at the 1878 Paris Exposition, but Monington & Weston’s centenary leaflet proudly shows a picture of their upright which won "The" Gold Medal at the 1878 Paris Exposition! Barratt & Robinson received an honourable mention.
In 1887, several jubilee exhibitions around Britain celebrated the 50th year of Queen Victoria's reign.
Spencer’s medals from Melbourne, 1888 and Edinburgh, 1890, and a reference to his Royal Appointment.
1889 Gaveau received a Gold Medal at the Paris Exposition.
Schwechten’s medals and awards up to 1891.
Henry Hicks seems to have received 2 gold medals in London, in 1870 and 1899, but his name transfer and stationery do not give any real clues to the source of these, so they were probably minor local exhibitions.
Pleyel’s medals up to 1887.
If a maker's other medals are listed in our files, then it may be possible to get some better estimate of the age of an instrument by finding out which medals are missing, because we have a tremendous amount of information about pianos in exhibitions.
This list of Bluthner’s medals up to 1889 provides a means of checking the approximate date of a pre-1889 Bluthner piano, by seeing which medals are not shown. Here is a more complete list.
1865 1st prize, Merseburg.
1867 1st prize, Paris.
1867 1st prize, Chemnitz.
1870 1st prize, Cassel.
1873 1st prize, Vienna.
1876 1st prize, Philadelphia.
1878 1st prize, Puebla.
1880 1st prize, (flugel) Sydney.
1880 1st prize, (pianino) Sydney.
1881 1st prize, (flugel) Melbourne.
1881 1st prize, (pianino) Melbourne.
1883 1st prize, (flugel) Amsterdam.
1883 1st prize, (pianino) Amsterdam.
1889 1st prize, (flugel) Melbourne.
1889 1st prize, (pianino) Melbourne.
1894 Hors concours, Antwerp.
1897 Grand prize, Guatemala.
1897 Leipzig Auss.Preisbewerb.
1900 Paris Grand Prix.
1904 St. Louis Grand Prix.
1905 1st prize, Cape Town.
1910 Grand Prix, Brussels.
If, for example, the label doesn’t show any medals after 1876, you can reasonably suppose that it was made after the 1876 exhibition, but before the 1878 exhibition. In reality, Bluthners are probably the least reliable example of this idea, because on occasions when they reconditioned their own pianos, they were one of the few makers that sometimes updated the list of medals.
The so-called "Columbian Exposition" (nothing to do with Columbia or Colombia) took place in Chicago, 1893, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus, although he would have had a hard job landing in Chicago, and it seems to have been a tenuous excuse to promote the city. Dvorak wrote his wonderful New World Symphony for the event, with so many memorable themes. Newman Brothers showed organs. Bent, Bush & Gertz, Cable, Everett, Kimball, Kingsbury, Lehr, Melville Clark, Orpheus, Reed & Sons, Starck, Starr, Strauch and Vose showed pianos, and almost all of them received medals, which seems to devalue the whole process. Everett, Starr and Strauch Bros all claimed "The Highest Award" at the Columbian Exposition, but Kimball, who received a medal, said they were "The only manufacturer thus honored". Reed & Sons' piano was awarded a grand prize medal and other distinctions at the Columbian Exposition. People reading information written on instruments naturally assume that the individual piano was actually there at the exhibition, or even won a prize medal, whereas this is usually general information written on hundreds or thousands of pianos made in the years after the exhibition, some certainly as late as 1914. All we can say is that the piano was made after 1892.
J.L. Duysen’s 4 medals up to 1892.
Henri Herz’s medals and awards.
Around 1901-2, Osbert seems to have received medals from Berlin, Paris and Brussels. T.G. Payne showed both sides of a single medal from the Glasgow Exhibition, 1904.
Strohmenger’s medals up to 1905.
John Brinsmead was awarded an incredible number of medals. Here, for example, are the ones up to 1907…
1870 Paris Gold Medal
1877 South Africa
1882 New Zealand
1885 Cape Town
1886 Western Australia
1898 Dunedin N.Z.
1899 Auckland N.Z.
1906 Cape Town
1907 Christchurch N.Z.
Almost anyone who sells second-hand postcards will have some from the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908, there is part of one at the top of this page, and their output of cards was enormous at a time when picture postcards were a fairly new idea, but we have found no details of the various pianos that claimed medals there, including Boyd, Diener, Gresham, Mozart, Rudall Carte, Thalberg, and Vader.
28 medals and prizes awarded to Gaveau, Paris, up to 1913.
Berdux, Munich, received these 9 medals up to 1921.
1946 “Britain can make it” Exhibition.
Imagine, you are offering a piano for display, to represent the best that Britain can make, and Monington & Weston exhibited this bog-standard grand mounted on the kind of unfinished legs that were used on coffee tables, but bigger.
Monington & Weston’s stand at the 1951 British Industries Fair.
I worked on similar stands at the Ideal Home Exhibition for Berry Pianos in the sixties. Without donations, I will be fine, but PianoHistory.Info may not survive. If every visitor to this site donated just one pound, we would have a proper museum building, with much-improved facilities for research within our own archives.
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