PIANO NUMBERS AS A GUIDE TO DATE
(Updated June 2017)
The majority of pianos cannot be reliably dated by their serial numbers, and you only have to look at the listings here for Collard or Eavestaff to understand why. There is a widespread belief that numbers are the be-all-and-end-all for dating pianos, but the length of this page should indicate to you that it is not that simple, and I do not intend to perpetuate this myth by blindly repeating other people’s lists, although I have included some dates in the second section, further down this page. Don’t forget that you can use the usual CTRL F to search for a name on this page. Only a minority of piano makers have ever published dates of their serial numbers, and many of these are incorrect or misleading, so on this page, I have only included dates that I have some evidence for. On the Piano History Forum there are other trades-people who may be able to help.
If you open the top of a piano and peer inside, you will often find one or more numbers in there. Sometimes, they are harder to see, and may be underneath a grand. Removable wooden parts of the case are often imprinted with a number, but this may only be the last 3 digits of serial numbers, which are usually long numbers, at least 5 digits. Remember that any handwritten information is probably not from the factory and could have been added at any time.
Some modern serial number dates for British pianos are listed in date order near the bottom of this page. A growing number of websites offer apparently simple dating of pianos by their serial numbers. Dating a piano in this way is notoriously unreliable, partly because so much misleading information has been published. These websites are often quoting from books which are incorrect, many of the date-ranges they give are very vague anyway, and they may expect you to PAY for this misinformation, so why not make a donation to us instead? Armed with over forty thousand images for reference, we can usually make a more objective assessment of the age from photos which show what the WHOLE piano looks like. These estimates are not distracted or misled by numbers or other information.
“I looked up my car’s VIN number, and it would be 1914 if it was a Steinway.”
Date-marks inside the piano, if available, are often a much more accurate and reliable guide to the age of an instrument than numbers. Hallmarks for silver and porcelain, etc. are published widely in many books, but the same kind of information is not normally available for pianos, except on this website, and if there are no date-marks, serial numbers are one option, but there are many examples on the internet of dates of serial numbers blindly stated for pianos, based on incorrect information, with no crosschecking of anything else. The result is that an exact date will be stated as if it were fact, with no reference to whether the piano is of a type that could possibly have been made then. In many of the items in our files, the American use of the hash sign or sharp (#) has been adopted (rather than the Italian "No.") to denote numbers, especially serial numbers: this is useful to know when a number looks like a year.
Also, in order to make long numbers easier to read, several readers have asked me to insert commas after the thousands, although these do not appear on the pianos. One tends to think of a year starting at January 1st, but this is not always true of serial number dates, for example Kemble numbers are from December to December, whereas Bentleys' are October to October. As explained on our date-marks page, it is pointless to attempt to date an antique piano to a precise day within a year, because the manufacturing process was often so long that we should be grateful just to know the year.
When iron frames are made, in bulk, nobody knows which piano they will end up being used in, so any raised numbers cast into the frame are not specific to one piano, and not serial numbers, which would be written or painted on. Numbers on keys or actions are not always serial numbers.
Dating a piano by its number depends on four things…
1. THE PIANO MUST HAVE A NAME AND A NUMBER!
Some of the enquiries we receive don't even give the name of the piano, just numbers: numbers are not usually any use without a name, but sometimes, if you can send photos of the whole piano, so that we can estimate the date, the numbers may give a clue to the makers’ identity. If you are lucky, you may just open the top of the piano, and immediately see a number, but sometimes, the number is so well hidden that you may not find it. (If you do find just one, don't assume that it is necessarily the right one.) Patent numbers and registered design numbers can be researched through official channels, but are often a lot of trouble and expense for very little result.
2. THE NUMBERS MUST BE PUBLISHED.
Many are simply not available, although our files include many dates of individual numbers which are not published anywhere else. Books which give number dates are known as "Piano Atlases" after the original - Michel's Piano Atlas, which later became the Pierce Piano Atlas.
Others include the Europe Piano Atlas, and also the Musicians' Piano Atlas, for which I supplied amendments, and an appendix with action and key numbers, although that information has been updated and improved in this page. Sometimes, in an antique piano, the action makers’ name and number is the only clue to its identity, and the best guide to its date.
Names listed in the Europe Piano Atlas include Acrosonic, Aeolian, Albert, Allison, Anelli, Angelestein, Angerhofer, Apollo, Arnold, Arirang, Aristocrat, Atlas, Bach, Bachmann, Baldur, Baldwin, Bathur, Barratt & Robinson, Baumbach, Baumgardt, Bechstein, Bentley, Berdux, Berger, Berry, Bieger, Biese, Billberg, Bluthner, Bosendorfer, Bord, Breitkopf & Hartel, Brinkmann & Goebel, Brinsmead, Bristol, Broadwood, Brother, Burgasser, Burger & Jacobi, Fibiger, Cuawberghe, Challen, Chassaigne, Chappell, Choiseul, Christensen, Chu-Seng, Collard, Conover, Cramer, Danemann, Dietmann, Markennamen, Dohnert, Doina, Dorner, Donath, Duck, Duysen, Eavestaff, Ecke, Ehrbar, Eisenberg, Ekstrom, Elcke, Erard, Estey, Euterpe, Fazer, Feurich, Fibich, Finger, Forster, French, Fuchs, Furstein, Gaveau, Gerbstadt, Geyer, Giles, Gillot-Straube, Gors & Kallmann, Goetze, Grand, Grotrian, Guckel, Gulbransen, Gunther, Gustaffson, Haegele, Habn, Hain, Hals, Hamburger, Hamilton, Hanlet, Harwood, Hautrive, Hellas, Heintzmann, Heppel, Herrmann, Herz, Horugel, Hofberg, Hoffmann, Hofmann, Hofmann & Czerny, Hofmann & Kuhne, Hopkinson, Hornung & Muller, Howard, Hupfeld, Ibach, Inbal, etc..
I am grateful to the Castle Museum, York, for lists of piano serial number dates compiled by Mr D.R. Homan, a piano tuner from Scunthorpe. Names include Bechstein, Biese, Bluthner, Bord, Dogel, Dorner, Duysen, Feurich, Forster, Grotrian Steinweg, Hofberg, Ibach, Irmler, Kaps, Krauss, Lindholm, Lipp, Mannborg, Quandt, Ritmuller, Schiedmayer, Schimmel, Schwechten, Seiler, Steinway, Thurmer, and Zeitter & WInkelmann. Most of these lists end around 1935-6, so we imagine that they were collected at that time. Some agree with other published numbers, some do not, which brings me to...
3. THE PUBLISHED NUMBERS MUST BE CORRECT!
In 1958, 5 years before I became involved with pianos, N.E. Michel published the first "Piano Atlas" of serial numbers: This work was a tremendous achievement, listing thousands of American and other names, but it’s a bit like train-spotting, many entries say no more than can be found written on the piano anyway, and quite apart from the appalling spelling, conflicting entries, duplicated misspelt entries, and the absence of proper cross-reference, an increasing number of the items he published have proved to be wrong or misleading, and this discredits the others. In the seventies, I wrote to his successor Bob Pierce about this matter, giving specific proof of inaccuracies, but he did not act on the information. Many numbers do not correspond to the instruments, including those for Aeolian, Allison, Aucher, Bauer, Bentley, Bluthner, Bord, Brinsmead, Broadwood, Cadby, Cecilian, Chappell, Clementi, Collard, Eavestaff, Erard, Gors & Kallmann, Hopkinson, Jarrett & Goudge, Karn, Kirkman, Knauss, Koch & Korselt, Kuhse, Monington & Weston, Murdoch, Nelson, Nunns, Perkins, Pleyel, Ritmuller, Rordorf, Spencer, Schiedmayer, Schroder, Spencer, Steck, Stodart, Tolkien, W.Wieck, Winter and Wornum.
Neither do the little Bristol Miniature pianos, which he wrongly attributes to Duck, Son & Pinker. I used to tune one of these for an old lady until, unable to sell it, she stored it in the loft, where it probably fell to bits rather quickly! We are still puzzling over the connections between Bristol, KK, K.Kawai, LHH, Princess Piano and some similar but un-named examples from around the twenties and thirties. KK could mean K.Kawai, but Kabushiki Kaisha is apparently a general term for a company, a bit like a Japanese version of our “Ltd.”, yet it sometimes appears on its own as if it were a brand name. To add to the numbers mystery, by 1979, the electronics firm Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha’s modern American patent for an electronic device bears the same number 101957 as KK’s old piano patent.
Bentley numbers start from 1919, and the name was mentioned in Booth & Brooks’ archives for 1903, yet the Bentley name was apparently not used by the Stroud Piano Co. until 1930, so we don’t know who made them before. Several writers have assumed that this was a made-up name, perhaps leaning on the prestige of Bentley cars, but it may be that they bought the rights from someone else. Perkins' numbers seem to be estimated, and are not supported by our information. These and other mistakes have been perpetuated by other books and websites reprinting them without evidence to support the information, but then it is a difficult trap to avoid, and everyone quotes published information sometimes, taking it on trust. Julian Dyer says "The numbers generally quoted for Steck pianos are highly misleading, at least for the European production. They clearly make no sense, and do not allow for the fact that these pianos were made in three different countries using three different sets of numbers". Some, like a 1906 example we saw recently, do seem about right, but the published numbers might suggest 1930 in what looks more like a 1920 piano, and a Steck dated 1926 also has a number suggesting 1930.
4. THERE ARE OFTEN DIFFERENT NUMBERS ON THE CASEWORK, KEYS,
ACTION, WRESTPLANK, SOUNDBOARD AND IRON FRAME:
WHICH IS THE CORRECT NUMBER?
Some people solve this problem simply by choosing the number which suits their purposes, or makes the piano oldest. In discussing the way that numbers are marked in a piano, it is best to avoid the word "stamped", because there are two different kinds of stamp. Ink marks can be made by a rubber-stamp, and these are often found on the sides of keys. Metal stamps have traditionally been used to IMPRINT names and especially numbers into woodwork, although they may be coloured as well.
Contrary to popular belief, these are not usually burnt, embossed,
or engraved, but hammered, like some of my friends.
Often, the serial number may be imprinted into the wood of the casework, sometimes conveniently located on the top edge, but this is by no means reliable, and grand case numbers are often harder to find, being hidden on removable parts, or underneath: Remember, too, the dangers for you, your children and pets, of crawling underneath a grand: Check that the legs are safe first, with no movement whatsoever in the joints.
It's worth mentioning that the capital letter "I" may sometimes be used to double as a number one. Occasionally, two are superimposed at right-angles, serving as an asterisk, to confirm that this is the serial number. Metal stamps may also be pre-formed into the name of a senior worker, such as a supervisor who is responsible for quality control in a particular department of a factory. James Stewart's name, for example, was imprinted in some Clementi or Collard pianos while he worked for the firm, from 1826 to 1852, so such imprints can sometimes be useful guides to date. Wooden top bridges are sometimes imprinted too. Pianos were known in the factories as "cases", and they had CASE NUMBERS. By the late 1800s, removable case parts such as legs, music desks, etc. were often imprinted with the last 3 digits of the case number, so that the parts of the case could be kept together during manufacture, and this helps to confirm which is the case number. Steinways marked even the tiniest pieces of moulding in this way. Having said all that, case numbers are not necessarily the published serial numbers, which may be imprinted on the soundboard, or painted onto the iron frame. Numbers cast into the iron frame were placed there before the piano was completed, and do not indicate serial numbers.
A problem that occurs with Collard & Collard is that although the case number is sometimes confirmed by being repeated in several places, it is not the published serial number! Some makers, such as Bechstein, Broadwood, Tomkison and Wornum, had separate numbers for different models, as well as a main series, and odd things can happen.
NUMBER OR DATE?
Numbers for most makers will go through a period when they are in four figures, and may resemble a year, for example, in 1791 Broadwood square pianos had serial numbers in the 1700s and 1800s. In 1789-1790, Erard numbers also resembled years, and around that time, Southwell’s numbers, displayed on the front of the piano, were slightly earlier than their years. Windus numbers were in the 1880 range during the 1860s. It is important to realise that pianos made after about 1810 are hardly ever marked with a straightforward year of manufacture, and if a year is written on a piano, it will often represent the date the firm was established, or the date of an exhibition medal. A notable exception is Erard, who marked the years on the actions of the London pianos, or the soundboards of the Paris pianos. Pape marked the year under the strings but some, like one of ours, have unfortunately faded away.
SOME MISLEADING NUMBERS
1792 John Broadwood square piano in the Mobbs Collection, Bristol, has the number 1931.
Circa 1805 Thomas Tomkison, London, square piano #1965 in the Smithsonian.
1833 John Broadwood & Son upright piano #1778 in the Mobbs Collection, Bristol.
1931? Dagmar piano #85,425, keys marked 1931, James Smith & Son, sole agents, 76/72 Lord Street Liverpool. Also marked JS&S September 1947, so perhaps 1931 is a just number?
Circa 1931 Two G.Ajello & Sons pianos numbered around #28,500 are dated quite
reliably by Malcolm action numbers, in spite of the mark 2.10.9 on the iron frames.
1931 Monington & Weston Piano #50,347 has 2.12.9 on the frame, a very similar mark to the example above. Number on a bracing #15,502.
It might seem logical that serial numbers should, by their very definition, run in a single, unbroken series starting from the first piano a company makes, and therefore represent the number of pianos that have been made up to any given point in the list. Steinweg, for example, made 482 pianos before he emigrated to New York, and these were numbered from 1 to 482, so his New York pianos started at 483. Research in the Erard archives has shown that each new Paris piano had the next number. However, the same is not always true of their London pianos, or of Pleyel, and although several authors have estimated production figures for various firms on the basis of serial numbers, it is often not that simple: around 1898 for example, Squires were producing pianos with numbers in the 18,000 and 28,000 ranges. Some makers would (like Steinweg) start from a good, honest #1, and number every piano as they went, but some preferred to start at a much more generous figure. H.P. Nelson's company was established in Chicago, 1908, and started their serial numbers at 6000, but the published lists are confused, and dates are duplicated, some are out of sequence, and some have digits missing. Around 1910, Murdochs' ad boasted "fifty thousand pianos in use" and perhaps Spencer, whom they took over, had made that many, but it is quite likely that the statement was just based on their serial numbers. Another point worth remembering is that because some conventions in numbering developed gradually over a period of many years, they are less applicable to early instruments.
NUMBERS - THOUSAND PER YEAR
Certainly, some firms opted for allotting a thousand numbers per year, even if their production figures were nowhere near that many. Indeed, it may have been based on the assumption that they would never need any more than that. This convention can be seen in many lists of serial numbers, but in view of the fact that some of these were originally published in Michel's Piano Atlas, I thought for a while that they might be Michel's own estimates, until other examples began to appear in our files from quite independent sources, such as the pianos themselves. An interesting angle here is to see how few pianos whose numbers go up in thousands have a high number of hundreds on the end. Strip away the thousands, and you'll find relatively few which have a remainder over five hundred, perhaps a glimpse of the real output. Ernst Kaps also used a thousand per year. Pleyel numbers went through a period of being a thousand per year. Witton, Witton & Co. were said to be producing a thousand pianos per year in 1915, but this may well be based on serial numbers. LePetit's pianos are numbered at a thousand per year from 1940, but this is unlikely to represent real production. By 1946, Welmar numbers were the same.
Eavestaffs' first back-action minipiano was made by Brasted in 1934. Their serial numbers, again, may have been based on a thousand per year from 1934, rather than the main sequences of Eavestaff or Brasted numbers. Strangely, a Piano Times article on Chappells says their piano production had risen to one hundred per week (5,200 per year) by 1922, yet in that period, the serial numbers still only went up by a thousand per year! Warranty labels show that Chappells' separate "Elysian” numbers also went up a thousand per year, and these used date codes within the serial numbers, by placing the last 2 digits of the year at the beginning of the number, so #23,000 means 1923. The labels also carry a lower number with the same last 3 digits. By 1928, Marshall & Rose serial numbers were counted in steps of a thousand per year, with the first 2 digits also representing the year, so #28,000 would be 1928, like the Elysian numbers. There is the possibility that Steinberg Berlin numbers also worked like this. From 1946, Welmar also used numbers in which the first 2 digits represented the year. Ajello (the Manchester one) on the other hand, placed the two digits of the year at the other end, which has a peculiar effect on the sequence of numbers: If these were rounded down, they would give no clue to the date.
A number on the soundboard preceded by the letter K, near the left end of the keyboard, is probably a piano made by Kemble. Other letters usually indicate retailers’ stock numbers…
Retailers’ stock numbers often add to the general confusion, and unless they are preceded by the dealer's initials, it is difficult to know what they are. For example “R&D” in the picture means that the piano was sold by Rushworth & Dreaper. “C&S” means Crane & Sons, they were unable to help us with archive material, and although their premises were said to include “factories”, we have been told by various trades people that they did not make the pianos, certainly some were made by Kennard, Harold, or Cremona, so serial numbers do not help. Their stock numbers for new and secondhand pianos that they sold are preceded by “C&S”, and may give us clues to the approximate date of sale: some are listed further down this page. These are not to be confused with a C&S mark in a triangle on iron frames. “W&G” means Waring & Gillow, although if you search for it on the internet, you will get an endless list of items about TV’s “Will & Grace”. (“&S” usually means “and son”, and “&C” is “and Co”. “L” on the end may mean ”Ltd.”.) Sometimes, numbers are preceded by a letter or letters representing the branch, such as "MP" for Manor Park, or (more commonly) "HO" for Head Office. The letter P (for piano) may also appear in the case of a firm which sold other goods as well. We have some individual dates of stock numbers on file, as well as a few lists, and although these are incomplete, they are often useful. Harrods used metal or plastic plates with stock numbers preceded by the initial H, and they kindly gave us some dates for these.
Model numbers rarely exceed 3 digits, whereas serial numbers are usually much bigger. Many makers use model numbers, and these may tell us several things about the piano: German firms like Bechstein and Grotrian used the size of the piano in centimetres - the length of a grand, or the height of an upright. Bentleys used the number of notes, so a “Concord 88” had 88 notes. Berrys did a similar thing with the number of octaves, and followed it with two digits of the year it was introduced, so the Berry 758 was a 7-octave model introduced in 1958. Collard & Collard pianos usually have a smaller number which may represent the model, as do Spencer and Murdoch.
NUMBERS OF ANCILLARY TRADES
Keys are almost always numbered left to right, and they have their own numbers, which would have meant something to someone at the time, although very little of this information survives. It is not usually possibly to trace the history of an individual piano, but we sometimes have more information than the makers themselves, and we may be able to provide a useful cross-reference by looking up action and key numbers, frame markings, or historical data such as name changes, dates of addresses, etc.. Action makers’ numbers progress much more rapidly than piano numbers, because they sold actions to a number of piano factories.
SERIAL NUMBER LISTS FOR
PIANO NAMES, ACTION MAKERS, &c.
As well as pianos. the following alphabetical list includes approximate dates for the serial numbers of various action makers, which are often useful when the piano name has disappeared, or especially when no dates are available for the piano’s own number. However, I only list the small minority of numbers that I have been able to confirm or estimate. Up to 1914, it was common to import cheap German actions for London pianos, and even if the action makers’ name is not there, the numbers may suggest possible dates. See also the modern numbers nearer the bottom of the page.
Now that so many people are viewing these lists of numbers on iPhones and small tablets, I am experimenting to try to find a layout that is not destroyed when the screen is very small.
The various members of the Allison family worked and advertised quite separately, but sometimes shared premises. In 1878, George Sherborne was indicted at the Old Bailey for trading in pianos whilst he was bankrupt. He took pianos on credit from various makers, and sold them at auction, sometimes for less than cost. This case can be found on the internet, and includes a useful selection of prices and serial numbers for 1878, which have allowed us to reconstruct part of his stock record, such as the Allison numbers, consistently in the 19,000 range, which do not correspond to published information. Arthur Allison’s pianos are often dated inside…
1878 #19,000 is confirmed, but disagrees with the others!
Circa 1886? #17,900
AUCHER FRERES, PARIS
I should perhaps mention that “Freres” means brothers, it is not a name. The following list of Aucher Freres numbers (on your left) was given to me some years ago by the late John Davis. His occasional snippets of piano history were sometimes questionable, but combining this set with my own estimates of individual Aucher pianos, (on the right) they do line up quite well in most cases, and seem to be a great improvement on the previous published lists, which are nonsense. Goodness knows where John got these!
1820 - Not making pianos yet, in spite of the published numbers.
1845 # 1? - the year the firm was established.
1847 # 1,000
1854 # 2,000
1859 # 4,000
1872 # 8,000
1916 # 4,552 - according to Begg's stock records. If this really is the main number, it may be that production had been taken over by another factory. My own estimates seem illogical, bearing in mind that some of the pianos appear to be almost identical, but we have evidence that Bord's pianos were up to 6 years out of sequence leaving the factory, so perhaps Aucher's were too. Many examples are marked “Modēle No.1” even though they are not the same design. I would be grateful if anyone out there can provide real, hard evidence about genuine, definite dates of Aucher numbers, such as actual dates inside the pianos, or documents of sale. Meanwhile, be wary of what you read on the internet about Aucher dates.
The following list shows numbers for dated pianos made by the wholesalers, Bansall. They supplied pianos for the trade, including Barnes, Binns, Caldecourt, Hopkinson Successors Ltd., Moore & Moore, Russell & Russell Ltd., and possibly Sames and Watson, but rarely used their own name, most were bought in by various retailers, who put fictitious names on them. The most likely way to identify one is by a label under the keys of the bottom notes, as shown above. The keys were often by Shenstone, order numbers do not help us, these are piano numbers.
BECHSTEIN BELLY NUMBERS
Beware of the Bechsteins of the 1890s, with extra numbers that seem to imply a date in the 1850s. Bechsteins' belly numbers run in separate sequences for uprights and grands, and exist in addition to the main series. They can be found on the edge of the soundboard (as shown) and underneath. Here are a few examples, very useful if the main number is faded, or painted over. Can anyone help us with more of these?
Uprights: 1899 #22,000
Grands: 1899 #15,761
Blankenstein Rough Dates
1880 Not listed in London directory.
1884 L.Blankenstein & Co., 25 Red Cross street, Barbican EC.
1886 L.Blankenstein, 62, Finsbury Pavement EC.
1899 L. Blankenstein & Co. had a branch at 44 Windsor Road, Penarth.
1913 - "Over 30,000 sold" - The Cabinet Maker magazine.
Because there are three sets, these later numbers can easily be confused with earlier ones, but the middle column seems to be the makers’ own idea of the proper serial number.
If you see what looks like a number LE1P216 in a piano, it is probably a word - LEIPZIG!
Bluthners, of Leipzig said "Our records were destroyed during the last war". James Reeder confirmed this in 2004: "Dear Bill, All records were destroyed during World War II, as well as the factory and offices, so there are no production records available." The following estimates are my own, worked out by me on the basis of pianos I know of, so if you find these same numbers on the internet, accredited to someone else, they got them from me. My estimates of individual pianos turned out to be so close to a thousand per year, I rounded them up.
1856 Patent for an action (mechanik) is mentioned on some pianos, which must therefore have been made after 1855.
1860~ # 678 owned by Chester Stegman mentions the 1856 patent, but does not mention the 1865 medal, so the mean date for this piano is “circa 1860”.
1867 # 2,000
1868 # 3,000
1869 # 4,000
1870 # 5,000
1871 # 6,000
1872 # 7,000
1873 # 8,000
1874 # 9,000
1879 Welmars began importing Bluthners, and kindly gave me the following entries, which continue for a while at 1000 per year.
Then, production appears to have increased to a point where a thousand numbers per year was not sufficient, so the makers allowed 1,500. Some pianos have two numbers, for example #18,187 also has #20,939.
Then as published previously.
A maker for whom we have a long list of surviving instruments is Anton Bord, of Paris, established in 1840: because of fancy script, his name is often misread as K.Bord, but the stencilled signature inside is clearer…
Bord’s pianos were cheap and mass-produced, in fact he laid down many of the principles that came to be used in other trades for production lines. However, these are surprisingly good, durable pianos, with Schwander actions, and reasonable wrestplanks. Published dates of their numbers are not always reliable, but the original stock records of Rudall, Carte & Co. are a useful source of serial number dates: Robert Bigio very kindly supplied this information for the period from about 1870 to 1876, and I have ploughed through it in search of Bord's numbers. The following pianos are listed here in number order, with dates of sale, not manufacture, and they don't run in order: it is evident that pianos didn't come out of the factory in order, and may also have been in stock at the shops for up to four years. In most instances, the purchase price is also given. The numbers range from to 18723 to 27414, and were sold between 1871 and 1875. This information shows that numbers in the 18,000 range were still being sent out to shops in 1871, and some were sold as late as 1875.
1871 #18,788 £40 Sep 14 1871
1875 #18,901 £17.10s Jan 19 1875
1872 #18,911 £27 May 15 1872
1871 #18,950 £ Oct 4 1871
1872 #18,950 £60 May 6 1872
1870 #19,193 £27 Dec 29 1871
#19,213 £33 Mar 21 1873
#19,617 £25 Jan 4 1872
#19,682 £35 Dec 29 1871
#19,686 £35 Mar 8 1872
#19,882 £29 Dec 29 1871
#20,241 £39 Feb 17 1872
#20,591 £63 July 10 1872
#20,620 £47.5s Oct 6 1874
#20,929 £32 Sep 12 1872
#21,103 £25 July 1872?
#21,195 £32 Mar 3 1874
#21,521 £21.19s Jan 15 1873
#21,584 £ May 11 1873
#21,613 £21.10s Dec 12 1873
#21,660 £50.15s Feb 12 1873
#21,664 £18.10s Dec 11 1872
#21,696 £22.8s Jan 6 1873
#21,734 £22.16s Jan 6 1873
#21,824 £21.10s Dec 12 1873
#21,825 £26 Oct 10 1873
#22,357 £ Apr 21 1873
#24,433 £42 Apr 12 1874
#24,719 £31 Apr 4 1874
There are many questions about the accuracy of the published dates…
1880 #45,000 1890 #74,000
That represents about 3,000 per year, which lines up roughly with their ads stating that they were making 12 pianos a day. In 1900, they announced their hundred-thousandth piano.
1900 #100,000 1926 #132,000
By 1926, they were saying they had made 132,000 pianos, yet their serial numbers were only increasing by 500 per year at the time. Some can also be dated by their Schwander action numbers, but those numbers are not so easy to find.
Although some were imported by Keith, Prowse & Co., most of the Victorian and Edwardian Bords in Britain arrived through the London importer Charles Stiles, of Southampton Row, and his stock numbers may appear inside the pianos in addition to the serial numbers, adding confusion. He occasionally put his own name on instead of Bord’s, but later Stiles pianos were made by Kemble. John Markham was one of my bosses when I worked for Berry Pianos, and he had lived next door to Charles Stiles when he was young, so I suspect there was more than one generation of Charles working from at least the 1870s to the 1930s. Stiles’ stock numbers…
In music, the "Three Bs" are Bach, Beethoven & Brahms. In the piano trade generally, the "Three Bs" are Bechstein, Blüthner & Bosendorfer, except in London, where they are Barnes, Berry & Boyd, three large retailers who had many branches around London last century. Surprisingly, Bansall, Brasted, Barratt & Robinson & even Broadwood and Brinsmead didn't get a look in, although Bechstein, Broadwood & Blüthner were a popular trio of names in some old dealers' ads. I used to work for Berrys, and have tuned so many Barnes, Berry and Boyd pianos over the years that it would seem pointless to put all the details on this file, but specific enquiries are welcomed. Boyd pianos were not all made by Boyd, and dating them purely by serial numbers is not reliable, no complete lists are published.
1916 #31,233 Boyd has 23.5.16 on the frame
1921 #50262 Boyd Coronet grand, different sequence – different factory?
1927 #44,100 Boyd piano, frame date 20.1.27
1927 #45,300, Boyd piano frame date 8-7-27
1928 #46,900 Boyd piano, frame date 12-6-28L
1934 #3,200 Boyd piano different sequence
See also Brasted…
Harry Brasted established his factory in 1873, and by the early 1900s, Brasted Brothers were making pianos for the trade, rarely displaying their own name. I have tuned many Brasted pianos, but only a handful had the name Brasted on the front. Their iron frames are sometimes marked BB. The following list is partly estimated, and can be very useful if you find the Brasted name inside a piano. As with Bansall, the most likely place is a label under the keys. Some “Boyd” pianos were made by Brasted, and Harrods sold them as “Reger”. Other names include “Challen”, “Paul Gerard”, “Ehrmann”, “Emile Auberon”, and “Reun”. This list may also help with some Eavestaff models. See also the modern numbers near the bottom of this page, as well as notes on Brasteds at the bottom of our Archives page.
BROOKS, London, Action & Key Makers
No useful number sequences have been found in Brooks actions or keys, but there are some clues in the changes of name and address of the firm. The principal London action maker of the 1800s, they are said to have been established in 1810 by Henry Brooks, but this is incorrect, it was originally Cox Brooks, and we have no precise date for their start, probably around 1822. Cox Brooks & Sons were certainly in business between 1842 and 1845, but by 1841, they were also being described as T.& H.Brooks, described as “Pianoforte Hammer Rail Makers” at the same address, Little Albany street north. They didn’t just make hammer rails, they made the whole action. The name T. & H. Brooks on an action suggests a date in the 1840s or 1850s or “circa 1849”.
By 1850 they were at Cumberland market, and around 1858, Thomas ceased his involvement in the firm, which then became H.Brooks & Co.. They became a limited company around 1889. The nameplate is from 1907…
1889~ #2359 1892 C13659 1895~ #7711 1904~ #7033a 1906~ C11920
These Brooks Ltd. numbers are stamped into the damper rail, they do not run in sequence, they may be models or types. In 1920, They merged with Herrburger, Paris - see Herrburger Brooks.
Looking inside the top of a Cadby piano, you might think you can just write down the number and find a date. You have two main options here, either trusting the published dates of their numbers on the left, or trusting my information on the right, which sometimes does not agree. There may be more than one number, but the main one usually appears below the imprinted name C.CADBY.
1838 # 1 ?
1850 # 5500?
1855 # 8000?
Circa 1870 #8000
Circa 1857 #9000
1862 onwards, the pianos should mention a medal they received at the 1862 London Exhibition.
After 1862 #9500
Circa 1867 #14900
1874-1877 The firm was known as Cadby & Sons and this name should be on the piano in that period.
Circa 1877 #1512..
Circa 1877 #18800
Circa 1877 #19200
George Sherborne was indicted at the Old Bailey for trading in pianos whilst he was bankrupt.
His Cadby Rosewood Cottage pianos had numbers from 19300 to 19661 in 1878.
1885 The company closed down after the death of Charles Cadby, but the name was used later by another factory, although the new serial numbers were very much like some of the earlier ones…
according to Chas. Begg’s stock records.
The Challen firm was famous in modern times as the “Piano of the BBC”, but it is not widely known that it all began with Alexander Watlen, before Challen joined the firm. He took over from the partnership in 1837, and was certainly not established in 1804, although their modern literature included a sketch of an alleged 1804 upright. Serial number dates are published in various "Piano Atlases" for Challen pianos from 1850 onwards, but the earliest of these dates can be misleading, and the earliest confirmation of these I have found so far is 1872. The Challen firm was unusual in providing a date on a vertical wooden post inside the bottom of upright pianos. There were various changes of name in the 1800s, which provide clues to the age…
1834-1837 Watlen & Challen
1830-1838 William Challen
1840-1850 Challen & Hollis
1853-1862 Challen & Son
1863-1866 Challen Duff & Hodgson
1867-1877 Challen & Hodgson
1878 onwards Challen & Son again.
1872 # 9100
1872 # 9400
Circa 1960 The manufacture of Challen pianos was taken over by Brasted Brothers, of London. Published dates of these modern serial numbers vary, and are not reliable, but we have some dates found in the pianos, usually on the keys. See the modern numbers near the bottom of the page.
CHAPPELL & Co., LONDON
Samuel Chappell was involved in the music business by 1810, but although they quote serial number dates from 1840, the company didn’t start making their own pianos until 1861. The main numbers for Chappell pianos are hard to find in some of their Victorian pianos, and their other numbers are misleading, quite apart from the Chappell Elysian numbers mentioned below. By 1870 the numbers are said to be 10,000, but the stock records of Rudall & Co. show that in 1870, Chappell serial numbers were around 71,730, apart from one with the quite different number 6,007, which should be 1860, according to the published numbers! Strangely, a Piano Times article on Chappells says their piano production had risen to one hundred per week (5,200 per year) by 1922, yet in that period, the serial numbers still only went up by a thousand per year! Some modern serial number dates for Chappell pianos are listed near the bottom of the page.
Warranty labels show that Chappells' separate "Elysian” numbers also went up a thousand per year, and these used date codes within the serial numbers, by placing the last 2 digits of the year at the beginning of the number, so #23,000 means 1923. The labels also carry a lower number with the same last 3 digits.
CLEMENTI & COLLARD NUMBERS
The serial numbers for Collard & Collard are without doubt the most confusing. In 1972, I wrote to Collard & Collard Ltd. at an address which I knew to be that of Chappell & Co.. They were unable to help me with any information, having lost their archives in the 1964 fire, so they passed on my enquiry to the late Frank Holland at the Musical Museum. He followed his normal procedure, and PASSED IT ON TO ME to answer! (Good ol' Frank, bless 'im!) Collard serial numbers are among the most confusing and difficult, especially the 5-digit ones. Many of the Clementi and Collard dates quoted by Michel are complete nonsense, and the 1832 paperwork shown below proves beyond doubt that the firm became known as Collard & Collard (late Clementi Collard & Collard) immediately after Clementi’s death in 1832.
This proves that the dates given for later Clementi numbers are too late, and the early Collard numbers are too early. Michael O'Hara wrote from Arizona about an Edwardian upright with an elliptical name transfer “Clementi & Co.” but this is obviously not the original firm. After Clementi's factory fire in 1807, some of their various numbers seem to work out at a thousand per year, a sequence which was continued for some years by Collard & Collard when they took over the firm.
With Clementi and Collard, the problem is often in deciding which of several numbers to look at. Back in the seventies, I came across this Collard square piano, which the owner bought with great intentions of restoring, but didn’t get around to. Being only the second square piano I had worked on, I bought it, and planned the same, but found it difficult to resolve problems with poor dampers that didn’t stop the strings sounding. My cousin, having done the wood finishing on it, became equally hooked, and he took it on with great plans, but eventually sold the job to someone else. It might seem that with a number 36196, it was made 36 years after the 1807 fire, so 1843. However, the initials suggest that it was still in the stock of Cramer Addison & Beale when they became Cramer, Beale & Chappell in 1845. It appears that they may have shortened their stock number from 36196 to 196, so although it could easily be an 1843 piano, the real serial number is probably 3241, which we can reasonably date to 1845.
Incredibly, this one of the very few firm dates that are available worldwide for Collards’ early 4-digit numbers.
Around 1846, a square piano #3217, very similar to a Collard,
was made, and bears the name of Burling & Co.
These estimates are based on the fact that #8945 is dated 1891, suggesting that they only used about 120 numbers per year. I am grateful to Damien Lightfoot, who sent details of his Collard & Collard Yacht piano, with the main number #8945 imprinted on the top edge of the case, along with smaller numbers elsewhere, 4435 and 675. I estimated that the piano was from around 1890, and he found the actual date 11/5/91 written on the side of the bottom key.
Genuine Clementi pianos are before 1833, Collard & Collard pianos are after 1831.
Circa 1828 is the mean date for a piano bearing the name “Clementi, Collard & Collard”, provided it is not “LATE Clementi”.
Circa 1829 is the mean date for a Clementi which has James Stewart’s name inside. He joined the firm in 1826.
Circa 1842 is the mean date for a Collard piano with Stewart’s name inside. He left in 1852 to work for Henry Ivory. As explained on our Miscellaneous page, if a Collard piano of the mid-1800s does not have rounded sharps, it was probably made before 1856, so a rough estimate would be circa 1844. Rounded sharps were used by them from about 1856, but were phased out by about 1893.
COLLARDS’ LARGER NUMBERS
It becomes clear that by the 1870s, one set of Collard numbers is roughly in the order of ten times the other, with 6 digits instead of 5, and written in ink. The smaller numbers go up more slowly than the bigger numbers, so perhaps there is a sequence for an individual type of piano, such as uprights. There is also confusion between the 5-digit numbers of this period and the earlier numbers, so 11,000 could seem to be 1840s. Definite, confirmed dates from dated upright pianos only increase by 200 numbers in 11 years, so they cannot represent production…
1878 #13,100 1889 #13,300
6-digit numbers correspond to the published lists, and are clearly but untidily handwritten in a sloping manner, below what we believe to be a 3-digit model number imprinted in large, clear figures. Here is another set of numbers, hand-written ones. You will see that, although very useful, the sequence is not entirely faultless, it includes some estimated dates of pianos, and some question marks. These 6-digit serial numbers are sometimes more difficult to find, whereas the 5-digit case number may be repeated in several places on removable parts. Some modern serial number dates for Collard pianos are listed near the bottom of the page.
The stock records of Rudall & Co. show that Collard pianos in the range 90,000 to 111,000 were sold in random order between 1871 and 1878.
1876 #94,900 seems wrong
The Cramer firm changed its name several times, and this helps us to estimate the date of some examples, as well as other makes sold by them. These include a Collard mentioned above, still in the stock of Cramer Addison & Beale when they became Cramer, Beale & Chappell in 1845. It appears that they may have shortened their stock number from 36196 to 196.
1825-1844 Cramer Addison & Beale
1845-56 Cramer, Beale Chappell & Beale
1858-9 1858 Cramer, Beale & Co.
1859-61 Cramer, Beale & Chappell.
George Wood is said to have initiated their piano-making in the early 1860s, earlier “Cramer” pianos were not made by them.
1861-3 Cramer, Beale & Wood – the London firm, dates differ from the Dublin shop.
1865 Cramer & Co.
1880 #15,000 first published number.
1885 Received a medal at the Inventions Exhibition.
See also the modern numbers near the bottom of this page.
CRANE & SONS STOCK NUMBERS
If your piano is imprinted with a number preceded by the letters C&S, this indicates a stock number for the retailers Crane & Sons, and although they were unable to help us with archive information, the following list gives approximate dates of sale for some of these. Bear in mind that it may have been an earlier piano, sold secondhand. A marking C&S on the iron frame is not Crane & Sons. Cranes received a medal at the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition, which was mentioned on pianos for many years after.
1887 C&S 6,800
1891 C&S 13,600
1902 C&S 28,000
1905 C&S 44,500
1908 C&S 85,400
1910 C&S 103,500
1927 C&S 137,300
1930 C&S 143,000
1933 C&S 161,100
DALE FORTY NUMBERS
Dale Forty pianos cannot be reliably dated by numbers, because they were made at several different factories, and on some pictures from their own catalogues, the name Cramer is faintly visible. I suspect that (like many small firms) they only made uprights, and Cramer made their grands. Someone identified only as "PianoGuy" says that pianos sold at the Cheltenham shop have a paper label inside the top, with a number which is a code for the year, and the number of pianos sold up to that point. Pianos of the 1800s have the last two digits of the year, followed by 3 digits for the number sold that year so far. Some twentieth-century pianos have the last 3 digits of the year, followed by 3 digits for the number of pianos. These are more complex forms of thousand-per-year numbering. In the twenties, some of their numbers were in the 44,000 range.
Debain was based at the Place Lafayette, which is now known as the Place de Franz Liszt, shown above. No serial number dates seem to be published for Debain pianos in standard textbooks, but the original stock records of Rudall, Carte & Co. provide a useful source for a few: Robert Bigio very kindly supplied this information, for the period from about 1870 to 1876, and Debain's serial numbers seem to be in the same sequence for organs and pianos, so we can project estimated dates from the 1855 instrument up to 1872:
1834 #1 ?
1845 #2,700 ?
At some point, Stanley Rudd & Co. (London) became involved with Debain’s more famous firm, sharing their Paris address when they moved to Buttes Saint Chaumont, that strange area of Paris with the man-made mountains and caves. French Pianinos and Harmoniums produced with Rudd & Cie’s name on them may have been made by Debain. On this basis, we could estimate that our Rudd Pianino #5049 (kindly donated by Mr & Mrs Black) may have been made around 1854, but my guess is that it might have been about ten years later than that.
1855 #5,330 Debain's Harmonicorde, a combined upright piano and harmonium in The Bowes Museum.
The stock records of Rudall & Co. show dates of sale, not manufacture, so they don't run in number order, and it appears that some Debain instruments were in stock at the factory for 2 or 3 years, then in stock with Rudall & Co. for up to five years. Some dates of sale start with the name of the month: others start with the number of the day. In most instances, the retail price is also given.
1872 Debain #17,246 £44.2s 10 10
1872 Debain #17,346 £44.2s 19 3
1871 Debain #23,202 £17 May 26
1872 Debain #23,279 £37 23 3
? Debain #23,341 £
1871 Debain #23,372 £44.2s 31 10
1873 Debain #24,509 £42 Aug 23
1871 Debain #24,719 £31 Apr 4
1871 Debain #25,198 £20.10s July 15
1874 Debain #27,418 £28 Jan 1
1874 Debain #27,754 £46.6s 31 7
1871 #23,341 to 28,262
1872 #17,346 to 24,509
1874 #27,418 to 27,754
Piano #22,817 has been estimated at 1880, but the information above puts it nearer to 1872.
It also has a number 15,619.
Eavestaff serial numbers can be very confusing, almost as challenging as the Collard ones. The early ones for the original firm are not published, but here are some estimates before 1909. Established in 1823, W.Eavestaff was originally a music publisher. He was at Great Russell Street by 1826. The firm soon began to sell pianos, and by the 1840s he was listed as a “pianoforte maker”, but doesn't seem to have been described as W.G. (William Glen) until the 1860s, so we don’t know if this is a son of the original. More historical notes on the Eavestaff firm may be found near the bottom of the page at
Originally at Great Russell Street, Eavestaff moved to Berners Street in the late 1870s.
1885~ #14,700 (different sequence)
EAVESTAFF & SONS
1889~ The firm became "And Sons".
1897~ #14,500 & #12,500
1909 #20,100 dated by its Schwander action number 604,622.
1920 #24,500 & #67,600 - casting date on iron frame
EAVESTAFF BY BRASTED
1925 Brasteds are said to have taken over the manufacture of Eavestaff pianos,
although a 1924 Eavestaff piano is signed Brasted.
Some Eavestaff numbers follow Brasteds’ sequence…
1927 #44,100 & #45,300
1934 #74,970 & #116,000
1934 #60,700 confirmed by date label 16/7/34 under keys.
EAVESTAFF MINIPIANO PIANETTE
1934 The model was introduced, and it is said that numbers located inside the left of the tuning flap under the keyboard were running at a thousand per year, but there are other numbers inside as well.
1936 #2,000 First known reference to Princess Ingrid on Eavestaff pianos.
1936 #63,86 February 1936
1937 #8,500 December 1937
1938 #4,000 References to Princess Ingrid & Princess Elizabeth.
1938 #10396 June 1938
1938+ #50,020 & #56,166
1939 # 5,000
1940 Eavestaff brought out a more conventional model which they called "Miniroyal"
1944 #10,000 References to Princess Ingrid, Princess Margaret & Princess Elizabeth.
1944? #10,958 Miniroyal
1946? #12,779 Eavestaff Pianette Minipiano
The previously published numbers from 1950 are misleading for many Eavestaff pianos,
and do not follow on from the others,
but a lot of the dates shown below are confirmed by datemarks inside the pianos, see
1954 #150,000 & #155,600
1955 #159,000 & #164,900
1956 #166,200 & #167,800
1960 #176,100 & #180,300
1961 #180,000 & #180,500
1962 #180,600 & #181,700
1963 #181,400 & #182,900
1966 #184,400 & #185,300
IMPORTED FROM EASTERN EUROPE?
ANOTHER NEW SEQUENCE
ERARD, LONDON NUMBERS
Information from the original archives of Erard and Pleyel shows that the published numbers are wrong in some periods. The Erard entries also make no allowance for the fact that instruments from their London factory bear a completely different sequence of numbers, and using the wrong set can cause you to be half a century out! Back in the eighties, I was the first person in the world to publish these, although the following list has been greatly improved since then.
1832 # 170
1836 # 480
1839 # 600
1843 # 700
1862 # 7,200
1865 # 8,700
1866 # 9,700
It is not clear why so many of their surviving London Cottage Pianos seem to be in the 1868 range.
Numbers over twenty thousand may suggest a Paris piano.
See also the bottom of our Archives Page.
FLEMMING Actions, LEIPZIG
1874 Established. 1907~ #68,443 1910 #153,032
FRITZ & MAYER, Stuttgart, Action Makers
1886~ # 2,380 C.Fritz action pre-dates the partnership with Mayer.
GEHRLING, Paris, Action Makers
Here, we can only use any references to exhibition medals to get an idea when the action was made, which will be after the last medal mentioned on the label.
1878 Gehrling received a Silver Medal at the Paris Exposition.
1880 Gehrling received a Gold Medal at the Melbourne Exhibition.
1885 Gehrling received a Grand Diplome D'Honneur at the Antwerp (Anvers) Exhibition.
1889 Gehrling received a Gold Medal at the Paris Exposition.
Round about 1920, they became Gehrling & Douillet.
GORS & KALLMANN, BERLIN
This list includes my estimates of some numbers. I am grateful for information kindly supplied by Mark Wakeford. Some of these numbers are also available from Vifamusik
1904 #31,710 is dated on the keys.
1914 #55,600 - #57,000
1915 #57,300 but #24,306 is said to be 1915!
1934 #68,750. Challen pianos were being made in London at the Brasted factory, with the “Gors & Kallmann” name on them, and numbers in the 120,000 range, which do not correspond to serial numbers for Gors & Kallmann, or Challen, or Brasted!
Orginally Schwander’s firm, Herrburger was his son-in-law, and when he became a partner, his name was placed second. Later, he took over the firm, and it became Herrburger-Schwander. See also Schwander.
HERRBURGER BROOKS Ltd., London Action & Key Makers
No useful numbers have been found on Herrburger Brooks actions or keys, but Herrburger-Schwander (Paris) merged with Brooks (London) in 1920, so the name suggests a date after 1919.
Initially, the name “Herrburger Brooks” was imprinted in the wood. By 1922, a black label was sometimes used on the back of the hammer rail in uprights.
By 1926, a gold label was sometimes used on the front of the hammer rest rail. Some still just had the imprint.
Otto HIGEL, London, Toronto & New York
1920 V442720L (Chappell piano)
The action on a 1922 Chappell upright piano is clearly marked “Otto Ingel”, but the system of numbering is very similar - S35522L. Later, the Higel name was used by Gamble Piano Actions Ltd., also known as Gamble Player Actions Ltd., or simply GPA.
HOWLETT STOCK NUMBERS
William Howlett was one of the best-known piano names here in East Anglia, where he claimed to be the only pianoforte maker, and also claimed to have been established at Norwich in 1820. By 1872, the company was known as Howlett & Sons, and later Howlett & Son. The serial numbers of Howlett pianos are not all in the same sequence, and this suggests that they were made by more than one factory, rather than being made by Howlett. The following stock numbers imprinted with the name are a better guide to date, but the dates are only estimated, and a piano sold secondhand would be older.
1905~ # 4,000
1910~ # 6,000
1915~ # 7,000
1920~ # 8,000
Ernst JACOB, Berlin S.O., Action Makers
1914 #580,900 dated just under the number
JARRETT & GOUDGE NUMBERS
When I used to commute across London in the sixties, I would pass the Triangle Works on Hackney Road, near the junction with Cambridge Heath Road. According to their pianos, Jarrett & Goudge were established in 1868, although some sources give the date as 1871. They do not appear in our many London directories until 1891, although there are references to Goudge on his own. Internet references to New Bond Street are incorrect, it was New Broad Street. In the eighties, The Musicians' Piano Atlas published revised entries for Jarrett & Goudge, based on nothing more than my vague comment that Michel's numbers were “about forty years out”. Bearing in mind that the following dates are my more recent estimates of individual pianos, achieved without reference to anything else, it is strange that they are almost exactly forty years later than Michel’s version.
KELLER, Stuttgart, Action Makers
1882~ #9,600 1894~ #85,452 1910~ #20,644
Their numbers don’t seem to run in any logical sequence, and are probably encoded.
A number on the soundboard preceded by the letter K, near the left end of the keyboard, is probably a piano made by Kemble. It is sometimes difficult when a name is taken over by another factory, and the numbers can change. In the early 1900s for example, the “Cramer Agencies” had absorbed such old names as Brinsmead, Dale Forty, Dussek, Cavendish, George Russell, Metzler, Saville, and Justin Browne. Some, in turn, were later taken over by Kemble, and their numbers changed again. Kemble had absorbed the remnants and descendants of many great London names, such as Addison, Allison, Bates, Beale, Brinsmead, Browne, Chappell, Clementi, Collard, Cramer, Kirkman, Longman, Metzler, Squire, Wilkinson, Wornum, etc., and made pianos for the trade under many different names, including Bijou, Brinsmead, Chappell, Cramer, Dresdner, Firth, Higgins, Minx, Osbert, Regent, Renn, Rogers, Rogers Eungblut, Sebastian, Shenstone, Squire, and Stiles. Identical models may appear with many of these names. They only found out in recent years that they were established in 1911, and by 1921, their numbers were in the 13,000 range. By 1930, their serial numbers were preceded by a letter K, and normally located on the left in the interior, at keyboard level. I have no evidence to connect them with the much earlier firm of George Kemble. In 2009, the Kemble factory, which had been owned and supported by Yamaha for some years, finally closed down. Hackney Archives have some of Kembles’ archive information, but it is not catalogued yet. Some modern serial number dates for Kemble pianos are listed near the bottom of the page.
Kirkman, originally a harpsichord maker, was producing pianos by 1777, yet the published numbers do not begin until #1000 in 1835. Godfrey Twitchen kindly sent this photo of his Kirkman piano with Pan legs, which I estimate as being made around 1869, yet its number is #2790, suggesting about 1842. Although it was apparently built by Kirkman, its action is French, the “breakfront” case is very much in the style of Erard, Paris, as is the oblique stringing and underdamper action, the number doesn’t seem like a Kirkman number, and is a long way from that of our 1864 Kirkman. (Breakfront furniture has the middle section protruding in front of the end sections.)
In spite of the fact that no definite evidence of dates has been found in our own Kirkman pianos, 1864 and 1874, most of their published numbers seem about right by the mid-1800s, although they got through many more numbers than they made pianos. The only confirmed date we have for them is
from Sherborne’s stock records. After the Kirkman name was taken over by Collard & Collard in 1896, the published numbers hardly moved until 1922, in fact they went backwards for a while. It is puzzling that the address 3 Soho Square, demolished in 1903, was still being marked on the wrestplanks, perhaps they were old stock. Charles Begg's 1914-15 stockbook shows new Kirkman pianos being sold with completely different serial numbers that suggest the 1870s. These show a variation of 13,300 in a year, which we cannot assume to be the number of pianos manufactured and, as often happens, they did not sell in number order…
By the 1920s, they had numbers suggesting the 1880s. We are asked to believe that only 790 of this famous name were made in 26 years – less than one per week. Here are some estimates.
The impression from these is that they made an average of 1677 Kirkman pianos a year, or at least got through that many numbers from 1915 to 1937.
KOHLER, Berlin, Action Makers
The wartime numbers shown here in red are not in sequence.
On average, the others get through about 15,000 numbers per year.
F. LANGER & Co., Berlin, Action Makers
Langer & Co. supplied actions to so many different piano makers, they sometimes got through 20,000 numbers in a year.
Ad. LEXOW, Berlin, Action Makers
L’UNION, Paris, Action & Key Makers
1900~ #15,400 1903 #20,630
Later taken over by Herrburger Brooks.
John MALCOLM & Co., London, Piano Action & Organ Makers
Well-known as a maker of harmoniums, (we have a 1914 example #32315) Malcolm also made piano players, and piano actions, and these usually have a numbered label on the rear of the hammer rail.
1910~ #12,000 1915~ #15,000
Several tuning customers commented that “you still have that cough” and I began to realise that I only coughed when I was working on pianos with Malcolm actions. I suppose I must be allergic to something in the felt dust.
MONINGTON & WESTON BELLY NUMBERS
Monington & Weston pianos have separate belly numbers (soundboard numbers) in addition to the published serial numbers.
See also the modern numbers near the bottom of the page.
MORGENSTERN & KOTRADE, Leipzig, Action Makers
Some have adjustable brass flanges, as illustrated.
Murdoch upright pianos typically have a number on the top edge of the bass end of the case, with a smaller number at right-angles, thought to be a model number or type, but the published numbers for Murdoch are unreliable, although they can often be dated quite reliably by the action number, if it is made by Malcolm. Many of the pianos had made-up names such as Claremont, Normelle or Rottmann. At some point, Murdoch took over the Spencer factory, but also used other factories, so Murdoch pianos cannot usually be dated by numbers.
These pictures show that a Murdoch piano had the number 1647, and also 187 at right-angles to it, and 21647 further inside, in addition to 214A encircled on the iron frame. That one indicates a “scale number” - a design for the layout of the stringing, and not individual to that piano. 187 is thought to be a model number, and is no help to us, but we are left wondering whether the serial number is 1647 or the more likely, longer number 21647. It doesn’t really matter because we can’t reliably date Murdoch numbers anyway!
In terms of names, there were ELEVEN different Schiedmayer firms, so before you apply any published information such as serial numbers to your piano, it is vital to check inside and outside for the full name of the company that made it. Sadly, various sources (especially on the internet) see the name "Schiedmayer" and immediately jump to the conclusion that it is some particular firm, without checking first. Other simply refer to “Schiedmayer” as if there was only one firm.
JOHANN CRISTOFF SCHIEDMAYER made clavichords in the eighteenth century.
BALTHASAR SCHIEDMAYER, clavichord maker, produced his first piano in 1735. He had 3 sons…
ADAM SCHIEDMAYER made pianos in his own right.
DAVID SCHIEDMAYER made pianos in his own right.
JOHANN DAVID SCHIEDMAYER succeeded Balthasar, and was succeeded by Johan Lorenz Schiedmayer.
DIEUDONNE & SCHIEDMAYER had a brief partnership from 1809 to 1825, involving Johann Lorenz Schiedmayer.
J.L.SCHIEDMAYER began under his own name.
SCHIEDMAYER & SOEHNE became one of the two main Schiedmayer firms in Stuttgart, when J.L. was joined by his sons Adolf & Hermann. Perhaps from 1845?
ERWIN MULLER-SCHIEDMAYER was established at Wurburg in 1874.
J.& P. SCHIEDMAYER was founded in 1853 by Johann's younger sons, Julius & Paul, and became the other main firm.
SCHIEDMAYER PIANOFORTEFABRIK was a later name for the company formerly known as J.& P. Schiedmayer, perhaps from 1870? Their published numbers may appear to remain at a thousand per year from 1871 (#9000) to 1925, but the entries do not include every year, and anyway, the pianos have more than one number. According to various sources, modern pianos bearing the Schiedmayer name were made by Kemble UK, and Kawai, Japan.
SCHUTZE & FREUND, Berlin S.O.33, Action Makers
Schutze & Freund (literally “trade and friend”) were making piano actions from at least 1880 to 1928. Some actions were exported for use in English pianos, and some were used by German firms, including Baldur, Hauptmann, Waldstein, Musikhaus Ortlieb, Neumeyer, Steck, etc..
Around 1880-1910, they often made upright actions which were integral with the keyboard, so that they could be removed from the piano whilst still connected to each other, as they normally are in grands. This can make repairs and adjustments in the home more difficult, and require 2 people. Such actions are rarely seen now, I have just worked on this one dated 1904, but previously hadn’t seen one since the seventies. Isermann may have made them in that form too.
A Schutze & Freund action with a number 31,256 is thought to date from about 1896, although this does not correspond to the following sequence.
SCHWANDER, Paris, Action Makers
Apart from Henry Schwander, the family did not make pianos, but their name is often hidden inside, on the rear of the action. By the 1870s, Jean Schwander’s name was followed by that of his son-in-law Herrburger, who later took the lead. After 1878, some actions are marked with an imprint of their exhibition medals, as in the sketch above.
1920 - see Herrburger Brooks
Pianos that used Shenstone keys include Bansall, Brasted, C.W.S., Eavestaff, Kemble, Emile Auberon, Witton & Witton, Windsor, and of course John Shenstone & Co. Ltd., although we don’t think they actually made the pianos. Shenstone key labels are dated, but their numbers seem to have used some sort of code, they are not in sequence, so they do not help us with dates. In the thirties, Shenstone keys were normally used in conjunction with Herrburger Brooks actions. Sometimes, their iron frames are marked with JS and a number. I visited their TV shop in Leyton years ago, they had no archive material.
We receive more enquiries about Spencer numbers than any others, and my entries on the Piano History Forum have had over twenty thousand hits for Spencer postings alone. Hundreds of their surviving instruments are listed in our files and, as with many old pianos, you can usually just open the top, and immediately see a serial number, often accompanied by a model number or letter. If you find the number 27673, it is not a serial number, it refers to a patent. Spencer & Co. were established in 1883, just getting started at a time when cottage pianos were going out of fashion, so they made very few of those, but the published dates of numbers for Spencer don’t begin until #25,000 in 1895, and these early ones seem to be wrong.
According to the Pierce Piano Atlas, Spencer piano number 38,833 was made for HRH the Princes of Wales in 1905, but this is incorrect, her purchase was mentioned in Murdoch's Music Album celebrating the Coronation in 1902, and 1902 is also the likely date of the number. It must also have been made before #37163, which has a plate inside it referring back to the royal purchase. What we do know for a fact is that by 1909, the numbers had reached 52,000, suggesting that in 26 years, they got through an average of two thousand numbers per year, although it is unlikely that they made that many pianos.
1905 #44,600 dated on key label
1909 #52,000 documented - receipt
1913 #64,600 dated on key
Surprisingly, their numbers continued to increase at a similar rate through the 1914 war, then settled down to about one thousand per year. By the 1950s, some more modern pianos bearing the Spencer name have numbers that look like those of the 1880s.
There is a lot of confusing and misleading information published about dates of numbers for “Steinberg”, partly because there were several separate firms using that name. As far as Steinberg Berlin is concerned, in spite of the sudden increase in the early twenties, this list is the best we can offer, compiled from a number of different sources. It seems that serial numbers may have been counted in steps of a thousand per year, with the first 2 digits also representing the year, so #28,000 might be 1928. The firm was established in 1908.
The later examples are in a different sequence, but they are dated under the keys…
1965 #39,510 “Sole distributors Gilberts Pianos Ltd.” made by Rogers?
1967 #39,590 “Sole distributors Gilberts Pianos Ltd.”
1973 #40,600 made by Kemble?
The few available dates we have for Stodart (London) pianos all seem to be estimates, some are my own, some from owners, museums, restorers etc.. The numbers do not run in a single continuous sequence, so without photos of the WHOLE piano, we can't guess anything about the date. Some of the variations may be because of various members of the Stodart family producing pianos. The only published lists are for the later American firm, and some of those are misleading.
VESTEY, London Key Makers
HENRY WARD NUMBERS
Henry Ward was established in 1854, and was based at 100 Great Russell Street until the 1890s. The Cottage Piano we have here, #7637, which I estimated at 1873, is dated 1876 on the side of the key of the top note. Marie Judge emailed about another Cottage Piano #8671, which I estimated at 1878. It is dated 1878 on the key! Apart from these, the only other firm date we have is the 1890 one…
1854 #1? They averaged about 347 numbers per year, suggesting these dates…
1876 #7,637 is imprinted 974 on a vertical post inside the bottom of the piano.
1878 #8,671 is imprinted 990 on a vertical post inside the bottom of the piano.
Then they got through about 444 numbers per year, suggesting the following dates…
1880~ # 9,500
1890 #13,999, keys dated 5-15-90, also has 2508 inside.
1897 #16,006 is dated on the side of the bottom key.
1899 Henry Ward had moved to 44, Arlington road, Camden Town NW.
1911 He seems to have ceased trading, but the name continued to be used in the twenties.
#43600 is thought to be about 1922.
Numbers published for Wornum are misleading because they do not give the Piccolo Pianoforte numbers, or the grand numbers, and as more and more production was devoted to Piccolo Pianos, the numbers for these almost began to catch up with the main number sequence. Pianos bearing the Store Street address must be after 1830.
Piccolo Pianoforte numbers
In the main numbers, for example, #4,900 is dated 1837. Our Wornum & Sons piano, dated 1875, generously provides confirmation of the same number 13,159 in 4 different places, as shown above.
This is a list of twentieth-century serial number dates, mainly from some of the pianos I have tuned over the years, which were dated inside. Where several numbers are known for the year, I give the earliest and latest. It would be so easy for other tuners to keep such information on index cards or computer, and help us to preserve history.
1902 Hemingway #7,500
1903 Cramer #34,500
1904 Cramer #36,700
1905 Cramer #38,100
1907 Boyd #23,800
1909 Broadwood White #36,300
Stiles #119,200 by Bord
1910 Beckley #39,800
1911 Boyd #27,100
1913 Waldberg #34,500 by Danemann?
1914 Ajello #22,700
Strohmenger #13,400 & #13,700
1915 Dale Forty #29,600
1917 Collard #186,600
1920 Beadle & Langbein #19,300
1921 Kemble #13,800 Dated on a paper label on the back.
1921 Loufer #1,100
1922 Ehrmann #2,500 & 9,400
Paul Gerard #1,600
Normelle #3,300 & #10,000 – a completely different sequence
1923 Barnes #9,200
1923 Chalton #18527 Labelled “Karn”
1924 Brooklyn #25,800
Challenger & Hicks #38,100
Hilton & Hilton #26,500
Cooper Southam #21,800
1925 Chappell #70,900
Kemble #20,800 Dated on a paper label on the back.
James Smith & Son #40,200, actual maker unknown.
1926 Bell #138,100
John Ralph #99,400
1927 Squire #36,300
1927 Boyd #44,100 & #45,300
1928 Boyd #46,800 & #46,900
1931 Amylette #7,300 by C.W.S.
Stiles K36,000 by Kemble
1932 Barnes #36,400 by Kemble?
1933 D’Almaine #1,400
Osbert #36,500 by Kemble?
1934 Barnes #39,700 by Kemble?
Osbert #42,700 by Kemble?
Stahl #4,000 by Challen
1936 Barnes K58,800 by Kemble
Dale Forty #6,800 by Challen
1937 Bentley #47,500
Dale Forty #6,800 by Challen
Monington & Weston #59,700
Osbert #49,000 by Kemble?
Regent #9,400 by C.W.S.
1938 Amylette 10,400 by C.W.S.
Barnes #66,300 by Kemble
Challen #56,300 Frame cast in 1935, keys dated 1938
D’Almaine #51,500 & #51900 by Bentley?
1939 Barnes #54,300
1946 Welmar #46,000 Their numbers seem to start with 2 digits of the year.
1950 Danemann #67,300
1951 Kemble #85,600
1952 Broadwood #259,400
1953 Bentley #75,200
1954 Berry #43,400 & #43,700
Eavestaff #151,100 & #155,600
1955 Bentley #80,000 & #80,100
Berry #44,000 & #44,100
Challen #82,300 by Brasted
1956 Berry #44,200
Boyd #171,000 by Brasted
1957 Berry #44,400 & #44,600
Boyd #105,000 by Kemble
Zender #24,700 & #26,100
1958 Barratt & Robinson #16,200
1959 Barratt & Robinson #40,700
Boyd #106,500 by Kemble
Eavestaff #175,000 & #176,000
1960 Bentley #95,500
Berry #45,000 & #45,900 by Berry
Eavestaff #176,100 & #180,300 by Brasted
Rogers Eungblut #112,000 by Kemble
Kemble #110,400 & #113,890
1960 Welmar #55,900
1961 Kemble #113,600
Eavestaff #180,000 & #180,500
Schreiber #44,100 & #44,300 by Barratt & Robinson
1962 Eavestaff #180,600 by Brasted
Paul Gerard #8,800 by Kemble?
Squire #11,7200 by Kemble
1963 Berry #43,700 & #46,100
Berry serial numbers reduced slightly when made by Barratt & Robinson
Eavestaff #181,700 & #182,900
Lincoln #100,800 by Bentley
Monington & Weston #72,600
1963 Zender #34,500
1964 Challen #91,000
Gilbert #46,000 by Barratt & Robinson
Kemble #120,900 & #121,900
Monington & Weston #73,000 #38,200 on belly
1965 Boyd #14,600
Brinsmead #123,700 & #126,000 by Kemble
Danemann #84,100 & #84,800
Steinberg #39,510 Berlin “Sole distributors Gilberts Pianos Ltd.”
1966 Eavestaff #184,400 & #185,300
1967 Bentley #112,300
Knight #42,500 & #42,800
Schreiber #18,300 by Barratt & Robinson
Steinberg #39,590 Berlin “Sole distributors Gilberts Pianos Ltd.”
Zender #40,700 & #41,100
1968 Challen #93,300
Kemble #132,400 & #134,400
1969 Bentley #116,700
Brinsmead #138,400 by Kemble
1970 Berry #49,800 & #51,400 by Barratt & Robinson
Challen #95,300 & #95,400
Knight #47,800 & #49,400
1971 Barratt & Robinson #57,600
Berry #52,800 & #54,500
Cramer #147,400 by Kemble
Otto Bach #47,900 & #48,700 by Knight
Schreiber #48,600 by Barratt & Robinson
1972 Bentley #123,700 & #124,600
Berry #54,800 & #58,600 by Barratt & Robinson
Challen #100,300 & #100,600
Gunther #4,700 by Kemble
Knight #48,500 & #51,200
Reislan #51,200 by Zender
1973 Rippen #120,900
Barratt & Robinson #60,700
Berry #59,700 & #60,700 by Barratt & Robinson
Kemble #154,400 & #154,500
Knight #51,900 & #53,600
Steinberg #40,600 by Kemble?
Wurlitzer #15,4000 by Kemble
Yamaha #1,445,500 & #1,605,800
Zender #52,100 & #52,900
1974 Bell #55,000 by Zender
Bentley #130,200 & #131,900
Berry #19,400 & #62,200 by Barratt & Robinson
Brinsmead #162,400 by Kemble
Challen #101,400 & #102,500
Danemann #96,000 & #97,000
Kemble #162,100 & #162,500
Robt Morley #59,300 by Barratt & Robinson
Spencer #54,800 by Zender?
Yamaha #1,278,900 & #1,747,800
Zender #54,000 & #55,100
1975 Bentley #132,900 & #136,800
Challen #101,000 & #102,100
Danemann #97,500 & #98,000
Giles #2,100 by Zender
Knight #54,500 & #56,800
Yamaha #H 2,245,700
Zender #2,000 & # 2,300
1976 Baldwin #1,021,600
Baldwin #71,624 grand for Liberace concert
Bentley #135,900 & #137,800
Knight #58,200 & #62,600
Zender #3,700 & #4,800 on belly #58,600 Dymo label on back
1977 Baldwin #978,100 & #1,148,000
Barratt & Robinson #68,500
Pearl River #12,300
Yamaha C 2,355,200
Zender 3 completely different series #5,447 #50,013 #162,134
Baldwin #1,150,200 & #1,180,500
Barratt & Robinson #69,000
1978 Cramer #186,400
1979 Baldwin #329,900 new Monarch Model
Baldwin #1,184,400 & #1,205,300
Berry #69,400 & #70,500
Challen #103,500 & #64,900?
Welmar #79,200 on frame #24,600 on belly
1980 Baldwin #119,000
Chappell #93,800 & #94,300
Kemble #199,700 & #193,900
Knight #64,300 & #64,800
1981 Fuchs & Mohr #103,400
Yamaha H 3,031,400
1982 Baldwin #1,241,300
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has dated any piano numbers by using the action number lists, or can date more action numbers for us. I find them a very accurate guide for antique pianos, but for more modern instruments, Barrie Heaton says "The problem with action numbers is that it all depends when the action was used: I remember talking to David Martin at Herrburgers about the single escapement action -"when did they stop supplying?" - he gave me a rough date, but then said that it was a good few years after that when manufacturers stopped using them as they had a back stock, and that was the case for all the common actions. - When I did part of my training at Bentleys, there was a big room full of actions and keyboards, and the action finishers would go in and grab the nearest one for that model, so they didn't run in sequence. However, having said that, I would be surprised if the action date was more than three years late.” 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, and much-improved facilities for research within our own archives.
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