Now here is something you don’t see everyday, let alone in a thrift store: a 1917/1918 Steinway & Sons grand piano. I saw this in the city yesterday on 23rd Street. I was a little confused at the 1917/1918 designation. I would have thought it fairly easy to trace the provenance of such a thing; as I understand it Steinways come with serial numbers and other identifying information to track their provenance. Or, maybe due to the war they were producing models on something other than an annual basis? Whatever the reasons, one can’t blame the people in the thrift store for not knowing.

This century-old 1917/1918 Model M Steinway & Son piano is currently in a thrift store on Manhattan’s 23rd Street.

Whenever I see something like this, I wonder how it got there. Was it in someone’s New York City apartment for decades until said person either passed on or moved in to a smaller place? Did the family donate the thing to a thrift store during a house cleaning? What famous pianist might have played it along the way over the past century? There is no way to know. That is the wonderful mystery of such things.

I have passed the Steinway crypt in Green-Wood Cemetery dozens of times over the years. A Wikipedia search informs us that the company was founded by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg in New York City in 1853. Steinweg had emigrated from Lower Saxony and come to the United States with his sons after the failed revolutions of 1848. It was a wise move; the family avoided much of the tumult of the next 75 years. Steinway the Elder died in 1871 in the middle of the Franco-Prussian War. By the time of the Great War the Steinways were part of the fabric of New York City life and it does not seem they suffered from the anti-German sentiments so common during the Great War. Steinweg himself had anglicized the family name when first coming to the New Country. Perhaps the less overtly Germanic “Steinway” saved the family such grief.

Steinway pianos then and now were made in Queens. During the war the city was building a Steinway tunnel to connect Queens to Manhattan via a new subway line. Frederick Loeser & Co., a Brooklyn-based department store, was one place to buy a Steinway, among dozens of other piano makes and models. Loeser newspaper ads from 1917 and 1918, the period in which the Model M we see above was manufactured, list the original price of a Steinway grand piano at around $1000, just over $18,600 in today’s currency. Loeser’s however was selling them at a steep discount. It would be interesting to know if such discounts were customary or due to the war.