This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Friday, November 20, 2009

19th Century Pianos

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

People in the 19th century didn't have radios, CD players, ipods, or live stream music from the Internet. If they wanted any kind of music, they had to produce it themselves. Therefore, among those that could afford it, one could walk into most any home and find a piano of some sort--much like today you'll find it rare to walk into a house and not find a TV. A young woman was expected to play the piano and it usually qualified as part of her studies.

The first photo in this post is of a mahogany square piano dated 1790. It was made by Charles Albrecht in Philadelphia. I apologize that the image isn't better or up close. I took this image in the Joseph Manigault Museum House in Charleston, SC.

Pianos first originated from the clavichord and the harpsichord. The clavichord was widely used through the Medieval period through the Renaissance era. The haprsichord is much larger as a winged shaped instrument with strings perpendicular to the keyboard. It was invented around the middle ages (abt. 1500).

In the 1720's Bartolomeo Cristofori of Italy inventend what we know as the modern piano. It virtually replaced the clavichord and the harpsichord in many homes. Throughout the next century, many changes where invented and adapted to the modern piano.

The second photo is of a pianoforte dated 1820. It is made by William Rolfe & Company in London and sold by Siegling Music House of Charleston, SC. I apologize for the lack of clarity. I snapped this photo through the glass at the Charleston Museum and I couldn't use a flash.

This final photo is of a beautiful piano that is one of my favorite antiques. I love the unique carving of the wood. It was made in 1860 by Timothy Gilbert of Boston, MA. It belonged to Mary Jane Williams (1833-1904), wife of James Harvey Carlson. It was donated by their great-grandson and now sits in the Rosedale Plantation House in Charlotte, NC.

I love piano music and I often listen to a CD of Beethoven or Bach, Claude DeBussy or Peter Tchaikovsky when I'm writing my Regency and Victorian era novels. I'll share a secret with you. I've always dreamed of playing the piano. When I was little, I begged my mother for piano lessons, but she said we couldn't afford a piano for me to practice on or the lessons. I never got my oppoturnity to play the piano. It's still a dream that I hope isn't too late in my adult heart. But now with working full-time, writing and researching all the time, and being a wife and mother, I don't know when I could squeeze it in. So I'll do the next best thing, keep pounding out my stories on my keyboard. It's ironic, but I suppose I was destined for a keyboard--just not the piano.

For now I'll listen to others play beautiful piano music. day...


Great post! It's rare anymore to find a piano in a home. My best friend plays the piano and I think she would like this post! [=


Interesting article. I love to listen to piano music. I have many CDs both classical and new age with piano. While I love to listen to various types of music, there are times I only want to hear instrumental. I have quite a collection of that--and it ain't elevator music, lol!

I always thought of Clavischords as a "portable" music box. Well compared to modern pianos. I read a reference, somewhere and I don't remember where, a few troupes of trubadors could carry one with straps on their backs. I don't know how true that is. I imagine they were quite heavy.

I've listen to both, we used to do a lot of Ren faires and had the opportunity to see some very fine musicians. Harpichords playing music--very lovely, ah, but when the same piece is played on the piano, the pieces are like liquid sunshine. Pianos bring such depth.

Like the pics within their settings too. Have a great weekend. :-)

It amazes me that in the 18th &
19th centuries that chidren and teenagers like Schubert, Mendelssohn, and of course Mozart were writing masterpieces for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra and now some of us are thrilled if our kids can write their names legibly.

Annabell, Send her a link. I'd like to hear from her.


I love the Ren Faires. I went twice this fall. Yes, the piano does have a lot more depth. As an historical lover I'm glad to know people are still using the clavischords and harpsichords. I'd hate to see such historical instruments disappear.

Arlee, You bring up a great point. I can't help but wonder if it's b/c children really learned something before they moved on to the next thing. Now days, they have to "cover so much" that they move on to the next topic whether the kids have learned the first topic or not. Kids were able to learn at their own rate. I think they learn better that way.

My daughter has special needs, and they've already covered the states and capitals of America. She never caught on. My husband and I are teaching her this at home, while the rest of her class is learning about South America. If she can learn it with us teaching her, why couldn't she learn it in school? It does make me wish we could home school her. Yet, her special resource teachers have made strides in math with her that we haven't been able to do.

Also, I wonder if these great musicians from back then were unique geniuses, not the average kid for back then either?

Wonderful post!
I love piano music too, and wish I had learned to play, but the best I can do is plunk out a melody...My husband even bought me a piano, but the coordination it takes to play with both hands is beyond me! Fortunately, my son is interested in learning and seems to have a natural talent.

Beautiful post! I love the piano. I've been playing since I was ten. Believe it or not I actually begged my mom to let me quit piano because I wanted to continue gymnastics instead but I was told it was one or the other. Piano was chosen for me and I'm so very glad. I haven't practiced in forever, as it's been a while since I lived in a home with a piano. But I have a keyboard and as soon as I clear out the moving mess that is still upstairs, I'll get a chair and start playing again.

The old pianos are gorgeous, aren't they? Such lovely instruments. They can make me weep with some songs, and dance with joy the next. I suppose it's true of any instrument in the hand of a master, but there's something special about a piano.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Deborah, I'm not sure how I'd manage that two-handed task either. Although, I seem to do fine with a typing keyboard--so maybe...

Jen, we have more in common than our names, a love of Christ and Christian fiction, and the piano. The other activity I begged my mother for was gymnastics lessons. I spent hours in my grandmother's backyard doing flips on my make-believe balance beam, the picnic table benches. Thanks for bringing back beautiful memories. Oh, and in the fall, I'd rake a bunch of leaves on the end of the beam, and do cartwheels and flips into the leaves. It was so much fun!

Hello, Here is a site that has a lot od biographies of piano makers you may be interested in.
Antique Piano Archive