The Baldwin Piano

The Baldwin Piano

By James Grebe

          In the period of time between 1850 and 1900, one of the most enlightened personalities after ministers, lawyers, and physicians was the music teacher.  The music teacher would make their rounds, regularly bringing education and entertainment to their clientele.  In the area of the Ohio Valley,Dwight Hamilton Baldwin was one of the most important.  He not only was the teacher of a number of musical instruments but also was the person looked upon for guidance when it became time for a family to purchase a musical instrument, which led him into selling his own musical instruments.  In 1862, he opened up his first store in Cincinnati.  He first tried to obtain the Steinway franchise but it was not offered to him.  During the first 25 of business he became an important purveyor of musical instruments.  More stores appeared as his business grew.            In 1866 Lucian Wulsin came to work for Baldwin as a clerk, then bookkeeper and made himself so indispensable that he was made a partner in 1873.  In 1889, the Hamilton Organ Company was begun as a subsidiary.  The Valley Gem and Ellington Piano Companies following as well as the Hamilton Piano Company.  Baldwin began with different price points with different quality standards in the piano industry.          In 1899, D.H. Baldwin died leaving much of his wealth to the Presbyterian Church, as he was childless.  At this time Wulsin arranged to buy all the outstanding stock, with the help of George Armstrong.  With the new control, Baldwin Pianos became the artistic models, not only in product design as well as the factories that produced them.            In 1900, Baldwin was awarded the Grand Prix in Paris and in 1904 the Grand Prize at th4e St. Louis Worlds Fair in St. Louis.  As the company entered the player piano years, Baldwin introduced their Manuelo player piano.  More Baldwin names appeared like Saint Regis, Franke, Monarch, Modello, Sargent, Winton, and Acrosonic.  During the late teens, Baldwin fitted their best pianos with the Welte-Mignon Reproducing mechanisms to compete with The Ampico and Duo-Art Reproducers.            Baldwin continued the use of the company owned stores until the 1970’s and went to straight franchised stores.  The Baldwin factory store in St. Louis was in the 900 block of Olive Str. in downtown St. Louis. The Acrosonic spinet pianos (in the authors opinion) were the best made in that size.  Their Hamilton Studio pianos have always been one of the most popular school and church pianos ever built.  During the 1980’s the company was rescued from bankruptcy by the upper management buying the company.  The money problems came from Baldwin’s involement with the banking and financing industry.          The company had carried its own research and development and now has the floating plate principal and accu-just hitch pins.  With the new hitch pin, the tail of the string is suspended and is adjustable on the cylindrical piece of steel.  The string can be placed for optimum down bearing for that individual string..  Because the diameter of the termination point is larger than the diameter of the former hitch pin the wire does not become kinked and will move more freely around the pin.  Because of this individuality, each note can be put at its’ best place rather than across a raised potion of the plate.  They also have Syncro-Tone bass strings, which are made on a lathe with both ends rotating so that the core wire does not get twisted in the winding process of the copper wrapping. The lack of torque on the core wire gives out a cleaner sound.          The Baldwin Company purchased the Pratt-Read action company in the early 1980’s and moved that operation to Juarez, Mexico where labor cost are dramatically lower .  The Wurlitzer and Chickering names were purchased which has given them more clout.  The Baldwin Company went bankrupt again and is now owned by the Gibson Guitar Company and Baldwin now produces Chinese made as well as American made instruments.  In the near future Baldwin will only domestically make the full Baldwin grands and all else will be made in the far east.

     Baldwin now owns their own plant in China and all their instruments are made there. and the pianos they are now producing there have a very cohesive uniform quality and tonal quality and have risen to be of very high quality.  Though it is sad to have all Baldwin products here in the U.S, they are producing quality pianos at all price points.

     In vintage pianos, Baldwin spinets: mostly carried Acrosonic names but some carried Baldwin and Howard names.   All of these spinets are identified by 6 notes of 2 bi-chords of wound strings beginning with C#3.  The best ones of these were the Acrosonics containing their best solid copper winding in the wound strings and their better grade of  hammers.  For a while during the 1960’s they tried no individual notching on the treble bridge which gave a louder overall sound but less clarity.  They abandoned that and went back to individual notching.Baldwin consoles in the earlier versions used no wound strings in the treble and began the treble section with C#3.  Later, they changed to using 2 wound string bi-chords beginning with C#3.  The newest uses 4 wound bi-chords at C#3.     The earliest Baldwin studio size began with C#3 with no wound strings in the treble.  The next version came with 2 bi-chords of wound strings at the same point and the newest version of the scale has 4 wound string bi-chords at the same point.  Next comes the 48” Baldwins which begin their treble at C#3 with 3 wound string bi-chords.  Next in line is the 52” Baldwin with no wound strings in the treble.During different eras they would use the Hamilton or Howard name and during the earlier times would use the Monarch names on the studio size pianos.These days they market the Hamilton and Ellington names on their Chinese built consoles. In grand sizes they built the M, R, L, F, and CF.  The M had 2 scales one with 2 wound bi-chords beginning at B2 and the newer with 3 bi-chords beginning at the same point.  The R has 3 bi-chords beginning with B2.  The L has 5 bi-chords of sound strings beginning with F2.  The F has no wound strings in the treble and begins with F2.  The CF uses 9 wound bi-chords beginning with F2.In their less expensive grands the Howard-Sargent-Monarch names were used interchangeably.  Those grand are around 4’11: and begin their treble section at F#3 with no wound string bi-chords.  These were generally fairly decent small grands and the biggest problem by this time in their life is that many have loose tuning pins  Some more recent Howard grands were made by Samick for Baldwin and their treble section begins with B2 with 3 bi-chord wound strings.  There was a DH Baldwin grand with the shared name of Chickering with 5 wound bi-chords beginning with B2. In times before 1930 they had a Baldwin grand that began it’s treble with F2 and 7 wound bi-chords.  I believe they were the Model H.

I hope while you are on this site you will visit the other parts of the site to see the various wares I handcraft from my shop in Arnold, MO.  All of the things I sell come from my hands and are not mass produced items to be resold to the public.

Copyright,2008/ Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

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