SQUARE  PIANOS

Square pianos are an important part of musical history. They were used by the great pianists of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the average citizen and when properly restored, can still function nicely and sound wonderful today.  If you are interested in having a square piano restored or purchasing one already restored by Shaffer Pianos, feel free to email us for more information.  We hope you find the information below interesting.

 

About Us

Inventory of Pianos

Frequently Asked Questions

Find the Age of Your Piano

Why Choose a Vintage Antique Piano?

Piano Restorations

What is the Value of My Piano?

We Buy Used Grand Pianos

A Brief History of the Piano

Contact Us/Email

Click Here to See Shaffer Pianos Inventory of Antique Square Pianos

 

 

Click Here to See Our Restoration of a 

Customer's 1860 G.A. Miller Square Piano

The square piano, "square grand piano" or "box piano" as it is sometimes referred to is in fact rectangular in shape. It's roots date back to the early pianos (forte pianos) produced in Europe during the later part of the 18th century.  Even prior to that, its ancestor was the clavichord.

The early squares were very light and small (about 42 inches in length) and had no mental bracing. They possessed thinner strings that ran across the back of the piano.  They produced a softer sound than we are accustomed to hearing from today's pianos, making them more "personal pianos."  

The keytops were made of bone or thick ivory and the dip of the key was shallower than that of modern pianos. The touch-weight was also much lighter, which made playing less tiresome but the action (playing mechanism) was still somewhat crude.

The early pianos had only five octaves (60 keys) but were adequate for the music of time, C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven, and did address the need for an instrument that was more expressive than the harpsichord and louder than the clavichord.

The cases ranged from simple mahogany on four straight legs to more ornate cases which featured bands of different woods such as satinwood. 

Small square pianos quickly became popular in Europe and many middle class families wanted one. 

Zumpe Square Piano, London, 1767

The early 1800s witnessed an increase in square piano production, particularly in Europe. Broadwood, Erard and Clementi are some of the names associated with early nineteenth century quality square pianos. Many were constructed with delicate reeded legs (in some cases six legs)  and a matching damper pedal. 

The Clementi square piano  below is a fine example of early nineteenth century British square pianos. It possesses mahogany veneer with satinwood banding, delicate fretwork over the keyboard, thick ivory keytops, a string cover and fine brass trim.

 

Clementi Square Forte Piano , London, Circa 1820

Clementi Square Forte Piano , London, Circa 1820

This Stodart square piano has beautiful Rosewood veneer, excellent ivory and ebony keytops (six octaves) and a nicely engraved silver nameplate on the fallboard. 

 

The square below is a fine example of an 1830s American square piano, It has turned and fluted mahogany legs and pedal foot, thick ivory keytops and a nice flame mahogany veneered case.  Shortly after this piano was built, piano makers started using iron inside the pianos for support, accompanied by larger, heavier piano strings and larger cases .

 

1840 Stodart Square Piano, Rosewood

Firth & Hall Square Piano, New York, 1832

During the late 1820s, iron was introduced into the piano as a support for the strings but was not made common in many pianos until the 1830s. The iron stringing plate below is from an 1840 Stodart square which added strength to the piano in order to accommodate heavier strings and a larger cabinet thus producing greater power.

The beautifully figured thick maple string support with strong hardwood dowels held up very well over the last 177 years--a testament to quality craftsmanship. But just a few years later, squares were built with the cast iron plates like the Stodart to the left in order to hold larger strings and greater tension. 

 

 

The square piano below is another fine example of an early American square grand from the late Federal period. This piano was beautifully constructed and still has respectable integrity as a musical instrument. The case follows the simple design of Federal period furniture, yet has stunning crotch mahogany on the case and rosewood above the keys. Like a number of other American piano builders during this period, Nunns was an excellent cabinet maker and produced beautifully constructed instruments with perfect miters and dovetail joinery.

 

Nunns & Clark Square Piano, circa 1840

The middle of the 19th century brought with it a revival of different furniture styles including Gothic, Rococo and Neoclassical.  These elements of style could be found on some American pianos built in that century. 

The majority of American pianos built through the 1870s were square grands. While the French, the English and Germans were producing more modestly priced uprights for homes, the Americans were making larger, more powerful square pianos. 

The 1863 Steinway square piano (right) is an example of an American square piano prior to ornate carvings in case design that soon followed. The tapered, octagonal legs can be found on most American square grand pianos and many grand pianos until about 1870.  

Steinway squares were  extremely well-constructed and very heavyily built with solid timbers, excellent rosewood veneer and a nice cast iron plate (harp) for support of the tension applied by the music wire. This piano measures about 6'6" in length. 

 

 Early Steinway Square Piano,  1863

In the late 1800s,  square grands increased in length, from an average of 6' during the 1830s to 1850s to about 7' in 1870.  The depth also increased up to approximately 40 inches. More notes were added, bringing them up to 85 notes, heavier wire was used, increasing the power, and the cases became more heavily carved and sometimes scalloped, as Victorian furniture  dominated the later nineteenth century, particularly in America.  

The Chickering square piano pictured at right was among the most expensive, most solidly built and most powerful of any square piano ever built. It has a bright treble and deep powerful bass tone.

This piano has 3 strings per note across the treble, whereas the earlier square pianos generally only had two strings per unison and often delivered less power.  The piano at right could compete with a lot of grand pianos during its day.  The large size of the later square pianos did not accommodate  modest homes and piano tuners complained bitterly about bending over the piano to tune them since the tuning pins are located in the back of the piano--two of the reasons that led to their eventual demise.

However, quite recently there has been a renewed interest in square  pianos and a greater appreciation for their historical value as well as their musical abilities.  Very few square pianos can be found today in a condition that we would consider to be fully restored.

 

 

 

Chickering Square Piano, Scalloped Rosewood Case, 1885

Below are a few square piano ads from the 1800s

1851 Chickering Square Piano 

 

1888 Steinway Square Piano