Which factory started producing these great instruments on a large scale in the United States? Do you suppose it's the legendary Steinway & Sons? Here you may be surprised, because it’s a much less recognized brand, Chickering & Sons! You may be wondering, what is a Chickering piano? It is the factory of Jonas Chickering (and James Stewart) that introduced upright and grand pianos to the American market. Founded in 1823 in Boston, the piano manufactory was for many years the leading piano manufacturer in the United States. It was not only one of the first factories, but also has many innovations to its credit - the most important of which you will find out later in this text.
Let's take a brief look at the history of this brand. The first name is Stewart & Chickering, it was only valid for the first few years when a Chickering partner was replaced by John MacKay (Chickering & MacKay). This was because Stewart went to London for good. Interestingly, John MacKay was a sea captain who supplied Chickering with great African wood for building pianos. This cooperation lasted for about 10 years, because in 1841 Sir MacKay went missing during a sea journey. In the meantime, they were also joined by the son of William MacKay, which resulted in a slight change in the name of the factory - Chickering & MacKays. Why did we go into such details? Because it is extremely rare to find these pianos, but it is still possible to find them with the name Chickering & MacKay(s) on the market.
Despite this loss, Chickering also used the marketing knowledge gained from working with MacKay to continue their business. Also thanks to their ability to improve and innovate, they gradually reached many customers in the American market, but also in Europe and the UK.
In the following years, Jonas' three sons (Thomas, George and Frank) also joined the company, and the company was prosperous - the name was changed to Chickering & Sons.
Jonas Chickering was known for not being afraid to introduce innovative machines into his factories, apart from maintaining high standards of manual production. Thanks to this adaptation to the evolving technology, Chickering was truly successful. The good luck unfortunately did not last long, as the factory burned down at the end of 1852. The brand's creator, however, was not a man who gives up easily and immediately undertook to build another, modern factory.
Unfortunately, Jonas Chickering died in 1853, while the construction of the new factory was not yet completed. So he left a wonderful legacy to his sons, who continued his "work" with dignity and further success. Important events in the company's further history were the opening of the Chickering Hall on the prestigious New York Street as well as the hall in Boston. Thanks to the performances and concerts of the artists at the time - especially world-renowned pianists who played Chickering grand pianos - the Chickering brothers were able to promote their brand to a wide audience. As you can guess, the hall soon became a very popular and prestigious artistic meeting place.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the Chickering brothers started leaving and the company was taken over by successive generations or relatives. In 1892, when the Chickering company was in its prime, a "branch" of the Chickering Brothers was established. They also produced keyboard instruments, but a separate line. At the end of 1908, both brands were sold to the Ampico company (American Piano Company), and during the Great Depression the Chickering brand was taken over by Aeolian - American (1932). However, Chickering instruments were still produced under this name. The next "owners" of the brand became: Wurlitzer - around 1985, and Baldwin. The last Chickering instruments were produced before Wurlitzer took over the factory. Jonas Chickering and his successors have won numerous awards for their activities and innovations and their good reputation has spread around the world.
I started this article with a reference to the legendary Steinway & Sons factory. Henry Steinweg founded the first factory in New York in 1853. Three years earlier he had emigrated to the USA from Germany, where he had already had his first experience in the construction of pianos at that time (he did it enthusiastically, but amateurishly, at home). Upon arriving in the USA, Henry Steinweg (later Steinway) had the opportunity to see a Chickering grand piano at a concert in New York. The story is that people had trouble getting Henry away from that instrument - he was so moved and distracted by the construction of the Chickering grand piano. He explored all the details of the construction of the piano with admiration. It is very likely that the Chickering instruments were an inspiration for Steinway and influenced his further work.
You might be a lucky holder of a Chickering piano and wonder, “Is Chickering a good piano brand?”. I will try to dispel your doubts.
What is important are the innovations and ideas introduced by the Chickering family, as they have influenced the shape and construction of today's pianos. We are not going to conduct an in-depth study of the construction of former and contemporary pianos here - this is a topic for a separate article. However, it was Jonas Chickering who introduced in his "square pianos" a one-piece iron plate (entire iron frame) as a support for high tension strings. He also made it possible to place more strings on a smaller surface by placing them in two fractions - one above the other, not next to each other (Circular Scale). This allows the thick bass strings to be placed in a more resonant part of the piano. In this form, the strings are still placed in upright pianos and grand pianos today. Isn't it unusual that Chickering's oeuvre from about 150 years ago is reflected in new instruments - so different from the pianos back in the day? This shows that many of the factories at the time copied the unpatented innovations of Chickering and his sons, transferring them to their instruments - including Steinway. Not to belittle the Steinway & Sons manufacture, it was Chickering who introduced his ideas long before Henry Steinweg arrived in the USA. From around 1850 onwards, Chickering upright pianos were also produced on a larger scale, also with a complete cast-iron plate and the mentioned string placement system. These and other achievements influenced the excellent quality of the instruments - in small Chickering baby grand pianos they achieved a full and rich sound corresponding to larger instruments of other brands.
Or how old is my Chickering piano and how will that affect its price? Is my old Chickering piano worth anything?
Although the instrument may be really old - it certainly has potential and can be renovated. There are workshops that are able to restore the smallest parts of an instrument, replace strings, worn out materials, check or repair the mechanism. If you would like to sell your Chickering piano without refurbishment, it's worthwhile to find out which shops sell instruments of this brand. It is very likely that the store can buy your upright piano, refurbish it in its workshop and sell the instrument on. The Chickering piano worth will vary depending on the condition, year of manufacture, model, number of additional carvings and anything similar to that.
The Klaviano search engine can certainly help. It will help you quickly find a shop or workshop in your area, or different models of Chickering instruments. Our team will be happy to help you not only find and buy an interesting Chickering piano, but also advise you on the best way to transport it.