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#150924 - 12/20/06 03:31 PM Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Mike A Offline
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Mike A  Offline
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Reading some recent threads made me curious:

- What was the "golden age" for piano ownership in the US ... when the greatest percentage of households had a piano? I have the impression that it was the very early 1900s.

- How does the price of a "decent" piano then compare (inflation-adjusted) to the price of a similarly "decent" piano today? More "affordable" or less today, for a "typical" family, relative to overall incomes and cost of living, etc.? (Probably an impossible question to answer meaningfully, because there are so many variables.)

Anyway, just wondering. Any thoughts?

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#150925 - 12/20/06 05:58 PM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Casalborgone Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Mike A:
Reading some recent threads made me curious:

- What was the "golden age" for piano ownership in the US ... when the greatest percentage of households had a piano? I have the impression that it was the very early 1900s.

- How does the price of a "decent" piano then compare (inflation-adjusted) to the price of a similarly "decent" piano today? More "affordable" or less today, for a "typical" family, relative to overall incomes and cost of living, etc.? (Probably an impossible question to answer meaningfully, because there are so many variables.)

Anyway, just wondering. Any thoughts?
Yes, the period from about 1890 to 1930. There were at that time thousands of piano manufacturers in the US. No radio; mechanical 78 rpm record players with poor sound quality. A piano then (as now) offered real music.

The price comparison doesn't make a lot of sense.

Most working men were paid $1 a day in 1900; the price of a beer was a nickel and that included a free lunch. A new upright piano might have sold for $150.

But what does that tell you, other than that it was an entirely different world in the US just 100 years ago? History offers many intellectual riches beyond the comparison of prices.


Mike
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Member Piano Technicians Guild
Not currently working in the piano trade.
#150926 - 12/20/06 06:30 PM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Mike A Offline
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Mike A  Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by Casalborgone:


Most working men were paid $1 a day in 1900; the price of a beer was a nickel and that included a free lunch. A new upright piano might have sold for $150.

But what does that tell you, other than that it was an entirely different world in the US just 100 years ago? History offers many intellectual riches beyond the comparison of prices.
What is interesting (to me) about a comparison of the relative prices is not the prices themselves ... it's the light it casts on what it *meant* to a family to own a piano. A very significant percentage of households owned pianos during that era, from what I understand. The higher the relative cost, the greater the relative importance of a piano must have been in the family's life, and the greater the financial sacrifice and prioritization necessary to buy it.

#150927 - 12/20/06 06:49 PM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Casalborgone Offline
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Yes, I agree that it is of interest to try to discover why a family might have wanted a piano in those days, but I don't think that the money or spending analysis is the best way to approach the question. For example, the piano itself might have been of little intrinsic interest to the family, but of great extrinsic interest in that having a piano meant that one was "well-to-do" or "keeping up with the Joneses" or that the family enjoyed throwing parties so that friends and neighbors could come over and entertain themselves at the piano.


Mike
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Not currently working in the piano trade.
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#150928 - 12/20/06 07:24 PM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Mike A Offline
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Of course: relative cost doesn't reveal *why* important. But it gives a good hint at *how* important, and the financial impact that a family faced in order to own a piano -- interesting (to me) in its own right.

#150929 - 12/22/06 12:56 PM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Colin Dunn Offline
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If the average wage in 1900 was $1/day, and an upright piano was $150, getting a piano would consume 150 days' pay, or about 7-1/2 months of 5-day work weeks. (This ignores income and sales taxes.)

Today, the average wage according to US employment surveys is about $16/hr. For an 8-hour day, that's $128 per day. A high-quality upright piano can be had for abour $7,500. Ignoring income and sales taxes again, that piano costs about 59 days' pay.

In real terms, that would suggest a piano is 2-1/2 times as affordable today as compared to a century ago.

If pianos are less popular today, I think it's because they compete with many other hobbies and gadgets. Sports, computers, photography, visual arts, craft projects, etc.

I think today's piano buyer isn't merely looking at a piano as a device to bring music into their home. After all, a stereo system and some CDs brings professional renditions of music into the home a lot more cheaply. Among most people I've met, I see pianos being used as a creative / educational tool, or as an expensive / high-status piece of furniture.


Colin Dunn
#150930 - 12/22/06 03:59 PM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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Mike A Offline
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I came across an interesting article at Economist.com, comparing "real" (i.e., inflation-adjusted) percentage changes in the price of various items in year 1900 vs. year 2000. It included Steinway grand pianos, showing a 160% "real" increase.
http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=457272

(So, if we can apply the same percentage to uprights as grands, and if a Steinway upright cost, say, $25,000 in 2000, the comparable cost in 1900, but expressed in year 2000 dollars, would be about $9,600, if I'm doing the math right. Using a CPI inflation calculator to translate that back to year 1900 dollars, that seems to equate to about $480. Other brand pianos were no doubt less expensive.)
http://www.westegg.com/inflation/

Regarding pianos, the article emphasizes Colin's point above: "Many goods that are popular today—television sets, say—did not exist 100 years ago. Nor the way of achieving some non-material goods. In 1900, the Edison phonograph already existed. But anyone wanting the real sound of music at home ... had to buy an instrument (and then pay for his daughters to be taught how to play it). Over the past century, the price of a Steinway grand piano has increased by 160% in real terms. But the true cost of his pleasure to our music-lover has tumbled: he buys a compact-disc player instead of a piano, paying less than 1% of the price of a modern Steinway."

Interesting chart:

[Linked Image]

An article from the Chicago Public Library gave these statistics about wages and hours worked per week in Chicago for various occupations in 1900:
http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/1900/fam.html

* Bricklayers $.50--46.3 hr.
* Hod Carriers $.25--48.0 hr.
* Construction Laborers $.17--60.0 hr.
* Plasterers $.50--44.0 hr.
* Boiler Makers $.27--54.1 hr.
* Foundry Laborers $.16--56.0 hr.
* Machine Woodworkers $.25--54.5 hr.
* Newspaper Compositors $.36--54.0 hr.

"This would give a range of annual income from about $570 for laborers to $1200 for bricklayers."

Chicago public sector wages in 1900 included:

* Janitors (male) $720, (female) $540
* Coal passers $720-780
* Firefighters $840-1,134
* Patrolmen $1,000, Police Matrons $720
* Laborers $600
* Stenographer (female) $900, male clerks generally earned $900-1200
* Mayor $10,000
* Department Heads generally earned $3,000-6,000.
* A quite numerous class of assistants, chief clerks, lawyers, police and fire supervisors, etc., earned a comfortable middle class income of $1200-3000 per year.

#150931 - 12/23/06 12:13 AM Re: Piano Ownership's "Golden Age"  
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seebechstein Offline
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houston
I find it fascinating that the necessities of life have gotten much cheaper, which allows everyone a moderate standard of living, whereas the luxuries have gotten much more expensive.

I think people had to work much harder 100 years ago to entertain themselves. I have the impression that people's homes were filled with educational opportunities such as books and musical instruments; today it is difficult to raise children in an intellectually stimulating home with all the easy diversions.


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