|A Starr of My Very Own|
The Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana built very high quality pianos, particularly from 1893 through the 1920's, during which period they invariably won awards at international expositions. The rich, deep tone of their concert grands is rarely matched by pianos built in recent years, and I've yet to play an instrument that sounds better than my 1913 Starr Concert Grand.
Starr Concert Grands feature a Louis XVI style 12-legged cabinet, with carved "picture frame" moldings decorating the eight foot long case and music holder (as shown below). My Starr's case is made of quarter-sawn oak, a dense, hard wood that when cut against the grain displays a "flame" pattern. This is a rarity for a grand piano of its vintage. In the late 1800's and early 1900's imported rosewood and mahogany were the preferred woods for expensive furnishings, and oak, despite its great strength and beautiful grain, was almost never used for grand pianos because it was considered a cheap domestic wood.
Antique pianos are surprisingly inexpensive, usually selling for three to five times less than a new piano of comparable quality. The 1891 mahogany Starr Concert Grand pictured below recently sold for $25,000. I paid even less for mine, thanks to a seller who was desperate for cash; but whatever it cost, between its beautiful tone and appearance, I'd be very happy to own my Starr.
Starr pianos were featured in a number of films in the early to mid twentieth century, presumably as an effort by the company to prop up sales by placing them in public view. For instance, in the 1933 Shirley Temple film "Curly Top" a Starr is used to help establish the good taste and good connections (that is, "old money") of the male lead. Early in the movie John Boles, who played the part, sang a love song while playing a Starr Concert Grand in a room larger than most houses of the day.
As shown in an 1891 mahogany piano, the carved frames wrap all around the case. (Vintage Piano Shop)
The music holder of my piano, showing the "flame" pattern of quarter-sawn oak
One of the carved frames on my Starr
A 1907 advertisement
$950 doesn't sound like a lot today, but in 1907 you could buy a house for less.
Determining the Age of a Starr Piano
If you own a Starr piano and would like to know when it was made, find its serial number (it is usually on the front or top of the sounding board frame). A local piano dealer should have a copy of the Pierce Piano Atlas, which lists the first serial number used in a given year. My piano's serial number is between the numbers listed for the start of 1913 (serial number 106000) and 1914 (serial number 113000), so it was made in 1913.
An Interesting Accessory
I recently discovered that in 1994, First Gear made a 1/34th scale model of a Starr Piano delivery truck, and was able to acquire one of the 810 examples. I doubt that Starr ever used a 1957 International Harvester truck like the one shown below, but the model is very well done, and looks nice sitting in a display cabinet near my piano.
(Image courtesy of Ed Hofmann, Big Ed's Truck Stop)
What Is My Starr Worth?
Many people who stumble across this page want to know how much their Starr is worth. That depends on how you value it. Before I bought mine I played over a hundred pianos, ranging in price from 15 to 150 thousand dollars, and not one had as rich or musical a tone as the Starr; so to me it was worth whatever I could afford to pay. My piano tuner says it is an exceptionally good piano and should be insured for at least seventy thousand dollars, which is far more than what I paid but far less than what it would cost to replace it with an equally good instrument. But if I tried to sell it I'd be lucky to get ten thousand dollars, because to most people unless it's a Steinway it's trash (most old Steinways are trash as well, but that's another matter). So if you value your Starr based on what you could sell it for, it's probably not worth much. But if you value it based on a love of the music it produces, it can be worth every penny it cost and more.