A few years ago, I met Connell York, 84 year old piano tuner at the American Cancer Society Discovery Store on Bullard and West in Fresno, California where pianos are sometimes donated for sale. At the time he was examining the gorgeous 1875 or so, Fritz piano, checking its strings and tuning pins, explaining the Viennese action and how it worked. The piano, in stunning playing condition, wooed many shoppers, who paused to listen to a menu of Chopin pieces that resurrected an era of Romantic music and the timbre of the composer’s own Pleyel. This instrument fascinated me and inspired research about older pianos and their unique histories. It was a journey launched at the Discovery store that continued with enduring piano finding adventures.
Yesterday, I found myself back at the American Cancer Society Thrift store, investigating a recent addition, the “Continental” piano, enjoying its resonance and doing a bit of allied research.
The instrument, with a nice, polished oak finish, was one of the older uprights, but not of imposing size. It measured about 48 inches, making it a “studio” vertical.
The serial number, engraved into the cast iron should have matched its date of manufacture in the Pierce Piano Atlas, but oddly, there were none for this particular piano under the “Continental” listing. Luckily, I found York’s indelible autograph beside his two tuning entries meaning that I could call upon him to consult his personal, hand-written almanacs that detailed every house call he had ever made, with scribbled annotations about each piano he had tuned or repaired.
In no time, York was on the phone, shuffling through his entries, reciting every spec on the owner, his address, phone, and type of piano, age, condition, etc.
After York delivered his mini-lecture on Continental pianos, and the Jesse French Company that actually manufactured them, I had what I needed to make a short video that showcased a lovely piano.
York dated the piano to 1902, but I noticed that the original ivories had been replaced with a completely new set of keys. In good playing order, with notable resonance, the piano was ready for a screening.
This piano needs a loving home, so I am hopeful it will find one.
About the Piano Company:
French, Jesse (which made “Continental” Pianos)
“The Jesse French Piano Company of New Castle, Indiana was a major player in the piano industry during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Established in 1875, his pianos were first built in Nashville, Tennessee under the name of Dorman, French & Smith. In about 1898, the name was changed to Krell-French, with factories in Ohio. Albert Krell left Krell-French in about 1905, and Jesse French continued to build a substantial number of pianos until his death in 1927.
“The Jesse French Piano Company had facilities to produce a substantial number of pianos. They built pianos which were sold under several different brand names including “Jesse French & Sons,” “Ackerman & Lowe”, “Continental Piano Company”, “Frenchetts Piano Company,” “Jefferson Piano Company,” “Krell-French Piano Company,” “Lagonda Piano Company,” and “Browning Piano Company”. In 1955, The P. A. Stark Piano Company bought the Jesse French Piano Company, and built pianos under both the names of “P. A. Stark” and “Jesse French & Sons” until about 1965.”