Still existent instruments


The peak phase of the development of reproducing instruments from ~1905-1930 is now ~100 years ago, one or two world wars and several economic and trend crises. For a variety of reasons, the vast majority of instruments and scrolls are no longer preserved today. Today, there is no comprehensive overview of how many of the reproducing instruments are still preserved.

In a continuous "research and study work" an attempt should be made to list at least the largest part of the instruments distributed worldwide [Welte red, Welte green, Hupfeld Phonola, Hupfeld-Clavitist, Hupfeld-Phonoliszt, Hupfeld-DEA and Hupfeld-Duo/Tri-Phonola, Aeolian DUO-ART (only in connection with Steinway), Philipps DUCA/Pianella as well as Ampico A and Ampico B and Welte Licensee instruments].


You can find the current version of the list here [1 MB] . I would be very grateful for additions, hints and suggestions regarding this research work! On this page you will find hints how to find the often hidden serial numbers on your instrument.

The main reasons for the drastic reduction of reproductive instruments are briefly described here.

Probably most of the instruments were destroyed in the world wars. Even in the difficult period immediately afterwards, many of the instruments not yet destroyed were destroyed by weather conditions, demolition, used as a source of wood, disassembled for lack of function or simply thrown away. In the USA, however, the Ampico, Duo-Art and Welte-Lic instruments were not affected by this.

The economic hardship in the 1920s - but above all the musical trend change away from the piano to radio, records and the shift of luxury investments rather to the car or other publicly visible status symbols triggered a mass sale of used cars to dealers at knock-down prices. These dealers had their stocks full and tried to find buyers. However, this was often no longer successful, so that further instruments disappeared in the bankruptcy assets of many dealers around 1929.

After about 20-30 years, technical problems arose with the reproduction instruments when they were used intensively or not at all, which was often a further trigger to either sell these instruments, store them, free them from the self-playing technique or simply dispose of them. This represented the last major wave of inventory reduction. The instruments that were then still in existence have migrated to the depots of museums, to collectors and to dealers. Today, only very few reproduction instruments are still to be found, which virtually appear from first ownership.


Exact production figures and continuous serial number lists of the individual manufacturers such as Welte or Hupfeld have unfortunately not been transmitted or have not been discovered to date, so that a clear reference between produced and preserved instruments can no longer be established. However, serial number lists have been preserved for most piano manufacturers, so that it is possible to determine the year of manufacture of upright, grand and upright cabinets. In addition, the serial numbers on the pneumatics can also be used to determine the year of manufacture. A concrete source are the sales figures of the largest suppliers of Welte, Philipps and Hupfeld - namely Feurich, Steinway & Sons, Bechstein, Ibach and others.

Even though not all instruments have been recorded to date, many reproduction instruments have been localized. A first look at the distribution (geographical, ownership, type of construction, design, etc.) makes one curious. Data collection in Germany is initially easier, so that it is easy to explain why currently almost 50% of the recorded world instruments can be found in Germany. Nevertheless, this may also tend to correspond to the marketing at the time. Of the Welte instruments recorded to date, just over 30% are to be found in museums, the others in collectors' and private ownership. When all the museums' depots have been searched, this figure will probably increase. Of the Welte instruments recorded to date, slightly more than 25% are Vorsetzer, less than 10% are cabinets, about 30% are upright pianos and slightly more than 30% are grand pianos. It is not surprising to see that almost 80% of the Welte instruments recorded to date are equipped with the Welte red (T100) system, since after its introduction in 1924, Welte no longer sold such large numbers of instruments.

It is noticeable that some pneumatic numbers dance out of sequence, and yet a continuously increasing sequence of numbers can be seen. Individual shifted numbers can be traced back to the production process at that time, since piano acoustics as well as pneumatics were sometimes preferred by the respective manufacturers or parked in the production process and later reused.

It is important to know that piano manufacturers such as Feurich or Steinway assigned the serial number for the piano quite early in the manufacturing process - usually at the so-called "wedding", i.e. the joining of the latch and the cast frame. After completion of the piano, or the rest for cabinet installations, the instrument was sent to Welte in Freiburg. There the Welte mechanism was then installed, the case number was stamped on and the finished instrument was put on sale. Thus, there can be periods of 1-2 years difference between the piano manufacturer's serial number and the Welte serial number. As an example: The Steinway-Welten Piano No 151767 was built in 1911 according to Steinway piano serial number, it was delivered by Steinway & Sons on March 11, 1912 in the direction of Freiburg. Depending on when it was equipped with Welte technology and received the Welte case number, this could have been late 1912 or even early 1913. In 1912, over 90 Steinway pianos were sent to Freiburg, which were produced in different shapes and designs for different lengths of time, so that it is easy to understand that serial number sequences in the production process always show irregularities.


In addition to the first impressions regarding the distribution of the instruments, some hypotheses and findings can already be derived from the serial number sequences. The oldest Welte instrument identified in detail to date is a Feurich-Welten cabinet with the Feurich serial number 18686 and the Welte serial number 1322 from 1906. In the article by Hans-W. Schmitz on "Die Stückzahlen der Welte Instrumente", a cabinet with the case number 640 is mentioned - which according to this must have been built much earlier. The highest Welte serial number found to date is 7216 on a Blüthner-Welten grand piano with the serial number 114669 from 1930. Welte Vorsetzer can unfortunately not be dated by a piano serial number due to the lack of a piano interior - the serial number in front of the wind motor seems to be a separate count for Vorsetzer.

The case number on the back of each Welte-Mignon cabinet, Vorsetzer, upright and grand piano appears to be the consecutive Welte serial number. In fact, it seems that Welte already started counting with the Orchestrions and continued counting with the Welte-Mignon Cabinets etc. In the article "Welte Orchestrion - Years of Abundance" by Durward R. Center this assumption is already made and some Welte Orchestrion serial numbers are listed with production dates (from handwritten information in the respective instrument):

Serial number: 57 (year of manufacture 1893)
Serial number: 659 (year of manufacture 1905) Serial
number: 2816 (year of manufacture 1910)

Compared to e.g. the Welte-Mignon Cabinet serial numbers from our list, whose years of manufacture can be clearly determined by the serial number of the piano manufacturer, these Orchestrion serial numbers make sense:

Case serial number of the Feurich-Welte cabinet: 1322 (year of manufacture of the Feurich Raste 1906, delivery of the Feurich Raste with tuning keyboard on 10.05.1906 for 315Mark)
Case serial number of the Feurich-Welte cabinet: 2821 (year of manufacture of the Feurich Raste 1909)
Case serial number of the Steinway-Welte cabinet: 3718 (year of manufacture of the Steinway Raste 1912, delivery from S&S to Freiburg on 4.12.1912)

The examples of the identified Welte-Mignon Vorsetzer case serial numbers also fit into the serial number sequence. The Vorsetzer with the case number 1941 on the back (wooden sliding block, no serial number on the wind motor) could therefore be dated to around 1908, the year in which Welte pianos with installation and Vorsetzer were launched on the market. It remains to be investigated whether the Welte Philharmonic Organs also had such a Welte case number.

Assuming that Welte numbered the instruments with the case number, each Welte-Mignon instrument could be dated quite clearly. The more complete the list of surviving Welte-Mignon instruments becomes, the more precise the dating will be.

It will be interesting to find out how many Welte-Mignon instruments were made in total. Hans-W. Schmitz presented in his analysis a good derivation of ~4200 Welte-Mignon instruments made. So if the Welte case serial number 7216, which was previously given to the Blüthner grand piano, is one of the last - and depending on how many orchestrions (or organs) were built (assumption ~1500) - the number of Welte-Mignon instruments made could have been 5000-6000. This supports the evaluation of the Feurich sales books, which has already begun, as it seems that considerably more instruments were delivered to Welte than previously assumed. The same applies to the deliveries from Ibach to Welte that are available to us. As soon as new findings have been made, these will be presented here with the resulting hypotheses.


At Hupfeld DEA, Phonola, Duo- and Triphonola you can find a larger number of piano brands in which these systems have been installed. The serial numbers of the pianos/ grand pianos allow a chronological classification. The Hupfeld instrument numbers are also arranged with numerous shifts along an ascending row, so that a systematic numbering can be assumed here as well. As in Welte's work, the assumption is that this apparatus number is also consistent in the superiors. Thus, according to current research, the Vorsetzer with the serial number 2168 would be the lowest apparatus number - and the number 55832 on a Phonola (88) piano the highest HUPFELD number.

What is striking here, compared to Welte, is the considerably lower number of DEA, Duo and Triphonola reproductive instruments. Although it is certain that over time, due to the lower popularity of these instruments by private individuals, collectors and museums compared to Welte-Mignon, only a few instruments have been preserved, one can certainly deduce that reproduction instruments by Hupfeld were sold considerably less. The market success of Hupfeld was mainly due to the Phonola, the Clavitist and the Orchestrions. Even though Hupfeld, according to his own advertising, built 1000 phonolas and more per year during the peak phase of 1902-1913, the 5-digit production numbers later appear to be considerably too high - the assumption suggests that around 1915 the number 30000 was possibly used for upright and grand pianos, perhaps to create a reserve for the already high number of Phonola Vorsetzer. In any case, as the largest European factory for mechanical musical instruments, Hupfeld has produced incredibly high numbers. As soon as new hypotheses/knowledge have been gained, they will be presented here as well.


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