Tuesday, January 24

Steiff Pianos 1842-1951

'Charles M Stieff was a 19th-century American industrialist and piano manufacturer, based in Baltimore, Maryland. To this date, Stieff pianos still exist in the Washington/Baltimore area. To change from teaching music and languages to dealing in pianos, and finally to become the founder of one of the largest and most respected piano manufacturing firms, was the career of Charles Maximilian Stieff. Born in Württemberg on July 19, 1805, Stieff was educated at Stuttgart. In 1831 he emigrated to America and settled at Baltimore, where he took the chair in Haspart's school as professor of languages and also acted as leader of a church choir. In 1842 he imported his first pianos from Germany, and opened regular piano ware-rooms on Liberty Street in 1843. Observing the success of the various piano manufacturers in Baltimore, Stieff undertook an extensive trip to Europe in 1852, studying the methods of the best piano manufacturers there. Upon his return he admitted his sons into partnership and started the manufacture of the "Stieff" piano, entrusting the management of the factory to Jacob Gross, an expert piano maker of the old school. Born in Württemberg on July 26, 1819, Gross learned his trade in Stuttgart and afterward worked in some of the leading factories of Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Paris. Coming to America in 1848, he familiarized himself with the methods prevailing here, working in Troy, New York then going to Baltimore. He had worked for the Stieff Piano Factory from 1856, and on Christmas Day, 1860 he had married Catharina Christiana Stieff (1833–1906), daughter of Charles Maximilian Stieff, owner. His joining the Stieff family business was an excellent combination, the professional musician and businessman, Stieff, supported by the artistic piano maker and factory expert, Gross. The product of the firm was at once accepted as of superior merit and received distinguished awards wherever exhibited.

 The founder of the firm having passed to the unknown beyond, the business was carried on most successfully by his sons, Charles and Frederick P. Stieff, the technical management of the factories being in the hands of Charles J. Gross, who was educated by his father, Jacob Gross. It was remarkable that the great fire which destroyed nearly the entire business portion of the city of Baltimore in 1904 should stop short in its northward flight on the wall of the Stieff building, on North Liberty Street, just as if it had had respect for this landmark where the Stieffs had sold pianos for 63 years. The firm of Chas M. Stieff used to distribute its products almost entirely through its own stores, which were found in every prominent city of the southern States, as well as at Boston and elsewhere.  During the 20th Century, many dealers sold the Stieff Piano alongside of some of the most expensive piano lines as an affordable alternative. Stieff pianos are commonly referred to as 'the poor man's Steinway', and were often sold as a second line in higher end Steinway dealerships throughout the 20th Century. Charles M. Stieff pianos are consistently some of the finest pianos we see come through restoration shops today. Sadly, Stieff closed operations and was liquidated in 1951.'

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