A Vintage Player Piano Roll Dilemma

August 9, 2016


Antique Player Piano Rolls

When I was a little girl, every summer, my mom would pack us into our old Country Squire station wagon and take us on a road trip to visit my grandparents. They lived in the most glorious old home and even though it was 1975 on the outside, the inside had been frozen in time somewhere around 1945. Even as a child, I knew the house was something special. It had a large front porch, ornate wooden carvings, velvet drapes in the living room, a grand staircase, maids' quarters, fireplaces in the bedrooms, pull chain toilets, secret passageways, a true butler's pantry and an old fashioned player piano in the den.

It was a magical instrument.

Somedays my brother and I would bang on the keys, other days we would pop in a piano roll, pump the pedals and pretend we were virtuosos. My grandparents would sit in the little chairs watching us and just smile.

Sweet memories...

When they passed and the house sold, the piano was up for grabs. It was a large, heavy item that required space and it was very expensive to move.

No one wanted it, but it held a lot of memories for my mom, a professional singer, and so she took it. Back at my house, now a teenager, I learned to play a little bit from my then friend (now husband), but I still loved those piano rolls.

If people really weren't paying attention, I was a very believable pianist.

I inconspicuously popped a roll in, closed up the doors and pedaled away.

A few convincing hand movements and I was a superstar.

It was a great party trick.

Player Piano Roll

When my mom sold her house, the piano moved to my sister's home, where her kids learned how to play and her husband became the piano roll trickster.

He was actually much better at it than I was.

Much more theatrical.

We would all stand around that upright and sing along to Billy Joel, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Somewhere Over The Rainbow during the holidays and family celebrations.

More sweet memories...

When my sister became an empty nester, she passed the piano on to us. My kids have learned to play and have actually written songs on it. Plus it looks fabulous in my 1920's living room.

Upright Player Piano Cable Nelson

It has been used by every generation in my family and provided great joy, but sometime over the years, the player function stopped working.

Player Piano Roll In Piano

We were told it would happen eventually. It's a 1928 Burl Walnut Cable Nelson upright. The fact that it has worked for so long is a feat. Apparently, the billows dry out and the mechanisms freeze up. I could replace it with an automatic motor, but I don't know, that just wouldn't be the same.

I hate to mess with an antique.

Besides, the piano still works just fine.

However.

Now I am left with boxes of vintage piano rolls and I honestly have no idea what to do with them.

Vintage QRS Player Piano Rolls

I could leave them in my basement, tucked away, but I am trying to simplify, and frankly the paper is old. Right now the boxes are tattered, but the rolls are in great condition. I'm not sure how well they  will continue to store though and for how long.

I have seen some people craft with them, but unless I am going to be making several quilts, I still have too many. Plus, I think I would feel guilty cutting up the really old ones.

I could probably chop up some of the newer ones.

Crafting With Piano Rolls

There are some bad 80's songs in those boxes.

But the classics? Nope. I just don't have it in me.

I have been told to sell them, but I am not an antique dealer. I have no idea what to charge or where I would list them.

Someone suggested that I do a blog giveaway for a few of them ~ and I could ~ but I wasn't sure anyone would be interested.

Would they?

Frankly, I'm not sure what to do with them.

And that is my vintage player piano roll dilemma.

So, I have decided to ask!

If you were in possession of these piano rolls and you no longer had a player piano....

Vintage Piano Roll Boxes

...what would you do with them?

The suggestion box is open!



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54 comments:

  1. I could see a really neat vignette on top of your piano with an odd number of the boxes with the rolls Left inside. Another thought is to give as a Christmas memory gift tied with really pretty ribbon and greenery. One box as a memento might be a special treat for family members. I could also see the boxes stacked as a layered stand with a metronome, if you had one and a special picture of the home you remember. I guess I am just too sentimental and hate to give up family treasures. It will be interesting to hear what you decide! Good luck!

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    1. Thanks Lynn! I love those ideas and I actually hadn't thought about using the rolls as part of my decor. I am sentimental too and would never get rid of all of them, but I could certainly part with a few dozen! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  2. Hi Kim, It has to be very special to own those piano rolls. I love Lynn's ideas too. The metronome idea is great. I learned on an upright piano like yours. It wasn't a player. I can see you having lots of fun with that function. It is gorgeous in your home!! Have fun with the rolls. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.
    Have a great week.

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    1. I did have a ton of fun with the player function, Celestina Marie. I am sad that it no longer works, but I do have some really great memories!! :)

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  3. Please save these rolls. I would love to display them as art in an open cabinet. I like the ideas of Lynn above.

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    1. That would be so pretty, Donna!! Now I need to get an open cabinet! ;)

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  4. My grandma had the same piano but hers had the player guts removed before it came to her. My cousin has it now. I did search on pinterest for player piano roll crafts and there are some ideas that people have used for displaying them and some were cut apart and crafted. I also see that people are selling them on Etsy and I would guess on ebay too. I googled player piano organizations there was a group called the mechanical music exchange that had ads for people that were selling or searching for music related items that might be a place to research http://www.mmdigest.com/Exchange/ Keep us posted on what you decide.

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    1. Thanks Lorri. I am off to check them out, sounds like a neat place to start! :)

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  5. What a wonderful story of your grandparent's house. It sounds fabulous! And just the place for a child to roam around in. More stories about it, please!

    My paternal grandparents lived with my aunt who also had a player piano that we grandchildren loved to hear and watch. I don't think we were allowed to operate it ourselves. And I remember one of the huge Edison players in the same room with the big metal thingamajig. It was a windup machine and there were metal things that made the music. Gosh I'd forgotten all about that until now.

    I'm very glad your beautiful piano--gorgeous wood-- was kept in the family and actually used. I have no crafty ideas for you, that phase of my life seemed to end in the 70s with macrame plant holders, but I bet you'll get a ton of ideas from commenters.

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    1. The house was fabulous, Dewena. I loved going there...I will have to think about more stories and share them for sure. It's nice to reminisce!! :)

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  6. I would try and ascertain whether or not there are people out there who, perhaps, have a player piano but have no rolls to go with it. I'm sure that some folks have one but not the other and would be delighted to find some rolls. Then keep those that hold the fondest memories and display them as folks above have suggested.

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    1. I would love to give them to someone who has a working piano, Kim...hoping someone will come forward!

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  7. You could line the back of a hutch or cabinet with more of your treasures in it. Best of luck with finding a wonderful use. I am envious that you have such a personal momento of your grandparents.

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    1. I love that idea, Elizabeth!! Thank you for the suggestion! :)

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  8. Kim,
    What a lovely family heirloom to have. It is a beautiful piece with lots of memories attached. I would have no idea what to do with the piano rolls but they sure are awesome to have. Maybe try pinterest for some ideas.
    Kris

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    1. I have found a few, Kris, right here in the comments and I am preparing to get crafty this Christmas!! I love my readers! :)

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  9. What a lovely story Kim! I can just see how all of you fooled your guests. And what a grand old piece you have! It looks beautiful! I love Lynn's idea. I have seen dealers use them as decorations in a booth. Another Etsy seller I know whose blog I follow, has done that in her booth. You can find them in some of her earlier booth posts. Her Etsy shop is "LittleVintageCottage." I'll go find her link & leave it here in another comment.

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    1. I have to go seek her out, Florence, thanks! I have seen a few ideas I like. I will give them a try!! :)

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  10. My first thought would be to sell them in my Etsy shop, but when I searched, there are 6 pages of them for sale! Lots of competition. If they were mine full of memories, I would do some of the things Lynn suggested. Love the idea of giving one or two to each person who grew up with them.

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    1. I know, AnnMarie, they are not as rare as people think they are and not in demand either! I like the donation ideas and the crafty gift ones...I think I am going in that direction! Thanks! :)

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  11. What a family treasure that piano is. I can't help but think that there is someone out there with a player piano and no rolls. There must be a way, through social media, to put them together!

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  12. Your piano is stunning! It's neat that so many people in the family have learned on and loved it. Could you put some of those little boxes in a bowl on top of the piano? I also like the idea of passing one or two on to everyone in the family. They can't all have the piano but they can have a little piece of it. Why not sell them right here on your blog. There might be someone interested.

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    1. I have to really think about it, Stacey. So many great ideas are in the comments, including yours! I have so many I could actually do a little of each!! :)

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  13. I think I would take my favorite three, put them under a glass dome, and set them somewhere on display. The rest I would offer to family first. No taker, research via google how much to sell them for on ebay. :)

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    1. All good ideas, thanks Kailani!! :)

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  14. First of all, I loved reading how special this piano is to your family! And btw, we had a station wagon when I was little too...a buick "estate" wagon with faux wood grain all the way down the sides. #classy lol! I would check the prices of the rolls on Ebay and get an idea of what they're going for. Maybe sell a few and of course keep some for the sake of memories. I also think they'd look fantastic as a decor item in your home.

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    1. That wagon was stylin’ wasn’t it?? We had the wood grain model too. The best was the sitting in the jump seats way in the back. Good times, probably not so safe! I do have to check eBay, Lisa. Thanks. On the list…sell some, keep some, donate some…I surely have enough to do it all!! ;)

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  15. We have a brilliant piano tuner and everything that needs fixing he sends to a factory in Germany. Too much?
    Amalia
    xo

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    1. Only if I get to come along and chaperone my piano. I couldn't add that much to the freight? Could I?? ;)

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  16. There must be a museum somewhere that would love to have your player piano rolls. Donate them, get a receipt, and take it off on your taxes. I'd hate to see your pieces of history cut up for decoration.

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    1. Great idea...Going to look into that!! :) Thanks!!

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  17. What great story of your grandparents. My family nor have ever had such a piano, but last year I purchased 4 from GW, there was over 100 of them.. I cut one and used as a table runner and the others I've been waiting all this time for idea on how to use them...I might use the roll cut up as a background for some flowers I dried.

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    1. Table runner, huh? Thanks!! I like that one!! :)

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  18. Oh, my, all I can think is please find someone and have them fix that player! Keep the rolls and make music! It is a beautiful piece of furniture! We had one of those when the kids were growing up and our boys spent hours tormenting their very short sister with "Short People" song! Now, they all laugh about it, but not so much back then! We are a military family and when we were transferred we were overweight with household goods and I had to sell it. I often think about that piano and how much we all enjoyed it. So I vote keep those rolls with that piano and once again you will play like that virtuoso superstar!

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    1. I would love to Terri!! I am going to investigate. This post had made me nostalgic. Thanks for the comment!! :)

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  19. Your piano is just gorgeous and I love all the treasured memories it holds for you. The piano rolls could be used for some amazing paper craft projects. Christmas is coming up!

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    1. Good point, Lisa...I do have some ideas! :)

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  20. Hi,
    First, I love the story of your grandparents home. It sounds like a very special place and I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
    The first thought that came to me "find someone to fix that player!!" Make more memories.

    Carla

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    1. I know...I really have been thinking about trying to find someone to fix it. I would only do that if it could be restored though...I must look!!

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  21. I would save three . . .
    One being that Stardust one . . .
    And why three . . . just because I think you should save three.
    And then I would check around to see if there is a vintage store, antique shop or maybe a music store who might enjoy receiving Player Piano Rolls . . . and donate, drop them off.
    Wonderful post Kim!

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    1. Thank you, Lynne...and Stardust is a keeper, Lynne. It's a classic!!

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  22. I think I'd try to find if there are collectors anywhere that still have a working piano? Before I destroyed, donated or anything else I'd check that out...who knows they could be worth some small fortune.

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    1. I don't think so, Deb, I think they sell for a buck or less, but I would love them to find a happy home...

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  23. what a wonderful story. beginning to end.
    something in me wants to think there is someone out there who could fix the roller.
    it might take awhile to find that person... but surely might be worth it?
    such wonderful memories.
    i know... that you shouldn't 'mess' with a true antique... but if it could bring you joy
    again!
    xo♥

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    1. Since I wrote the post, Tammy, it's been on my mind...a lot! Thinking....

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  24. Have you considered creating a shadow box with some of the oldest rolls (maybe even one of the old boxes) & a photo with someone sitting at the piano) & maybe hung above the piano? If you decide to sell some or all, I'd call Mike and Frank from The American Pickers (do you ever watch that show). They always seem to be very fair on their offers to buy things and have a wealth of ideas of what people use things for. Just a thought!

    Happy Weekend!
    Carol

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    1. I love that show, Carol!! We watch it all the time! They could come to my house and I would give them away, just for the chance to meet them! ;)

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  25. You've gotten some wonderful ideas Kim, so I'll just say you're so lucky to have this treasure. I know how heavy these pianos are, and the fact that it's been from one home to another within your family is a testament to how precious it is.

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    1. It IS heavy, Doreen and I think that is how we ended up with it, without a giant family fight. It cost an arm and a leg to move!! My mom was so generous, she paid to have it moved around to all the houses. I love that part of the legacy, too. A tribute to mom... :)

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  26. I honestly would not know what to do with them kim. But they are so full of vintage specialness that I could easily see displaying them on a shelf just as they are. They certainly make a great conversation piece.

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    1. I am certainly going to keep a few, Mary!! :)

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  27. Kim, in Hollywood, CA is the Kodak theater. It contains a special museum for old piano rolls (players?), recordings of old radio shows, and I think some of the early TV shows.
    All are donated to the museum for the public to enjoy. I only know about it because a cousin donated all her rolls & radio shows. Just a thought, 'cause I agree with you-it's a shame to cut them up. Sandy L.

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    1. That sounds wonderful. Not cutting, I promise! Thanks Sandy! Going to investigate right now...

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