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Period Pieces Bring Joy to Guests of The Empress

The Empress of Little Rock is a magnificent structure on its own. James Hornibrook spared no cost building what was to be the finest residence at the time in Arkansas. Much care has gone into selecting period pieces to complete the opulence of the house, from the Renaissance Revival half tester bed in our  Hornibrook Suite, to our square Steinway that resides in the Lady’s Parlor.

Guests enjoy the Steinway at The Empress

The Empress of Little Rock – weekend guest playing our piano

Our Steinway, numbered 30143, was built in 1874. It has an African Mahogany veneer and although it’s never been fully restored, it plays amazingly well. We tune the piano regularly and welcome our guests to play.

Steinway & Sons, also known as Steinway, is an American and German piano company, founded in 1853 in Manhattan, New York City, by German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (later known as Henry E. Steinway). The company has a factory in Queens, New York City which supplies the Americas and a factory in Hamburg, Germany which builds pianos for the rest of the world. The company is not only known for making pianos of high quality, but for inventions within the area of piano development. Steinway has been granted 126 patents in piano making; the first in 1857.

In 1853, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg founded Steinway & Sons in the Manhattan district of New York City. The first piano made was given the number 483 because Steinweg had built 482 pianos in Germany. Number 483 was sold to a New York family for $500, and is now on display at a German museum in the town in which he began his career.

During World War II, the Steinway factory in Queens received orders from the Allied Armies. Steinway built 2,436 special models called the Victory Vertical or G.I. Piano. It was a small piano that four men could lift, painted olive drab, gray, or blue, designed to be carried aboard ships or dropped by parachute from an airplane to bring music to the soldiers.

The factory in Hamburg sold very few pianos during World War II. No more than a hundred pianos per year left the factory. In the later years of the war, the company was ordered to give up all the prepared and dried wood their lumber yard held for war production. In an air raid over Hamburg, several Allied bombs hit the factory and nearly destroyed it. After the war, Steinway restored the Hamburg factory. Eventually, the post-war cultural revival boosted demand for entertainment and piano production was increased at the Hamburg and Queens factories, going from 2,000 in 1947 to 4,000 pianos a year by the 1960s.

In 1988, the company made its 500,000th piano. The piano was designed by artist Wendell Castle. The names of the 832 pianists and 90 ensembles on the Steinway Artist roster of 1987 are written on the piano.

Steinway also maintains a worldwide “piano bank” from which performing pianists, especially Steinway Artists, can select a piano for use in a certain concert, recording, or tour. The bank is a way to provide performing artists with a Steinway preference, a pool of pianos with various characteristics to choose from. Performing artists choose a piano for use at a certain venue after trying some of the pianos of the “piano bank”.

The “piano bank” consists of approximately 300 pianos valued collectively at $15 million in 2002.

The Empress piano is worth about 20K but would be worth around 40K if fully restored.