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About Chickerings.....

by Shay Hovell

US Presidents who had Chickerings in the White House- Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, & Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt's piano is now owned by the Pierce family (Pierce Piano Atlas- the bible and blue book of piano values- dates ect)

Famous Piano players using Chickerings- Franz Listz, Von Bulow.

The piano building trade in Boston apparently began with Benjamin Crehore (1756-1831) in nearby Milton in the late eighteenth century. Around 1800 Lewis Babcock (1779-1814) and brother Alpheus Babcock (1785-1842) worked as apprentices to Crehore in Milton. Sometime between the years 1810 and 1814, a period during which Crehore was working with or for the Babcock brothers and Thomas Appleton in Boston proper, John Osborn (c. 1792-1835) apprenticed under Crehore.

Jonas Chickering was born in 1798 in Mason Village, New Hampshire, the son of Capt. Abner Chickering and Eunice Dakin. Soon after his birth the Chickering family moved to New Ipswich, New Hampshire. He came to Boston in 1818 after serving his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker to John Gould in New Ipswich. During his first year in Boston he worked as a journeyman for James Baker, a cabinetmaker. He then worked as a journeyman for John Osborn, a piano maker until he entered into a partnership with James Stewart (d. 1843?) on February 15th 1823 in a company known as Stewart and Chickering. In 1825 Stewart returned to Europe and the company was dissolved in 1826. From 1826 until 1830 Chickering ran the company as the sole proprietor.

In 1830 Jonas teamed up with a businessman and wealthy sea-captain, named John Mackay (d. 1841). Mackay had earlier been associated with Alpheus Babcock. Chickering was the artisan, while Mackay was the entrepreneur and organizer. In the 1830's Chickering rose to preeminence assisted by this partnership. John Mackay was a partner of Jonas Chickering from 1830 until 1841. In 1841 Mackay was lost at sea on a voyage to South America to sell Chickering pianos and to buy fine woods for the factory.

In 1837 Alpheus Babcock began working for Jonas Chickering and worked there until his death in 1843. Also in 1837, Chickering attempted to patent a full iron frame for square pianos but was refused on a technicality. In 1840 he patented a complete metal frame for the square piano and then applied the 1840 knowledge to the grand. It was in this year that he built his first grand. In it he used an iron frame.

In 1843 Chickering received a patent on his complete cast-iron grand frame in which he adapted Babcock's cast-iron frame principles with his own modifications Also, in 1843 Edwin Brown (1806-1890) patented an action that was used by Chickering for about the next 60 years.

In 1845 overstringing was applied to both grand and upright pianos. In 1848 Jonas took his sons into the business.

At the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 the iron framed instruments of Jonas Chickering led the American entries. Chickering won a medal for its iron-framed grand. In 1852 the Chickering factory at 334 Washington Street, Boston was totally destroyed by fire. A larger factory, completed in 1854, was built on Tremont Street. When it was completed it was the largest building in the US except for the Capitol Building in Washington. On Dec. 9th. 1853, just prior to its completion, Jonas Chickering died very suddenly. C Frank, the middle son became head of the company, his older brother Thomas E. handled the business end and George H., the youngest worked various positions in the factory.

During the 1850's Chickering and Sons were producing around 1000 pianos per year. It was during this period that Louis Moreau Gottschalk(1829-1869), the first American concert pianist, 'the American Chopin', toured North and South America with two Chickering concert grands given to him by the Chickering company in 1855.

During the 1860 and 1870's there was great rivalry between Chickering and Steinway. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, Steinway's were making over 2000 piano's a year and shortly over-took Chickering's output. In 1867 the Chickering pianofortes were awarded at Gold Medal at the International Exhibition in Paris and the Emperor Napoleon III bestowed upon C. Frank the Imperial Cross of the Legion of Honour. for his 'distinguished service to the art of music'. C. Frank Chickering presented a Chickering to Franz Liszt (1811-1886) in Rome who pronounced it ' imperial' saying "I never thought a piano could possess such qualities; The Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), recalled playing for Liszt on 'the glorious Chickering'.

In 1871 Thomas E. Chickering , the eldest son, died. In 1875-1876 Hans von Bulow (1830-1894), the great German pianist, was contracted to tour for Chickering. Chickering provided the instrument and its name was prominently displayed during the concert.



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