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A Tour Through a Pre-Civil War Piano Factory
By Edward E. Swenson
When I first began working as a piano technician, there were dozens of independent piano manufactures active in the United States. Whenever possible, I tried to visit piano factories both out of curiosity and as an attempt to improve my knowledge about piano building. During my first summer as a piano technician working for Lyon & Healy, I often made trips to Schaff Piano Supply, when they were still located in Chicago. It was fascinating to hear the clatter of the old belt-driven string lathes and witness the quick skill of the workers making bass strings. As a teacher of piano technology at Ithaca College in the 1970s, I took my classes on tour of the Aeolian American Corporation factory in East Rochester, where Mason & Hamlin, Chickering, Knabe, Steck, Weber and other famous pianos were manufactured. I was saddened when the factory suddenly closed in bankruptcy in 1985, marking the end of an important era in American piano building. Still my fascination with piano building continued and during a sabbatical leave from Ithaca College's School of Music, I worked in the archives, toured and photographed many factories in Europe including Bechstein, Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Grotrian, Hamburg Steinway, Ibach, Seiler, Schimmel, Steingraeber, and the Kluge keyboard factory. I often wished I could have visited the 19th-century factories of famous European makers such as Graf, Broadwood and Erard, the builders who provided pianos for Beethoven.
A few years ago I found an extraordinary article which answered many questions about early 19th-century American piano building. This illustrated essay, published in Godey's Lady's Book, provides a surprisingly accurate and detailed description of piano manufacturing at the Boardman and Gray piano factory in Albany, NY. Located on the Erie Canal, Albany was an important center for the lumber trade in the 19th century. The piano companies in Albany had the first selection of virgin timber, which was being harvested in the forests of the Adirondack Mountains. The Godey's article contains important historical information, including the first reference to the production of American steel music wire by Washburn & Co. of Worcester, Mass. [which] is far superior in quality and finish to foreign wire. The ivory for Boardman and Gray keyboards was provided by Pratt brothers of Deep River, Conn., who supply most of the large piano-makers in the Union. In an illustration from the action-making department, we see a child at work, a common occurrence in American factories before laws were passed to protect children. The observant, anonymous writer of the article provides considerable detail about the various types of wood used in piano manufacture. We learn about the materials and methods for making leather-covered hammers by hand. There are descriptions of making bass strings, veneering curved legs, filling wood grain and varnishing piano cabinets. Quality control was stressed at every point during manufacture. Even the different batches of music wire were tested for strength and quality before use.
Founded in Albany in 1837, Boardman & Gray established one of the most progressive piano factories during the pre-Civil War period. William G. Boardman (1800--5 January 1881), the founder of the business, was a native of Albany. James A. Gray (1815--11 December 1889) was born in New York City. While still in his teens, Gray was apprenticed to the piano manufacturer Firth & Hall, where he worked as a tuner and voicer. Gray's ability attracted the attention of William Boardman who offered him a full partnership in his new piano company in 1838. Boardman provided the business expertise and financial backing while Gray was responsible for manufacturing and the technical development of the instruments. Gray received a series of patents for piano design during the period 1840-1860. In 1850 he visited England with several Boardman & Gray instruments equipped with his the newly patented Dolce Campana attachment. In March of 1849, Gray in the United States and W. P. Parker in England patented this unusual device. Activated by a pedal, a rack with heavy weights at one end was lowered onto the soundboard bridge invoking a variety of sound mutations and even a type of vibrato when the pedal was pumped rapidly. Obviously impressed, the Godey's correspondent poetically described the effect:
Pressing down the pedal, the tone is softened down to a delicious, clear, and delicate sweetness, which is indescribably charming, like the music of distant clear-toned bells chiming forth their music through wood and dell. We strike full chords with the pedal down, and, holding the keys, let the pedal up slowly, and the music swells forth in rich tones. We predict that in a few years no pianoforte will be considered perfect without this famous attachment. The device, however, was eventually withdrawn.
The article praises Boardman & Gray as successful leaders, not only in piano manufacturing, but also in the high moral standards of their business practices, but they still hired children and made their workers pay for any spoiled materials. Division of labor, dividing piano building into a group of specializations, and paying workers by the piece are controversial practices that still exists in the piano trade today. The Godey's article provides fascinating detail about manufacturing at the one-year-old Boardman and Gray piano factory. A forty-horsepower steam engine powered laborsaving machine-driven saws, planers, lathes and case polishing machines, while also providing heat for the buildings and kilns and hot water for the glue pots. Scrap wood provided fuel for the boilers in a factory, which set high standards for safety and efficiency. The growth of the American piano industry in the second half of the 19th century was led by builders like Boardman and Gray who were among the first to apply modern manufacturing technology to piano building. Boardman and Gray pianos accompanied Jenny Lind and the Irish-born prima donna Catherine Hayes, during their concerts in Albany in the 1850s. Moreover, on 27 January 1857, Boardman & Gray produced a large concert in Albany at which the famous virtuosi Sigismond Thalberg and Louis Moreau Gottschalk played on two Boardman & Gray pianos.
After reading the article on Boardman and Gray one is left with a sense of wonder and respect for the knowledge, craftsmanship, high standards and hard work that went into many 19th-century pianos. Moreover, the design, organization and construction of the factory are clearly a tribute to 19th-century ingenuity. Converted to other uses, part of the original Boardman and Gray factory still stands in Albany today.
For the sake of clarity and conciseness, I have taken the liberty to make extensive cuts and changes in the original article. I hope to publish a facsimile in the near future for those who would like to have a copy the original article in its charming, unaltered form
Anonymous. 'Boardman & Gray's Dolce Campana Attachment Piano-fortes, Everyday
Actualities,' Godey's Lady's Book. Vol. 48 (January 1854) pp. 5-13; (February 1854) pp. 101-107; (March 1854) p. 277.
Anonymous. 'Boardman, Gray & Co.'s New Music Hall,' The New York Musical World. Vol. 21, No. 3 (January 15, 1859) p. 34
Clinkscale, Martha Nowak. Makers of the Piano, Vol. 2, 1820-1860. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Harding, Rosamond. The Piano-Forte: Its History Traced to the Great Exhibition of 1851, 2nd ed., Old Woking: Gresham Books, 1978
Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women and Pianos. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954.
Spillane, Daniel. History of the American Pianoforte, New York: D. Spillane, 1890. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1969.
Stevens, Frank. 'The Trade in Albany,' The Music Trades, Vol. 2, No. 1 (April 4, 1891) p. 8.
Willis, Richard Storrs. 'Winter Travels in New England. Visit to the pianoforte manufactory of Boardman, Gray & Co.,' The New York Musical World. Vol. 17, No. 312 (March 21, 1857) pp. 178-79
GODEY'S LADY'S BOOKBecause pianofortes make an almost indispensable article of furniture in every dwelling and add so much to the pleasures of the home, we want to provide some information about the processes and the materials used in building good pianos. We have selected the large and flourishing manufactory of Boardman and Gray in Albany, N.Y., whose instruments were not only sought after and used by Jenny Lind, Catharine Hayes, and other celebrities, but by the profession generally throughout the United States.
PHILADELPHIA, JANUARY, 1854
The Boardman & Gray's factory at Albany, N.Y., occupies the end of a block, presenting a front on three streets. The main building is built of brick, four stories high above a basement, devoted exclusively to machinery driven by a forty horsepower engine. The completeness of design of these buildings has no superior. Every improvement and convenience is attached to make the entire factory perfect.
The entrance to the factory is by a large gateway next to the office, so that the person in charge has a full view of all that enter or leave the premises. As we enter the lumberyard, we are surprised at the large amount of lumber of all kinds piled up in rough state. The yard is full, and also the large two-story brick building used as a drying shed. A large circular saw is in full operation. Most of the lumber comes from the forests of Alleghany, Oneida, Herkimer, and other choice localities in New York and Canada. The variety of different kinds of wood is surprising. Pine, spruce, maple, oak, chestnut, ash, basswood, walnut, mahogany, cherry, birch, rosewood, ebony, white holly, apple, pear-tree, and several other varieties. Each wood has its peculiar qualities, and its place in the piano depends on the duties it has to perform. Inspecting and selecting the lumber require the strictest attention, long experience, and mature judgment, for it must be of the right kind, and free from all imperfections, such as knots, shakes and sapwood. All the lumber is seasoned for two to three years before they receive it. Then it is piled up and dried for at least another year in their yard, after which it is cut up and piled another season in their sheds. When it goes into the machine shop it is cut into the proper forms and sizes and then put into the drying-rooms for another six months or a year before it is used.
The drying-rooms, of which there are three, are kept at a temperature of about 100° Fahrenheit, by means of steam from the boiler. As fast as one year's lot of lumber is taken down for use, another lot is put in its place ready for the next year. In this way none but the most perfectly seasoned and dry lumber is used. The supply of lumber on hand at all times is from two to three hundred thousand feet, and as Albany is the greatest lumber mart in the world, they have the opportunity of selecting the choicest lots for their own use. The selection of the proper kinds of lumber, and careful preparation, constitute one of the most important points in making pianos that will remain in tune and stand any climate.
The steam engine is a beautiful ,Gothic pattern, horizontal engine of forty-horse power, built at the machine works of Mr. Townsend of Albany. With its strong arm it moves the entire machinery used throughout the building, yet it is so quiet that, without seeing it, you would hardly know it was in motion. In the same room is the boiler, of the locomotive, tubular pattern, large enough not only to furnish steam for the engine, but also for heating the entire factory, and furnishing heat for all things required in the building. Although the engine and boiler are in the basement, all the machinery used in the factory is driven by long lines of shafting, while the entire manufactory is warmed by steam from the boiler, passing through some 8,000 feet of iron pipe, arranged so that each room can be tempered as required. Ovens heated with steam pipes are used to warm the materials for gluing and veneering. The glue is kept hot by means of iron boxes with water in them (in which the glue-pots are placed). They are kept at the boiling point by steam pipes passing through the water. Thus the boiler furnishes all the heat required in the business.
In the next room we find workmen employed in preparing the massive metallic (iron) plates used in pianos. They come from the furnace in a rough state. Then they are filed smooth and perfect to the pattern, then painted and rubbed even and smooth. Now they ready for the drilling of the numerous holes for the pins and screws that have to be put into and through the plate. Into each plate for a seven-octave piano, there have to be drilled upwards of 450 holes, and about 250 of these have pins riveted into them for the strings. The holes must be exactly in the place created by the pattern, for the least variation might make much trouble in putting on the strings and finishing the piano. Of course, these holes are drilled by machinery, with that perfection and speed that can be done only with the most perfect machines and competent, experienced workmen. When correctly finished and secured in the instrument, the plates give a firmness and durability to the piano unattainable by any other method.
In the same room we find leg-making machines, for cutting from rough blocks of lumber the beautifully formed 'ogee' and 'curved legs.' The body of the legs is generally made of chestnut. The leg-machine is rather curious in its operations. The cutting-knives revolve in a sliding-frame, which follows the pattern. However, the leg, while being formed, remains stationary.
Our first impression on entering the machine shop is one of noise and confusion, but, on looking about, we find all is order, with each workman attending his own machine and work. Here are two of 'Daniel's Patented Planing-Machines,' of the largest size, capable of planing boards or plank of any thickness three feet wide. Moreover, two circular saws, one upright turning saw, for sawing fancy scroll-work, a 'half-lapping machine,', turning-lathes, and several other machines, are all in full operation, making much more noise than music.
In this machine-room the 'bottoms' for the cases are made and finished. We find they are constructed with great strength and durability. Being composed of such perfectly seasoned materials, the changes of different climates do not injure them, and they will endure any strain produced by the great tension of the strings.
But we must move on. We step on a raised platform about four feet by eight, and, touching a short lever, find ourselves going up to the next floor. On the next floor, we again touch the magic lever, and our steam elevator stops. Here we find ourselves surrounded by workmen; this is the 'case-making' department, where we find pianoforte cases in all stages of progress. Some are of the plainest styles, while others have the most elaborate carved work and ornamental designs. In two adjoining rooms 115 feet long, the workmen all labor as close together as they can with convenience. The case-maker makes the rims and veneers them. He fits and secures these to the bottom and makes and veneers the tops. This completes his work, and then we have the skeleton of a piano, the mere shell or box. The rims are securely fastened to the bottoms, with bracing and blocking and with the joints fitting as close as if they grew together. Now the case is ready to receive the soundboard and iron frame. The bottoms are made mostly of pine. The rims are of ash or cherry, or of some hard wood that will hold the rosewood veneers. The tops are made of ash or cherry, sometimes of mahogany, and veneered with rosewood. Next we follow the case to the room where the soundboard and iron frames are installed.
For their soundboards Boardman & Gray use the beautiful white, clear spruce lumber found in the interior counties of New York, which they consider in every way as good as the celebrated 'Swiss Fir.' The wood is selected with the greatest possible care, and so thoroughly seasoned that there is no possibility of its warping or cracking after being placed in one of their finished instruments. It is sawed out in a peculiar manner, expressly for them. Making a soundboard of correct thinness (some areas are much thinner than others) requires great practical experience, together with numberless experiments. In this department we watch one workman put in the "long-block" [pin block] of hard maple, seasoned and prepared until it seems almost as hard as iron. Another workman is making a soundboard, and another fitting one in its place. All the blocking being in the case, the soundboard is fitted and fastened, so as to have the greatest possible vibrating power. Then the iron frame must be fitted over all and cemented and fastened down. The frame is finished, and the skeleton case is ready to receive its strings, and begins to look like what may make a pianoforte.
Spinning the bass strings, and stringing the case, come next. Here we find a curious-looking machine, and a workman winding the bass strings, a curiosity to all who witness his operations. To get the requisite flexibility and vibration to strings in the bass, tempered steel wire is used for the strings, and on this is wound soft annealed iron wire, plated with silver. Various sizes of core and covering wire are used in their manufacture. The string to be covered is placed in the machine, which turns it very rapidly, while the workman holds the covering wire firmly and truly, and it is wound around and covers the core wire. This work requires peculiar care and attention. Like all other different branches in the factory, the workmen here attend to but one thing; they do nothing else but spin these bass string, and string pianos, year in and year out.
Here the piano receives its strings which is of the finest tempered steel wire, finished and polished in the most beautiful manner. Just a few years ago the making of steel music wire was a thing unknown in the United States. In fact, there were but two factories of note in the world which produced it. But now, as with other things, the Americans are ahead, and the 'steel music wire' made by Messrs. Washburn & Co., of Worcester, Mass. is far superior in quality and finish to the foreign wire. The peculiar temper of the wire has a great influence on the piano's capacity to stay in tune. The quality of the wire can only be determined by actual experiment. Much is condemned after trial, and only the perfect used to avoid the breaking of strings.
The preparation of the keyboard and the selection of the lumber require great experience and minute attention, so that the keys will not spring or warp. The frame on which the keys rest is usually made of the best old, dry cherry, closely framed together to the form required for the keys and action. The wood of the keys is usually of soft straight-grained white pine, or basswood. The keys are made as follows: On a piece of lumber the keys are market out, and the cross banding and slipping done to secure the ivory. The ivory is applied and secured, and then the keys are sawed apart and the ivory polished. The ebony keys are then made, put on, polished and the keyboard is complete. The ivory used is of the finest quality, and an article of great expense. Its preparation from elephant tusk is confined to a few large dealers in the United States. The most important concern of the kind is that of Pratt, Brothers & Co., of Deep River, Conn., who supply most of the large piano makers in the Union. When the ivory comes from them, it is only in its rough state, sawed out to the requisite sizes for use, after which it has to be seasoned or dried the same as lumber, and then prepared and fastened on the key. Then it must be planed up, finished, and polished, all of which requires a great amount of labor, much skill, and experience. Besides ivory, Boardman & Gray use no small quantity of the beautiful variegated 'mother-of-pearl,' for their highly ornamental pianofortes.
The action is one of the most important things in the pianoforte. On its construction and adjustment depends the whole working part of the instrument. If the action is not good, and the adjustment not perfect, if the materials used are not of the right kind, of course, the action will not be right. Thus it is important to have an action which is modeled on the best principles. All parts of it should be so adjusted as to work together with as much precision as the wheels of a watch.
Boardman & Gray use the French Grand Action, with many added improvements. This they have found from long experience to be the best in many ways. It is more powerful than the 'Boston, or Semi-Grand.' It will repeat with much greater rapidity and precision than any other, and they find, after trial and use for many years, that it wears well. Made of wood, there are some eight or ten action parts per key. On their perfection and finish depends much of the value of the instrument in which they are used. Various kinds of close-grained wood are used, including white holly, apple or pear-tree, mahogany, hard maple, and red cedar. They have to be closely fitted. The holes for the center pins are bushed with cloth prepared expressly for this work. Buckskin of a particular finish, and cloth of various kinds and qualities, are used to cover those parts where there is much friction or liability for noise, and every part so perfectly finished and fitted that it will not only work smoothly, and without sticking or clinging, but without noise. The action-maker completes these different parts of the action; and then another workman, who is called the 'finisher,' fits them to the keys and into the case of the piano.
Before we enter this room, we will see the preparation of another important part of the action, namely the hammer. The covering of the hammers is one of the most peculiar branches of the business. It is one that long experience and minute attention can alone perfect. The hammerhead is generally made of basswood, and then covered with either felt prepared for this purpose, or deer or buckskin. The peculiar ordeal the leather hides undergo we cannot here explain; but we can see the beautiful leathers finished for use. The leather used for the under-leather or inner layers is firm and yet elastic and soft, while those prepared for the top coating or capping are pliable and soft as silk velvet. When correctly applied, they form a hammer, which, if the pianoforte is otherwise perfect, will always give a rich, full organ tone for which the pianos of Boardman & Gray are so celebrated. Those employed in covering and preparing hammers do this exclusively, and must perfect their work. They give the greatest number of coats, and the thickest buckskin to the hammers for the bass strings, and then taper up evenly and truly to the treble hammers, which have fewer layers and of the thinnest kinds. Then, the hammer is fitted to the string. The piano is then tuned and the action adjusted. Finally it goes to the hammer finisher, who tries each note, and takes off and puts on different buckskin until every note is good, and the tone of the piano perfectly true.
We left the piano case in the hands of the persons employed in putting on the beautifully polished steel strings, whose vibrations may yet thrill many a heart, or bring the starting tear. After it has its strings, it goes to the finisher, who takes the keys, the action, and the hammers, and fits them together, adjusting the hammer to the strings, putting in the dampers, making and fitting the harp, or soft stop, adjusting the loading of the keys to make a heavy or light touch, and thus putting the machinery together to form the working part of the piano. Considering that each key and action is composed of some sixty-five to seventy pieces, and that there are eighty-five keys to a seven-octave instrument, the sum total is nearly six thousand pieces, many of which have to be handled many times before they are finished. These six thousand pieces only compose the keys and action, and consist of wood, iron, cloth, felt, buckskin, and many other things. Each piece must be made and fitted with the greatest exactness, and the most perfect materials alone must be used. The 'finishing,' it will be seen requires long experience, close attention, and workmanship. Boardman & Gray have many workmen employed in this department at finishing alone. The work is done by the piece, as many of the different branches are under the personal superintendence of the foreman, whose duty it is to see that the work is made perfect. The workman is liable for the materials he destroys. When the case is thus finished, it passes into the hands of the 'regulator.'
The Action Regulator adjusts the action in all its operations. The depth of the touch is regulated, the keys leveled, the drop of the hammer adjusted, and all is now seemingly in order for playing. At the Boardman & Gray factory, the instrument has to undergo another ordeal. After standing for several days or weeks, and being tuned and somewhat used, it passes into the hands of another and last regulator, who again examines minutely every part, readjusts the action, key by key, and note by note, until all is, as it were, perfect. And now its tone must be regulated, and the 'hammer finisher' takes it in charge, and gives it the last finishing touch; every note from the bass to the treble must give out a full, rich, melodious tone. This is a very important branch of the business, for great care and much experience are required to detect the various qualities and shades of tone, and to know how to alter and adjust the hammer in such a way as to produce the desired result. Some performers prefer a hard or brilliant tone. Others prefer a full, soft tone; and others a full clear tone of medium quality. It is the hammer-finisher's duty to see that each note in the whole instrument shall correspond in quality and brilliancy with the others. The instrument, after being tuned, is ready for the wareroom or parlor.
Let us now look after the construction of the other parts of the instrument. The raw legs are cut out in a shape ready for veneering with rosewood or mahogany. As they are of various curved and crooked forms, it is a trade by itself to bend the veneers and apply them correctly. The veneers are curved and bent to the shapes required while over hot irons, and then applied to the leg-bodies by 'cauls,' or blocks of wood cut out to exactly fit the surface to be veneered. These cauls are heated in the steam ovens. The surface of the leg having been covered with glue, the veneer is put on, and then the hot caul is applied and clamped, pressing the veneer firmly to the surface. The caul, by warming the glue, causes the veneer to adhere to the legs. Only one surface can be veneered at a time, and then the screws must remain on until it is cold or dry; and, as the legs have many distinct surfaces, they must be handled many times, and much labor is expended on them. After all the sides are veneered, they must be trimmed, scraped, and finished, and all imperfections in the wood made perfect, ready for being varnished.
The desks are framed together for strength, then veneered, and, after being varnished and polished, are sawed out in beautiful forms and shapes by scroll saws in the machine-shop. Each workman is employed at but one branch alone, and perfects his part. It is evident that when put together correctly, the whole piano will be perfect. There are from twenty to twenty-four distinct kinds of work or trades carried on in the factory. The result of this division of labor is strikingly shown in the perfection to which Boardman & Gray have brought the art of piano making.
Putting together the different parts of the pianoforte, such as the top, the legs, the desk, the lyre, to the case, constitutes what is called fly finishing. The top is finished by the case-maker in one piece, and remains so until varnished and polished. Then the fly-finisher saws it apart, and applies the butts or hinges, so that the front will open over the keys. He puts on all the hinges, hangs the front or 'lock-board' to the top, and completes the case assembly. He also takes the legs as they come from the leg-maker, and fits them to the case by means of a screw cut out of hard wood, such as birch or ironwood. The fly-finisher also puts on the castors, locks, and all the finishing minutiae. The piano is then ready for the wareroom to which it is lowered by means of a steam elevator, sufficiently large to hold a piano placed on its legs, together with the workman in charge.
The illustration shows a pianoforte on the elevator passing from the fly-finisher's department to the warerooms. Of these steam elevators there are two, one at each end of the building.
Note the engraving of the Top Veneering-Press, made on the plan of "Dick's Patent Anti-Friction Press." We believe it is the only press of the kind in the world. It was made to order expressly for Boardman & Gray, and its strong arms and massive iron bedplates denote that it is designed for purposes where power is required. It is used in veneering the tops for their pianofortes, and it is warranted that two men at the cranks, in a moment's time, can produce a pressure of one hundred tons with perfect ease. It is so arranged that the veneers are laid for several tops at one time. Tops made and veneers laid under such pressure will remain level, true and perfectly secure. Boardman & Gray have used this press for eighteen months, and find that it works excellently, and consider it a great addition to their other laborsaving machines.
Now we will examine the varnishing and polishing departments, consisting of some five or more large rooms. As the different layers of varnish require time to dry, it is policy to let the varnish harden while the workmen are busy putting in the various internal parts of the piano. Thus the case, when it comes from the case-maker, goes first to the first varnishing-room, and receives several coats of varnish. Then, when the workman is ready to put in the sounding-board and iron frame, it is taken from the varnishing room to his department; and, when he has finished his work, it is again returned to the varnishing department. From 150 to 200 pianos are being manufactured in the course of each day. The processes of varnishing and polishing are as follows: The cases, which are all of rosewood, are covered first with a spirit-varnish made with shellac gum, which, drying almost instantly, becomes hard, and keeps the gum or pitch of the rosewood from acting on the regular oil varnish. After the case has been 'shellacked,' it then receives its first coat of varnish and left to dry; and then a second coat is applied, and again it is left to dry. The varnish used is made of the hardest kind of copal gum, and prepared for this express purpose. It is called scraping varnish. It dries hard and brittle, and is intended to fill in the grain of the wood. When it becomes thoroughly dry and hard, these two coats are scraped off with a steel scraper. The case then receives several coats of another kind of varnish; when this is dried it is ready for rubbing, which is effected by means of an article made of cloth fastened on blocks of wood or cork. The varnish is rubbed on with ground pumice stone and water (a process somewhat similar to that of polishing marble). A large machine, driven by the engine, is used for rubbing the tops of pianos and other large surfaces. When the whole surface is perfectly smooth and even, it receives an additional coat of varnish. Each coat having become dry, hard, and firm, the surface receives another rubbing until it is perfectly smooth, when it receives a last flowing coat. After it is thoroughly dried and hardened, it is ready for the polishing process, which consists in first rubbing the surface with the fine rottenstone, and then polishing with the fingers and hands until the whole surface is like a mirror wherein we can 'see ourselves as others see us.'
Large quantities of rosewood are used for veneering and carved work. This is the fashionable wood for furniture and nothing else is used. A view of the large veneer-room would excite the astonishment of the novice. Rosewood is brought from South America, and is at present a very important article of commerce. Much that is used by Boardman & Gray is sawed into veneers, and prepared expressly for them by mills at Cohoes, N.Y. They always select the most richly figured wood in the market, believing that rich music should always proceed from a beautiful instrument. Thick rosewood is constantly undergoing seasoning for those portions which require solid wood. They also make use of a large quantity of hardware in the form of tuning pins - upwards of a ton per year. Of iron plates they use some twenty-five tons. Their outlay for steel music wire amounts to hundreds of dollars per year; not to speak of the locks, pedal feet, butts and hinges, plated covering wire for the bass strings, bridge pins, center pins, steel springs, and screws of various kinds and sizes, of which they use many thousand gross annually. Of all these, they must keep a supply constantly on hand, as it will not do for their work to stop for want of materials.
Cloth is used for a variety of purposes. It is made and prepared expressly from fine wool, of various thicknesses and colors. So much cloth is used in and about the action of the pianoforte that we must beware of the insidious moth, which will often penetrate and live in its soft folds, thereby doing much damage to the instrument. A little spirits of turpentine, or camphor, is a good protection against them.
So far, we have treated merely of materials and labor. We have said nothing of the science of pianoforte making. If, after all the pains taken in selecting and preparing the materials required, the scale of the instrument shall not be correctly laid down on scientific principles we shall not have a perfect musical instrument. So the starting point in making a pianoforte is in having a scale by which to work. This scale must be of the most improved pattern, and laid out with the utmost nicety, and with mathematical precision. By the scale, we mean the length of each string, and the shape of the bridges over which it passes. The length of the string for each note, and its size, are calculated by mathematical rules, and perfected by numerous experiments; and by these experiments alone can perfection be attained in the manufacture of the instrument. Boardman & Gray use new and improved circular scales of their own construction, in which they have embodied all the improvements, which have from time to time been discovered.
The great improvement of this age in the manufacture of the pianoforte is the Dolce Campana Attachment, invented by Mr. James. A. Gray, and patented in 1848 not only in this country, but also in England and her colonies. It consists of a series of weights held in a frame over the bridge of the pianoforte. These weights, resting in a frame, are connected with the pedal, so that when the pedal is pressed down, they are let down to rest on screws or pins inserted in the bridge, the tops of which are above the pins that hold the strings, and thus control the vibrations of the bridge and sounding-board. By this arrangement, almost any sound in the music scale can be obtained, ad libitum, at the option of the pianist. But let us listen for ourselves. We try one of the full rich-toned pianos we have described, and, pressing down the pedal, the tone is softened down to a delicious, clear, and delicate sweetness, which is indescribably charming, 'like the music of distant clear-toned bells chiming forth their music through wood and dell.' We strike full chords with the pedal down, and, holding the key, let the pedal up slowly, and the music swells forth in rich tones, which are perfectly surprising. Thus hundreds of beautiful effects are elicited at the will of the performer. This Dolce Campana Attachment is the great desideratum, which has been required to perfect the pianoforte, and by using it in combination with the other pedals of the instrument, the lightest shades of altissimo, alternating with the crescendo notes, may be produced with comparative ease. Its peculiar qualities are the clearness, the brilliancy, and the delicacy of its touch. Together with the pianoforte of Boardman & Gray, it has received ten first class premiums by various fairs and institutes. And we predict that but a few years will pass ere no pianoforte will be considered perfect without this famous attachment.
The manufacturing department is under the immediate supervision of Mr. James A. Gray, who gives his time personally to the business. He selects and purchases all the materials used in the establishment. He is thoroughly master of his vocation, having made it a study for life. No pianoforte is permitted to leave the concern until it has been submitted to his careful inspection. If, on examination, an instrument proves to be imperfect, it is returned to the workman to remedy the defect. He is constantly introducing improvements, and producing new patterns and designs to keep up, in all things, with the progress of the age.
The senior partner of the firm, Mr. Wm. G. Boardman, attends to the sales, and gives his attention to the financial department of the business. Thus, the proprietors reap the benefit of a division of labor in their work, and each is enabled to devote his entire time and energies to his own duties. Their great success is a proof of their industry and honorable devotion to their calling. They are gentlemen in every sense of the word, esteemed by all who know them, and honored and trusted by all who have business connections with them. They liberally compensate the workmen in their employ, and act on the principle that the 'laborer is worthy of his hire.' Their workmen never wait for the return due their labor. Their compensation is always ready, with open hand. The business of the proprietors has increased very rapidly for the last few years, and, although they are constantly enlarging and improving their works, they find themselves unable to satisfy the increasing demand for their pianofortes. Their establishment is situated at the corner of State and Pearl Streets, Albany, N.Y., well known as the 'Old Elm-Tree Corner.'
The Boardman and Gray factory was completed about a year ago. At that time, it was supposed it would be sufficiently large or the extensive business of the firm. But so rapidly has the demand increased for their instruments, that Boardman & Gray will be obliged to add another wing to their main building. It is scarcely possible to overrate the excellence of their pianoforte, with its Dolce Campana Attachment. As a parlor instrument, it is unrivalled. To those who appreciate rich, full, and sweet sounds, rather than mere noise; to those who love an instrument which seems to respond to the feelings and passions of the player-which can at one time delight the ear with its organ-like tones, at another charm it with a melody so soft and tender as to start the tear of the listener- it will need no commendation. The touch and action of their instruments are faultless; the firmness, the lightness, and the elasticity of the touch have won the praise of every pianist who has used it. A marked feature in the instrument to which we are alluding is its durability of tone, a result which, as we have already shown, is due to its careful and methodical construction. In every respect, it embodies within itself the conditions of the finest and most reliable of instruments.