The Oldest Piano in America?
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Written by SeacoastNH Archives

Colonial piano keyboarSeacoastNH.com Presents
Historic Portsmouth #363

It’s an unsubstantiated title, but we’ll take what we can get. This little piano remains on display in the upper hall of the Portsmouth Historical Society where it has been since it was loaned by Charles W. Gray in 1920 in time for the opening of the museum. (Photo and details below)

 

 

According to curator Sandra Rux, it was built in London about 1763 by Johann Zumpe, a well known piano maker. It was imported to New York by John Jacob Astor in 1784 and sold, around 1800 to the Emery family in Boston. Son G. Alex Emery of Portsmouth inherited and cherished the piano until his death when it passed to his landlord who used it as a table to store paint pots. Mr. Gray rescued the item and donated it to the museum. First piano in NH? No, because it did not arrive here until 1840. But Sandra Rux says our little unplayable instrument “could be the oldest piano continuously in the United States, but there is no way to prove this.” So until another piano comes along to steal the title, we claim it for Portsmouth.  (Photo courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum)

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Photo from Portsmouth Athenaeum archive, Portsmouth, NH