The Piano

The Salisbury House piano is one of the most special pieces in our collection. First and foremost, you should know that this is no ordinary instrument.

It’s a Steinway.

Trademark

It’s a custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano.

Grand

It’s a custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano with genuine ivory and ebony keys.

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It’s a custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano with genuine ivory and ebony keys, encased in 16th century, hand-carved English oak.

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And, as it has for the last 86 years, this custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano with genuine ivory and ebony keys, encased in 16th century, hand-carved English oak, ornaments the southwest corner of the Salisbury House Common Room.

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As you begin to reel your jaw up from the floor, you may wonder how, how, did this magnificent instrument find its way to Des Moines, Iowa?

We’re glad you asked.

It began, of course, with Carl Weeks.

Carl and his wife Edith began building Salisbury House in 1923. Along the way, they made the acquaintance of William Rasmussen, a New York-based architect, who became involved in designing and furnishing the family’s new home. Rasmussen also played a role in bringing the Steinway to Salisbury House.

In early 1929, Carl and Rasmussen contacted Steinway & Sons in New York  to inquire about the creation of a piano especially for Salisbury House.

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The accompanying sketch and note are lost to history, but it’s clear that by July 1929, Steinway was ready to proceed with the project.

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It was decided that the case of 16th-century oak for the piano would be executed by Frederick Tibbenham, LTD., based in Ipswich, England, and then shipped to Steinway & Sons in New York.

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Carl gave the go-ahead on September 5, 1929.

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Note the date of this order confirmation from Steinway to Carl –  September 9, 1929. Of course, Carl et al couldn’t have known it at the time, but the United States was forty-five days away from what became known as Black Thursday. On October 24, 1929 the stock market crashed to the tune of five billion dollars.

Despite the economic turmoil that gripped the country in general and businessmen like Carl Weeks in particular, work on the piano continued.

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The piano was completed in July 1930. According to Mr. Collins, Steinway’s sales manager, the instrument “is one of the finest toned ones we have ever produced, and therefore its beauty is comprehensive.”

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A Steinway of this caliber didn’t come cheap. Costs for the piano, including the 16th-century English oak components milled by Tibbenham and Steinway’s own expenses for the instrument, totaled $5,927.28 (over $84,000 in 2017 dollars).

And this about eight months into the worst economic crisis in American history.

In September of 1930, Sales Manager Collins placed a delicate inquiry to Carl regarding his plans for taking ownership of his new piano.

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Carl responded promptly, and indicated that he and Edith would be in New York in early October. They would then arrange for the final inspection of the piano. Around the time of this visit, Steinway provided the Weekses with a full invoice for the project.

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A subsequent invoice indicated that Carl made a cash payment of $1,000 on November 6, 1930. Still, a balance of $4,927.28 carried over into early 1931.

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Another letter, noticeably testy in tone, arrived from Steinway for Carl in early January 1931.

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Here ends our archive’s extant correspondence between Carl and Steinway, but we can safely assume that payment was eventually rendered.

Today, we are left with an incredible, fantastic, one-of-a-kind piano and a remarkable story of Carl’s determination, in the face of mounting economic uncertainty, to faithfully render his family’s dream of Salisbury House.

David Ross, one of our long-time tour guides, plays the Salisbury House Steinway.

 

Beginning on May 10, 2017, learn how YOU can secure an opportunity to play the Salisbury House Steinway. Call our offices at (515) 274-1777 and ask about The Steinway Experience. 

 

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