Dorrin K Mace, Horologost

Dorrin K Mace, Horologost
The Clock Man in a pensive moment

Sunday, July 2, 2017

AMPICO and the AMPICHRON "Piano Clock"

American Piano Company (abbr. Ampico) was an American piano manufacturer eventually located in East Rochester, New York. The company was formed in a merger of Chickering & Sons of Boston, Wm Knabe & Co, of Baltimore and Foster Armstrong of Rochester, New York. It was formed in response to the increasing demand for player pianos, and, as well, the then current impetus towards larger economic entities and aimed at the achievement of economies of scale. The company was established in the period from 1907-1908 and in 1908 floated a prospectus and offering for shares under the name "American Piano Company."

From 1913 Ampico was one of the leading producers of reproducing pianos, the others being Duo-Art (1913) and Welte-Mignon (1905). The player piano and reproducing mechanism was designed by Charles Fuller Stoddard (1876–1958).  A great number of distinguished classical and popular pianists, such as Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Leo Ornstein (1892-2002), Winifred MacBride, and Marguerite Volavy (1886–1951), recorded for Ampico, and their rolls are a legacy of 19th and early 20th century aesthetic and musical practice. By 1929 Ampico was in essential economic difficulties and was finally taken over by the Aeolian Company, a manufacturer of player pianos and organs. The combined company, known as Aeolian-American Corp., went through several ownership changes before declaring bankruptcy in 1985.
Despite the Ampico's decline, the company did not officially close until 1941. The last model introduced was the Ampico Spinet Reproducing Piano, which had all the functionality of a reproducing piano, and although having a low cost of $495, still failed in sales.
 Originally named Despatch after the transportation company that spawned several dozen car shops in the area, the town was also home to a musical manufacturing giant for the better part of the 20th century.Nestled in between the New York Central Railroad tracks and Commercial Street, the 250,000 square-foot edifice designed by Henry Ives was the first industrial building in the United States to be constructed from reinforced concrete.
Renowned for its fine craftsmanship, the American Piano Company was the largest distributor and manufacturer of pianos in the world by the mid-1920s. The instrument’s popularity reached its peak that decade thanks to a growth in prosperity and an increased interest in music stimulated by phonographs and radio.Piano producers across the country would not fare as well the following decade. While over 347,000 pianos were purchased in the United States in 1923, only 51,000 units were sold eight years later.

 This video presents
one of what I feel is the most unique aspects of AMPICO players pianos.  Several models had "A" and "B" rolls.  On certain models a clock was wired to the "B" roll player, and this activated the piano on the hour to "strike" the hour and then entertain the listeners with a musical interlude.  The clock portion was referred to as the AMPICHRON.  What a wonderful feature this would have been.  I can see this being so popular in the higher end department stores or bank lobbies of the days.  Back in a time that was so much more than about just the bottom line of a business.

Listen as the piano is "activated" by the clock (manual in this case as no clock is present), you will hear a short musical interlude, the calling of the hour, and then a full musical selection.  One caveat on this system was that it required the piano to be plugged in and turned on 24 hours a day to keep the chime accurately calling the hour.

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