The Buttikofer Piano-Forte Company
 

John Buttikofer, a native of Switzerland, had arrived in New York City and set up his piano-forte business there by 1839, at age 29.  He had worked in Brussels, Paris and London before coming to the U.S., some for famous instrument makers Érard and Pape.  In his time at the shop of Pape he held an important position and acquired much of his skill as a piano-maker.  In NYC, moving his shop every year, it was not until 1846 that he settled at one particular address—102 Elm Street—where he stayed for ten years.  From 1865 until the day he closed his business in the 1890s, Buttikofer Piano-Fortes was located at 52 East 13th Street.  He is credited with having made excellent grands, the “talk of the town,” as early as 1845.  In the late 1850s and through the 1860s he was advertising “The Grands with the “Erard Action””, a double escapement action which allowed notes to be repeated more easily than in single actions.  By 1851, according to Spillane, he “had built up quite a reputation among musicians in the metropolis.”  His business was always small, but highly reputable.1-4,8,9,12


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The Buttikofer Piano-Forte Store at
52 East 13th St., c. late 1880s.

A Buttikofer upright piano.

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The 1855 New York Census provides us a “snapshot” of his company at that time.  He owned no real capital, but had $500 worth of tools and 3000 feet of wood.  He employed ten men, at wages of $40 per month, and produced $8000 worth of pianos that year.2


By 1860, according to the federal industry/manufacturers census that year, he was employing only five men, again at wages of  $40 per month, and produced 25 pianos, worth about $300 each.  He had $7000 invested in the business, in personal and real estate, and used 12,500 feet of rosewood (worth $3000), 10,000 of walnut ($2000), 12,000 of ash ($500), 12,500 of pine ($600), and $1000 worth of other articles.5

By 1880, according to another federal industry/manufacturers census, he was still employing five men, who worked 10 hours a day (six days a week), but they worked only six months of the year, and the shop was idle the remaining half-year.  An average day’s wages were $2, and each man earned about $300 total, for the year.  They produced $6000 worth of pianos.  Whatever machinery they might have used was man-powered (pedal-powered)—the company did not have a steam engine.6

In 1886 John Buttikofer was one of a number of New York City music firms to sign an agreement to close their businesses at 1 P.M. on Saturday during the months of June, July and August, giving their employees a half-day day off.  Buttikofer’s son John, born in 1863, was in the business with his father for some years, but left to take a prominent position with the Sohrem Piano Company.  John Buttikofer Sr. died in 1894, at age 84.  It appears that he managed his piano company to the day he died.7,10,11


References

 

1. History of the American pianoforte; its technical development, and the trade, by Daniel Spillane (New York: 1890), pp. 198.  (Page online at Google books).

2. Musical Instrument Makers of New York, A Directory of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Urban Craftsmen, Annotated Reference Tools in Music No. 4, by Nancy Groce, (Pendragon Press, 1991), p. 25.  (Page available online at Google books.)  This reference includes New York City directory listings, and information from the 1855 New York Census.

3. 1795-1895. One hundred years of American commerce ...: a history of American commerce by one hundred Americans, edited by Chauncy Mitchell Depew (New York: 1895), vol. 2, p. 511.  (Page online at Google books)

4. 1850 US Census, New York City Ward 6, NY, family no. 2483, “John Butterkofer, NARA series M432, roll 538, p. 140B.  (Available online at Ancestry.com.)

5. 1860 US Census, Products of Industry (schedule 5), New York City, 2nd dist., 8th Ward, NARA series I4, roll 79, p. 11, line 12.  (Available online at Ancestry.com.)

6. 1880 US Census, Products of Industry (schedule 3), New York City, NARA series i12, roll 88, p. 223, line 35.  (Available online at Ancestry.com.)  This page includes all the piano manufacturers in NYC.

7. New York City Deaths, 1892-1902, “John Buttikofer,”d. 27 May 1894 at age 84, cert. no. 17715.  (Available online at Ancestry.com.)

8. Antique Piano Shop web site: John Buttikofer.  Includes an ad c. 1859-1863.

9. OoCities — Geocities Archive web site.  Some city directory info, plus an 1867 ad.

10. Obituary, John W. Buttikofer (the son), New York Times, 6 Oct. 1907.

11. "The Saturday Half-Holiday in the Music Trade," The Music Trade Review, vol. IX, no. 21 (5 to 20 June 1886), p. 298.

12. Wikipedia: Sébastien Érard, and Jean-Henry Pape.


 
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