A Suspicious Shopmark Hits a Sour Note

Arts & Crafts pianos are like Arts & Crafts clocks: find a Stickley shopmark on one and a common, everyday example suddenly becomes a rare – and valuable – masterwork.

And that seems to be what has recently happened to an ordinary, upright mission oak piano.

A professional piano restorer recently sold an oak, upright, mission oak player piano to an antiques dealer for the reasonable price of $500. The piano restorer, being the professional that he is, had first taken photographs of the piano and noted the piano maker (Eilers Bungalow Player Piano) and the serial number in his records.

Some time later the restorer was contacted by an individual wanting to have his signed Gustav Stickley player piano appraised. Turns out this piano happened to have been the same one the restorer had previously owned and sold – right down to the identical serial number on the cast iron sounding board.

The new owner provided the restorer with several photographs of his alleged Gustav Stickley piano, which enabled the restorer to determine that this was, indeed, the same piano he had sold a short time earlier. Included in the photographs were pictures of not one, but two shopmarks bearing a resemblance to the shopmark Gustav Stickley had used between 1904 and 1912.

The professional restorer could not believe that he would have missed not one, but two Gustav Stickley shopmarks on this piano that he had previously owned and documented. When he compared the Gustav Stickley shopmark on the piano to examples illustrated in Arts & Crafts reference books, he became suspicious and sent me a set of photographs, including the shopmarks.

For the record, let me state that I have not seen either the piano or the shopmarks in person. I have only seen photographs of what appears to be the same piano taken in two different settings. I have included here a documented example of a Gustav Stickley shopmark (top) and the shopmark that has been found on the piano (lower) for your benefit.

My unofficial opinion is that the shopmarks on the piano appear to be fakes. What the photographs don’t reveal, however, is who added them and when.

While the new owner of the mission oak player piano will have to decide what course of action to take, the rest of us need to be on the lookout for a suspicious Gustav Stickley shopmark – either a brand or stamped onto the wood – that might appear on something other than a Gustav Stickley piece of furniture.

And if you have an example of an Arts & Crafts forgery you would like to share with our readers, please send it to us.

– Bruce Johnson