W.M. Knabe & Company Pianos

The History of Knabe Pianos

The history of the Knabe pianos began with William Knabe who was born in Germany in 1803. He was a traditionally-raised German who was bound for learning school to become an educator when he changed courses to become a piano maker. He did an apprenticeship in Germany before moving to Baltimore in 1833. He then worked under Henry Hartje, a renowned inventor at the time, for 6 years to perfect his English and American business acumen before starting his own venture in 1839 with friend Henry Gaehle. [1]

Knabe & Gaehle built a reputation for exceptionally-built pianos and staid business practice that helped them take control of the entire southern states market before the Civil War stilted operations in 1860. In 1864, Knabe died and Gaehle had withdrawn from the business, leaving Ernest and William, Knabe’s two sons to take over the business. 

They were tasked with recovering business from the market downturn caused by the war. With their one factory in Baltimore, William took over operations there while Ernest went on the road to begin penetrating the northern and western states' market that was not as ravaged by the war. A long journey and anecdotal story about borrowing money from a Baltimore bank sums up how Ernest successfully bolstered sales to recover business operations and grow their footprint by two new factories in New York. 

After both William and Ernest died successively by 1894, the company was purchased by the American Piano Company. The factories were moved to Rochester, New York, and by 1932, the Aeolian  American Corporation had formed and purchased Knabe, bundling production with many other recently-acquired brands like Sohmer, Falcone and George Steck.

 Becoming a part of the Mason & Hamlin Corp., Knabe pianos stayed in production until 1996 when Young Chang took over manufacturing. A series of new acquisition led to the Samick Music Corporation in Korea continuing production of pianos under the Knabe name on new piano designs. 

About Knabe & Co. Pianos

Francis Scott Key (composer of the Star Spangled Banner) owned an ornate Knabe & Gaehle square grand pianos with lavishly-engraved mother-of-pearl keys made in 1842. [2] Knabe pianos were known for their artistic encasements and are still appreciated to this day by interior designers and homeowners alike who are searching for a decorative piece. 

Beyond their exterior beauty, Knabe pianos have incredible tonal quality and sound integrity. Despite the downturn during the war and the recuperation of the business, by 1876, Knabe pianos were awarded many high prizes for their tone, craftsmanship and quality. Famous pianists like D’Albert and Saint Saens preferred Knabe grand pianos in their concerts. 

Ernest invented many new scales for their upright and grand pianos, and Knabe pianos grew in prominence as the envy of many concert halls and musicians. Additionally, Ernest had built many strong industry ties, as a dear friend to William Steinway and Albert Weber.

Restoring Knabe Pianos

Knabe pianos are still highly regarded in the piano world. Because of the many ornate case designs and details, Knabe pianos can be a privilege to inspect when they come into our shop. The rich history of the brand and the untainted craftsmanship that Knabe is known for, even the unrestored value of a Knabe piano can range between $2,000 and $25,000. However, when restored to mint condition using our best practice process and combined 100 years of restoration experience, the value of a restored Knabe piano can increase ti $25,000-$100,000.

To talk with someone from our team about your Knabe piano, call Lindeblad today!


[1] Dolge, Alfred. Pianos And Their Makers. London: Forgotten Books, 2015. Print.

[2] Pierce, W. Robert. Pierce Piano Atlas: Anniversary Edition, 2017 Our 70th Year. Albuquerque: Ashley, 2017. Print.