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Ask A Worthologist Question: Spinet Piano Conversion Desk

by Mike Wilcox (02/07/12).

WorthPoint member Rose W. purchased a desk at an estate sale for what she thought was a great price. She liked its unusual design and it seemed just the thing to use for a computer desk. But when she saw a similar desk and learned that it was really a piano, she started looking at her desk in an altogether different light. Not knowing exactly what she had, she contacted WorthPoint’s Ask a Worthologist service to find some answers.

WorthPoint member Rose W. purchased a desk at an estate sale for $275. It was its unusual design caught her eye, and it seemed just the thing for a computer desk she could use with her laptop. Looking around at an auction sale recently she spotted what she thought was another desk, to her surprise it was actually a piano and not a desk. Back at home she re-examined her desk and it appears that her desk was once a piano as well. She’s not so sure now she got a good deal on her desk because it’s a “made up piece.” She plans on keeping it, but is interested in finding what she can about it and if it was worth what she paid for it. She contacted WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to inquire about this piece and her inquiry was forwarded to me, here’s her question.

“I’ve always enjoyed buying things at estate sales and auctions for my house and had recently been looking for an antique desk to use with my laptop. All of the modern computer desks clashed with my antiques, so I spent quite while finding a desk that would fit in. The one in the image I sent was perfect, as I could close my laptop, flip the desk closed and it went from home office to antique in a couple of seconds.

“I was quite pleased with this desk, as I thought I had a good deal at $275, at least until I saw what I thought was an identical desk at an auction last month. I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t a desk at all, but a actually a piano. So, it seems now my desk isn’t antique, but a made up piece. I’d like to know what you can tell me about it and if I got the deal I thought I had.”

Here’s my response:

Spinet desks are of two types: factory made pieces, dating from the 1920s through ’40s, or conversions made from Victorian square case pianos. Based on your images, this piece is of the second type. The original Spinet desks were originally made from circa 1840 pianos, converted into desks during the 1920s through the 1940s, when their internal works were beyond repair. Their rosewood and mahogany veneered cases and square design were seen as “old fashioned” at the time, but they was also believed to be too valuable to throw out.

While conversions of this type are sometimes frowned on, the conversions to these pianos into desks were performed so long ago, they’ve now been desks for as long as they were originally pianos.

In the current market, these Spinet conversion desks often sell for good deal more than you paid for yours, even at auction. In the shops, it’s not uncommon to find similar desks retailing in the $650-$850 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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