HAGERSTOWN, MD - She may not be as famous as dimpled, sequined fellow collector Liberace or as funny as Schroeder, the miniature piano man of the Peanuts comic strip. Nor is she as well known as Barry Manilow, who plays one on the cover of his album "Trying to Get The Feeling." but Janice E. Kelsh is in love with those cute little small-scale pianos. Even to the degree of organizing the first-ever Miniature Piano Enthusiast Club (MPEC) in 1991 in Chicago, Illinois.
"I suffered from piano mania at the age of 6 and had my first toy piano," said the 58-year old club founder. "Piano lessons began at the age of 8 and by college I was studying the instrument at the University of District of Columbia," she adds. Though Janice never went on to teach, she did catch the collecting bug seriously in 1977. During the early days of collecting, she admits that she got so hooked on wanting to find every piano possible, that she has been awakened and visibly terrified by a nightmare in which she was being chased by a piano.
Today her collection of petite pianofortes numbers over 400; most are found at flea markets, garage sales and auctions. In 1979 while attending her first auction of toys and dolls and Schoenhut miniature pianos, the auctioneer mispronounced the word and called out something like--Chanute piano. Not thinking anyone else knew what he was talking about, she knew it was a Schoenhut. Consequently, she ended up getting a (c.1925) piano for $5. Another "find" in her collection is a palm-size Cracker Jack prize piano from the 1940's, which she found for $12.00. Cracker Jack specialist estimate its value at $150.00
In 1990 Janice moved to Chicago and by April 1991, she formed the MPEC. Then in March of 1995, MPEC Headquarters relocated from Chicago, Illinois to Hagerstown MD, the founder's original hometown. There she set up a miniature piano museum at MPEC Headquarters in her home. Today the club has 55 members in 20 states, The Netherlands, Israel, England, Canada, and Germany. One member from Ohio owns an astonishing 3,500 and as an retired school teacher, has every one carefully noted in an organized card file, listing toy pianos by shape (grand/upright), material and maker, color, price paid, date acquired, and function. Membership also consists of music professors, piano tuners, church organists, Liberace and Barry Manilow fans, and doll house collectors. The club provides a forum for written inquiries from all over the country seeking information about pianos miniature or toy pianos. The staff of experts responds eagerly and accordingly to all inquiries.
Though many of Janice's diminutive pianos are actually working toys or music boxes that play real music, a hefty proportion are non-playing replicas that are fashioned out of some of the most unique: Avon bottles, cigarette lighters, ashtrays, salt and pepper shakers, squeeze toys, door stops, tortoise shell, soap...the list goes on. "Some were manufactured for doll houses, some were made simply to fill cabinet space. Some were designed to go on the floor, some play, some don't, some have various maestros playing," Janice said. They are made of, among other materials, porcelain, wood, blown glass, brass, paper, macrame, and sea shells. Additionally, names such as Occupied Japan, Limoges, Dresden, Sebastian Miniatures, Cabbage Patch and the Black doll lines, "Sarah's Attic" and "All God's Children" produce these little lovelies. In August of '97, Kelsh's collection was featured on cable network's "Personal FX--the Collectibles Show". Additionally, on September 16, 2002, Kelsh and her collection was taped by Nancy Glass Productions which aired on Home and Gardens TV December 2, 2002. http://www.hgtvclassifieds.com/hgtv/shows_utc/article/0,1805,HGTV_3900_1587680,00.html
As for their history, the furthest back Janice could trace one was to the London Museum Doll House, circa 1810. From about 1840 to 1870, they filled the doll houses of little English girls, just as real pianos filled every parlor. In 1867, the German immigrant, Albert Schoenhut, settled in Philadelphia and began repairing toy pianos, later manufacturing them from 1872 until 1935. For years, Schoenhut pianos were the treasured playthings of children--now they are treasured by collectors. In December of '98, Kelsh had an opportunity to interview William (Bill) F. Schoenhut, Sr., the then 87-year old 13th grandson of Albert Schoenhut, a story of which was written up in the club's newsletter. On May 10, 2005 Bill passed away and the 58th issue of MUSICALLY YOURS! (August-October 2005) is dedicated to his memory.
Janice has conducted mini-workshops on hobby collecting featuring her pianos to girls' clubs, civic organizations and other collectors' clubs. The interest is always heightened when a particular group of pianos of a specified category is presented; i.e. only music boxes, radios, Christmas ornaments, etc.
The club has held seven conventions since its inception; 1992 in Naperville, IL, 1993 in Rochester, NY; 1994 at Steinway Hall in Akron, Ohio; 1995 in Las Vegas, Nevada; 1996 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1999 in Lisle, IL, and Hartland, Michigan in 2000. An 8th convention is being planned for 2006 with Pittsburg, Pa being the host city. The club willbe publishing a book on toy and miniature pianos in 2007.
The Club welcomes collectors and piano buffs to share in the love of music through this unique and musically uplifting organization. For more information about membership and other activities contact Founder and Editor, Janice E. Kelsh, Miniature Piano Enthusiast Club, 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, Hagerstown, MD 21740 (301-797-7675), Fax: 301-827-7029; e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org, web: www.angelfire.com/music2/miniaturepianoclub Membership would be beneficial not only for the collector or those who may be interested in collecting, but also for the music instructor needing an inspiring anchor for their students. Membership benefits include a quarterly historical newsletter, Musically Yours!, a membership card, a directory of the names and addresses of all members, and a free gift. Currently, membership dues are $15.00 for U.S. and international membership and the membership year runs from April 27 March 31st.