Craftsman working on prize project

Josh Pennell
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Newfound Pianos restoring piece owner hopes stays in the province

Karim Dannawy leans on his prized project —  a 1913 Hamburg Steinway player piano. — Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

At a small shop in Harbour Main, a part of Newfoundland’s musical history is being restored. One might say this part of history keeps coming back to Karim Dannawy and he’s hopeful it will stay in the province.

Dannawy is the owner of Newfound Pianos and the piece of history is a 1913 Hamburg Steinway player piano that was made in Germany and now sits dismantled in his workshop.

“At the time that this was sold, this was the predecessor to the radio and the phonograph and the gramophone. And even the modern automobile,” says Dannawy. “The reason that player pianos like this died out was because people then had access to being able to afford a car and having a radio. Before that, this was the entertainment of the home.”

This particular piano was the entertainment in a home on Waterford Bridge Road where it arrived in 1914 and where Dannawy figures it sat for about nine decades.

“It appears so because the way it was situated in front of a window — and I remember this because I was part of the initial assessment for bringing it in for a fix-up restoration — it had the fading of the cabinet at that time. The fading was exactly where the window and the sun hit.”

That first restoration was back when Dannawy was something of an apprentice in piano restoration. He was part of a team that found and first restored this piano. It was to be sold as part of the Waterford Bridge Road house that was also being restored. Somehow, though, it ended up in a storage unit in

St. John’s until Dannawy came across it again in a state of disrepair.

So Dannawy has something of a history with this piano that is a piece of history itself.

“When this was purchased for a home on Waterford Bridge Road in St. John’s, it was to be the state of the art entertainment of the day in that day,” he says. “This would be the Rolls Royce of player pianos.”

Dannawy says its quality was unmatched, and the instrument was not just capable of playing music but playing with expression.

And in about a month, it will get to express itself again. That will make about five months since Dannawy started working on it.

“It’s very meticulous and there’s a lot of little parts and pieces,” he says.

There are twice as many as a normal piano, in fact.

“It takes a lot of patience and a lot time. You have to really love doing this kind of a thing because you can easily get frustrated if you want to.”

Nothing is straight forward in piano restoration, he says. You always have to be ready to veer off the planned path to get to the final product.

“It is about bringing the past to life. What always keeps us going is that the final product is something that is very beautiful.”

So exactly how rare is the player piano?

“It’s very rare. I would venture to guess that it’s the only one on the island,” says Dannawy.

Dannawy knows of only one other like it that came up for sale in the last two decades on the international market and that was out of New Zealand. He hopes this piece of history will stay in the province once the restoration is complete.

“Unfortunately, a lot of our history has tended to be exported out

of the country, and with certain pianos that we find and sometimes restore there is a market for them nationally and sometimes internationally.”

He says he’ll have no trouble selling this one on the international market for the $41,000 price tag that it will go for, but that’s not what he wants to happen to it.

“We hope that this piece of Newfoundland history stays in Newfoundland.”

He ventures it would have cost between 10 and 15 grand at the time it was brought here.

He’s also eager to find out more of the history of the piano if possible, such as the name of the family who bought it in 1914.

“Somebody wanted the very best of entertainment in their home,” he says.

Before it’s sold though, he’s looking forward to that feeling of looking at the finished product.

“Almost a euphoric feeling. I’m really, really look forward to pumping the peddles myself.”

Organizations: Waterford Bridge Road house, Rolls Royce

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Waterford Bridge Road, Germany New Zealand

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