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Play It, Sam: The 5 Most Iconic Pianos Of All Time

A piano is one of the sleekest, most elegant instruments around. Those of us who can’t play one often wish we could.

In a way, a piano doesn’t really need to sell itself – pianists often describe playing their instrument as a therapeutic, almost out-of-body experience.

However, once a set of keys has been played by the fingers of John Lennon and the like, it probably sells itself that fraction more.

We’ve chosen the five most iconic pianos of all time – and not all of which can be played by the hands alone!

 

1. John Lennon’s Steinway Model Z

most iconic pianos
Credit: Daily Mirror

The iconic upright white piano was presented to Yoko Ono on her birthday by Lennon himself. But far from being a gimmicky birthday present, it was the piano on which Lennon wrote ‘Imagine’ and features prominently in the song’s renowned music video.

 

After Lennon’s tragic death, it was bought by a private collector in 1992 before being sold anonymously at auction for £1.45 million, eight years later.  The buyer, it turned out, was none other than George Michael.

He purchased the piano so that it would never leave the United Kingdom and even loaned it to The Beatles Story in Liverpool for a short period of time.

 

2. The piano from ‘Casablanca’

most iconic pianos
Credit: Richard Perry/The New York Times

It’s not often a film’s prop is as celebrated as a line, but that’s the case with this small upright piano from Casablanca.

It features in the famous scene where Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine says ‘Play it, Sam’ to the pianist performing in his bar.

 

Dooley Wilson, the actor playing Sam, was a drummer and singer by trade and had to fake playing the piano, which was dragged from the Warner Brothers’ prop room for the scene.

What makes this piano even more unique is its design – it has 58 keys, which is 30 less than a conventional piano. It sold at auction in 2014 for a cool $3.4 million.

 

3. Sir Elton John’s ‘birdcage’

most iconic pianos
Credit: Houston Piano Company

Another legendary English singer-songwriter, another iconic white piano. This piano, colloquially referred to as a ‘birdcage’ because of its vertical damper wires, dates all the way back to 1910. It was bought by Sir Elton in the early 1960’s, long before he burst onto the scene – and would provide a very welcome return on investment.

Sir Elton’s first five albums featured songs composed on this piano, such as ‘Your Song’ and ‘Tiny Dancer’. In fact, he and songwriter Bernie Taupin composed over a hundred songs on it.

The ‘birdcage’ was given to friends by Sir Elton in 1971 and changed hands several times before being sold at auction for £91,000 in 2004.

 

4. Lang Lang’s crystal piano

iconic live pianos
Credit: OnlinePianist

In 2008, The Heintzman Piano Company in Beijing designed and built this crystal grand piano exclusively for the Olympic Games.

The globally-revered Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play this iconic instrument during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics (literally once-in-a-lifetime, as no one is believed to have played it publicly since). It’s estimated that nearly a billion people watched Lang Lang’s rendition of Starlight on the Heintzman piano – talk about pressure!

An anonymous bidder bought it for over $3 million in 2014 and we can only imagine its value will continue to rise.

 

5. The keyboard from ‘BIG’

most iconic pianos
Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

This colossal ‘walking piano’ stole the show in the 1988 movie ‘Big’, starring a young Tom Hanks. The 16ft, three octave keyboard, which is played with the feet, was made especially for the movie and housed in the New York toy store FAO Schwarz.

It is best known for the scene where Hanks’ character Josh lets out his inner child by running up and down the keys playing ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Chopsticks’ with toy store owner Mr Macmillan.

Fast forward 29 years and you can find this piano at Philadelphia’s ‘Please Touch’ Museum. It can withstand 1,000lbs of pressure per square foot, so you might be fighting for playing space.

Watch Hanks and Sandra Bullock recreate the scene from ‘Big’ in this clip from The Jonathan Ross Show:

 

If you play the piano or any other instrument live, you will need proof of Public Liability insurance, otherwise most venues won’t allow you to perform.

Insure4Music offer specialist Public Liability insurance, as well as equipment cover for theft, loss and accidental damage. We also provide Personal Accident insurance in case anyone hurts themselves performing. For tailor-made music insurance from just £20 a year, get your instant quote online today!

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