welcome to ...

the Decker Journey

mark of Jan Broersen Decker

Home -> Stories -> Frauds in The Piano Trade

Unable to display menu


Frauds in The Piano Trade

The Highland weekly news., January 20, 1876, Image 3

About The Highland weekly news. (Hillsborough [Hillsboro], Highland County, Ohio) 1853-1886

Retrieved 3 June 2012 from http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038158/1876-01-20/ed-1/seq-3/

Image provided by: Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, OH

[From the New York Music Trade Review, December 3, 1875]


A Seathing [sic] Expose of the Frauds Perpetrated by Unscrupulous Persons on the Leading Pianoforte Makers – The State of The Law – Necessity for a Trade Protective Association – The History of the Decker Piano.


The time has come when the frauds perpetrated by unscrupulous persons on the leading pianoforte makers of this country have assumed such dimensions that they can no longer be endured in silence.  Not only the trade, but the public, are suffering from them every day, and we have, therefore, taken upon ourselves the onerous duty of once for all unmasking those persons who, under the guise of some great manufacturer’s name, boldly flood the market with worthless instruments.  The houses of Chickering, Steinway, Decker, Weber, Knabe and Haines are the principal firms whose names are either directly or in some mutilated shape put upon the instruments which never saw light in their factories, but have been turned out wholesale, like so much sausage-meat, from the workshops of men who look upon the construction of a piano much in the light of a carpenter who makes cheap bedsteads by the score, and considers the whole affair as involving so much material, which, being knocked together anyhow, is fit for sale so long as it will stand transportation.

We must confess our astonishment at the comparative indifference and supineness of the leading manufacturers hitherto, inasmuch as not only do these bogus instruments injure their reputation, but, further, they depreciate the value of their pianos in the estimation of the public, who are continually treated to the sight of advertisements in the Herald in which parties offer to sell instruments, purporting to be genuine, at prices far below market value.  Does Mr. Chickering think it enhances the position of his firm to have a piano, stated to be of his make, advertised as “being for sale at $150?”  Does Mr. Steinway imagine for a single moment that he can afford to rest under the public imagination that one of his “grands” can be got at “any price?”  Does the Decker Brothers think it no injury that a new instrument, advertised as theirs to all appearance as “having cost $1,000, can be got for $300, or even less?”

That the last-mentioned firm have been forced to take the matter up and give it their most serious consideration, we shall forthwith proceed to show, premising only that we have devoted the rest of this article, which is the first of a series on the subject, to the Decker piano, simply because the Decker Brothers, with their usual enterprise, have been the first to enter the field in a contest from which we shall never retire until by dint of every influence which we can bring to bear we have enabled the honest piano manufacturer to protect his business from the onslaughts of knaves and rogues.


At the present time there are no less than three firms who claim to make the “Decker” piano, and to have a right of using a name which has for nearly fifteen years stood most deservedly high in the opinion of the public of this country.  These firms are – 1.  Decker Brothers, of 33 Union Square, New York; 2.  Decker & Barnes, of 125 Third avenue, New York; and, 3.  Decker & Brothers, of 56 Bleecker street, New York.  We no proceed to investigate with what justice each of these firms may be said to make a “Decker” piano, and to which of the firms, in the estimation of the press, the public, and the profession, is due the honor and the credit of having made the name of “Decker” respected, popular and valuable.  To do this we shall nowise intrude our own opinions, but shall carefully, most carefully, give the record of each house as we and others are prepared to substantiate it.


This firm consists of two brothers, John Jacob Decker and David Decker.  John Jacob Decker worked as a journeyman for eight years, from 1846 to 1854, with the late firm of Bacon & Haven.  In 1854, on the death of Mr. Bacon, the firm was reorganized and continued in business as Haven, Bacon & co., young Mr. Bacon taking his father’s place, and Mr. John J. Decker constituting the company, having obtained an interest in the business by reason of rare skill and judgment.  Thus Mr. John J. Decker continued for eight years, till the year 1862, when he started in business for himself in Varick street (in the very house where Steinway started) in conjunction with his brother David, who previous to this date had been quietly working his way along, year in and year out, as a journeyman.

The two brothers started on a small capital – the savings of their steady industry – and with no other desire than to make a few square pianos for the retail trade in New York and its vicinity.  However humble their aim, however small their beginning, they were not destined “to bloom unseen,” for the late master-musician, Carl Anschutz, got hold of their very first instrument, and stamped them, in an autograph letter “as manufacturers of the very highest class.”  From this moment their fame rapidly spread, and they were, as early as 1863, one year after they had started in Varick street, enabled to move to more capacious premises on Bleecker street, where they remained six years, till 1869, when they moved their factory and warerooms to Thirty-fourth street, and in 1870 opened separate warerooms in the magnificent premises they now occupy at 33 Union Square.  Being practical artisans and most superior mechanics, they early entered upon the most worthy design of improving the manufacture of the piano as much as possible, and in June, 1863 the Scientific American spoke in terms of the warmest praise of a valuable improvement they had then just patented.  After this, their strides in perfecting the manufacture of the instrument were most rapid, and they obtained patents in ’63, ’65, ’67, ’69, ’72 and ’73, which called forth the most unequivocal praise from the press and the public, and mainly helped them to produce those instruments which have given them their present proud position.  In 1861 the Tribune, in a highly laudatory account of one of their improvements, stated that it had enabled them to develop in their instrument a tone at once admirable for its purity, fullness, and prolongation and sweetness, and the high estimation in which their improvement is held is well shown in the rapidly increasing business of the firm.  In 1872 the same paper, in an article reviewing the whole pianoforte trade in the country, observed that the Decker Brothers have won their success by solid merit, and hold it by unremitting effort in the same direction.  The genius and ability of Mr. Hassard, the musical critic of the Tribune, have aided to make that paper the highest authority on all musical matters, and we find its constant praise of the instruments of the Decker Bros. supported by the rest of the press, including the Times, World, Herald, Express, Independent, Home Journal, Sunday Times, Areadian, Chicago Tribune, Boston Gazette, Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.  When to this we add that, unsolicited, the firm hold testimonials of high regard and honest appreciation from Theodore Thomas, Carl Burgmann, A. B. Mills, William Mason, J. H. Bonawitz, Henry J. Andres, Ed. Marzo, Julia Rive, and many other distinguished members of the musical profession, it can not be doubted that the press of the country as a body, and the musical profession as well, had, without indulging in any invidious comparison between the works of other distinguished well known makers, paid deserved tribute to the ability and industry of John Jacob and David Decker.  Come we now to the history of the firm next on our list, namely, that of


Which consist of Mr. Myron A. Decker and of Mr. Barnes, and was formed in the spring of 1871, and has been located ever since at its premises, Nos. 125, 127, 129 and 131 Third avenue.  Mr. Barnes had been for many years in the employment of Messrs. Chickering & Sons, as a salesman and a tuner, and on leaving them in 1871, went into partnership with Mr. Myron A. Decker, with whom he has continued ever since.

Mr. Myron A. Decker, who, by the by, is in no-wise related to the Decker Brothers, started in a small way to make pianos in the year 1856, in the city of Albany, in conjunction with one Mixsell.  At the expiration of a year he bought Mr. Mixsell out and ran the business himself, selling his pianos wherever he could to other parties, who put their names upon them and sold them to the public.  In 1858[?] he made a piano of merit, and obtained for it a prize at the State Fair held at Syracuse.  In 1859[?], finding the business unprofitable, he broke up and came to New York, where he ran a small restaurant, corner Broadway and Fulton, and had some difficulty with a rival restaurateur concerning the appropriation of a sign which had on it the well known motto, “Live and Let Live.”  Toward the close of the year 1864, he started as a piano manufacturer in Twenty-second street, in a very small way, and sold all the instruments he made to the firm of Ilsley & Co., of Broome street, who always put “Ilsely & Co.” upon them.  Thus he continued until July, 1865, when he persuaded Mr. George Ilsley to go into business with him as piano manufacturers, and to furnish the necessary capital.  He, on the other hand, was to give his name to the new concern and to put in such stock and fixtures as he had, which then amounted to the sum of eighty dollars and eighty-four cents.  We have it from Mr. Ilsley himself that the argument used by Mr. Myron A. Decker, which induced him to consent to this arrangement, was the fact that the Decker Bros. had made the name Decker popular and therefore valuable, and that as his name was also Decker it might enable them to do a good business.  Thus in the year 1865 was formed the firm of Decker & Co., which ran till 1868, when it moved to Union Place where it failed.  After one year, that is in 1866, Mr. Ilsley became dissatisfied with his partnership, broke it up, but continued to do business as Decker & Co., and employed Mr. Myron A. Decker as foreman of his establishment till he failed.  From 1868 to 1871 Mr. M. A. Decker was, more or less, out of business.  In 1871 he entered into partnership with Mr. Barnes, and has continued so, as we have already related.

We now come to the firm of


This house is boldly stated by one of the leading commercial agencies to be doing business on the reputation of the firm of Decker Bros., of Union Square, with whom they are neither in any way related nor connected and whose title they have sought to copy as closely as possible.  The firm consists of Mr. Marcus A. Decker, who is the son of Mr. E. B. Decker, who was a well known tuner, and died last winter.  This Mr. E. B. Decker was the brother of Myron A. Decker, of Decker & Barnes, and started in business in the year 1868 in a small store in Bleecker street as a retailer of pianos.  He made an arrangement with another brother, H. B. Decker, a farmer, now living near Binghampton, to use his name, and so put up the firm name of Decker and Bro.  This concern never made a piano during the whole course of its existence.  In 1869, Mr. E. B. Decker’s son, Marcus, the only present survivor of this branch of the family, was taken into the firm, which two years afterward changed its name to Decker and Brothers, though no moral or legal right to do so, and removed from Broome to Bleecker street, where our readers will remember the Decker Bros. made their reputation.  Their reason for doing this is obvious.  On Mr. E. B. Decker’s death Mr. Marcus A. Decker, his son, continued the business under the old firm name.


From this account it is most clear –

1.  That the only firm entitled to the honor and credit of having obtained a great reputation for the “Decker” piano are Messrs. Decker Bros. of 33 Union Square.

2.  That Messrs. Decker & Barnes, though partial manufacturers (inasmuch as they do not make all the parts of their instruments), are not justified in asserting, as they do in their catalog, that their Myron A. Decker was the one who made the “Decker” instrument known, seeing that next to none were made in his name till July, 1865, three full years after the Decker Bros. had started.  Nevertheless they are fully entitled to their firm name, and do a legitimate business.

3.  That Messrs Decker and Bros. are neither legally nor morally entitled to their firm name, were never at any time manufacturers, and trade only on the strength of the reputation of the firm of Decker Bros., whose style they imitate and copy.

July 11, 2012