Last year (2021) Omniva, the Estonian postal company, held a nationwide poll entitled “Great Estonian Things”. Its aim was to find out which objects the Estonian public wanted to celebrate on forthcoming stamp issues.
The Estonia piano was amongst the top ten submissions. And on 25th August (2022) Omniva unveiled its new 90-cent stamp featuring one of the Estonia Piano Factory’s concert grand pianos.
Pianos have been made in Estonia since c1780, however it was Ernst Hiis-Ihse who became the leading light of the Estonian piano industry.
Estonia Piano Factory
Hiis had studied piano design and construction whilst working for the likes of Steinway and Blüthner. He hand-built his first piano back in 1893 and continued to build his business until 1923. He then sold up, and went to work for the Astron Piano Company.
During World War II virtually all the piano factories in Estonia were destroyed. But in 1950, following the order of Joseph Stalin, the Tallinn Piano Factory was established with Hiis at the helm. Stalin had been given one of Hiis’ pianos for his 70th birthday, and liked it so much he granted the company sole rights to produce concert grand pianos for the entire Soviet Union. The business was later to become known as the Estonia Piano Factory.
Estonia, the country, gained independence in 1991, however, the company itself struggled. But Estonian pianist and musicologist Dr Indrek Laul took an interest in the business and by the end of the 1990s, he had amassed enough stock to become its new owner.
Laul introduced new models, new technologies, new materials and new working practices. And the result is a thriving company producing high-end pianos that are realistically priced and highly regarded around the world.
The stamp features the Model 274 (9ft 0ins) concert grand, the flagship piano in the Estonia Piano Factory’s range.
Under the stewardship of Indrek Laul, the Estonia Piano Factory has put Estonia firmly on the classical music map, and is a worthy choice for one of the country’s stamps.
Stamps, first-day covers, and special presentation packs can are available from the Omniva online shop.
More Piano Stamps
This is by no means the first stamp issue to feature a piano. Here are a few other examples…
(1) and (2): Guinea Bissau, 1985 — two stamps from the country’s International Year of Music series. The 7 peso stamp celebrates Frédéric Chopin and features a grand piano which appears to be a Broadwood. The 5 peso stamp honours Robert Schumann and shows a c1829 pyramid piano built by Conrad Graf in Austrian empire style.
(3) Hungary, 1985 — the fortepiano shown in (1) also appears on this 4 forint stamp from the Hungarian European Music Year series. It too celebrates Frédéric Chopin.
(4): Austria, 2003 — this stamp, commemorating Bösendorfer’s 175th anniversary, shows the ornate grand piano made by the company in 1858 for Emperor Franz Joseph I.
(5): Togo, 1977 — the 100 CFA franc stamp was released to observe the 150th anniversary of Beethoven’s death. It shows the fortepiano gifted to Beethoven by Thomas Broadwood in 1818.
(6): United States, 1978 — the Americana Issue of U.S. stamps celebrated music and peace. From 1975 to 1981 25 different designs appeared in this series. Here, the image is of an 1857 Steinway and Sons grand piano. It accompanies the words “Peace Unites a Nation Like Harmony in Music”. The piano (serial no. 1199) is one of just a known handful of straight-strung Steinway grands.
(7): Romania, 1960 — this 40 Romanian bani stamp features a non-descript image of a grand piano and was released as part of the Daily Life series.
(8): F.R. Germany, 1973 — an unusual stamp depicting a rare pedal piano, apparently built by Austrian Johann Schmidt in c1790. The actual piano was possibly once played by Wolfgang Mozart. This issue was one of the Welfare: Musical Instrument series. Welfare stamps (wohlfahrtsmarke) were a way German citizens could donate to charity. Although this stamp had a face value of 30 pfennigs, it would sell for 45pf, with the additional 15pf going to good causes.
(9): Israel, 2010 — from the Musical Instruments of the Middle East series. This commemorative stamp shows a qanun and a grand piano. The qanum is a type of zither and is known as “the Piano of the East”.
Other countries have issued stamps showing pianos. These include China, Japan, France, Poland, Uruguay, Libya, Luxembourg, Italy, Mongolia, Jordan, Niger, Senegal, and the UAE. Generally, these either show a generic image of a piano (like (7) above) or honour the life of a particular composer.
It is however good to see an actual brand of piano, like Estonia Pianos, celebrated on a stamp. Let’s have more!