piano, grand
piano, grand
piano, grand
piano, grand
piano, grand
piano, grand
piano, grand

piano, grand


Accession Number
A 6’ 10” Steinway “B” piano, the case veneered in rosewood with various wood-marquetry patterns covering the top, sides and legs of the piano, the sides featuring long swaged garlands with clusters of multi-coloured leaves and musical instruments, the keyboard cover-face bearing the manufacturer's name with long vertical stems of leaves, the sliding music-rest scalloped and trimmed with a long curvilinear border with three flower clusters along the top and a large bouquet of flowers in the mid-section, the three detachable Empire-style legs profusely decorated in marquetry, the hinged lid and top profusely marquetried with images of leaves and musical instruments, and a scrolled sheet with music notation.
This very fine rosewood-cased piano was ordered from Steinway & Sons’ New York factory by Alexander Dunsmuir on November 16,1898. According to the Hopper vs. Dunsmuir Will Case transcript, Alexander and his spouse, Mrs. Josephine Wallace were visiting New York that November to visit the daughter of Mrs. Wallace, Edna Wallace Hopper, a successful Broadway actor.  The Hopper vs. Dunsmuir Will Case transcript describes other significant purchases made by Alexander Dunsmuir during this New York City visit, including: handkerchiefs costing from $50 to $75 each; a broach, pearls and diamonds, and other items at Tiffany’s, including a collarette for $4,000. That collarette was chosen after Edna Wallace Hopper refused to accept Alex’s offer to buy her a different one costing $22,000.

Alexander probably intended for this piano to be used in the palatial residence he was building for Josephine in Oakland, CA. He liked to play the piano there using a machine called an Angelus. It was a device that was pushed up to the keyboard of a regular piano and operated by pumping two food pedals.

Alexander Dunsmuir died on January 31, 1900 while on his honeymoon with Josephine (now Dunsmuir), and before taking delivery. By the time Steinway was ready to ship the piano, Josephine was gravely ill with cancer, and apparently unwilling or unable to accept delivery of the piano. Another possible impediment to her accepting delivery was financial in nature. Although Josephine had title to the Oakland mansion, she did not receive a lump sum of cash under the terms of her late husband’s Will. Instead, Alex trusted his brother James to pay her a sum of $1,000 per month should he die. After Alex’s death James decided to pay her $2,000 monthly, but while Josephine’s health deteriorated, lawyers for Josephine and James engaged in protracted negotiations over her desire for better terms.

James was named by Alexander as his principle beneficiary, and for reasons unknown, he received, and presumably, paid for the piano. His wife Laura, and particularly his daughters Sarah Byrd Dunsmuir (also known as Byrdie) and Emily Elinor Dunsmuir (also known as Elinor or Elk) were accomplished pianists. The April 28, 1901, The Daily Colonist newspaper reported, that a “Miss Dunsmuir” was especially pleased with the tone of the instrument, and she had chosen it from “the immense stock at Steinway Hall, chiefly for its exquisite tone and wonderful acoustic qualities…”. Steinway’s order register suggests that the piano was selected in advance by Alex Dunsmuir when he placed the order for it in 1898.  

The instrument is a Steinway "B" grand piano, a common size sold by Steinway. The elaborate marquetry distinguishes it as an “art case” according to Steinway & Sons. In 1989, Steinway descendant and piano historian Henry Z. Steinway wrote to The Castle Society expressed the opinion that the quality of the work on this instrument surpassed what their shop was capable of in 1898. He believed the art case was executed by a specialist firm.

Steinway founder Heinrich Engelhard Steinway Sr. 1797-1871 moved to New York City from Germany in 1850. He changed his name to Henry Steinway, and with his five sons went into business in 1853. By 1863 they were running the world's largest piano factory. The main office and factory has always been in New York. In the 19th century top piano makers commissioned designs and adornments from painters and well-known cabinet makers. Demand was so great that Steinway established its own art department at the turn of the 20th century complete with carvers, artists and gilders. The designer of the marquetry of the Dunsmuir Steinway has not yet been identified. The Dunsmuir piano would be considered a “parlour grand” piano because of its 6’10” length.

Crucial in the Society's decision to acquire this piano was the insight and leadership the late Joan Dale, a founding member of the Society's Furnishings Committee and member of the Society’s Board of Directors.
History of Use
On November 16, 1898, the order for this piano was entered into the Steinway purchase register. In a 1989 letter to The Castle Society, Henry Z. Steinway expressed the opinion that the quality of marquetry on this piano exceeded the ability of Steinway’s shop. He asserted that Steinway probably had the case decorated by a firm outside of the Steinway factory.

In 1901 Steinway shipped the piano via Nordheimer Piano and Music Company in Toronto, Ontario, to James Dunsmuir's home, ' Burleith', in Victoria. On April 28, 1901, The Daily Colonist newspaper reported, “The most beautiful and costly piano ever imported to British Columbia has just been received in this city.”

The piano stayed at Burleith at least until 1906, when it was probably moved to Victoria’s Government House for Hon. James Dunsmuir’s term as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. (1906-1909). It is possible, but unlikely, that the piano stayed at Burleith during Dunsmuir’s term since it was no doubt the finest piano in the province and not an instrument that the many musical Dunsmuir women would want to be without.

Hon. James Dunsmuir resigned the Vice-Regal post in 1909, and in 1910, moved with his family and this piano, to his Colwood estate, Hatley Park. The piano is visible in historic photographs of the drawing room at Hatley Park.

In 1939, two years after the death of Mrs. Laura Dunsmuir, the piano was sold at the Hatley Park auction to a Victoria resident for $500.00. He later sold it to Muriel Dunsmuir, the daughter of James and Laura Dunsmuir, in 1953.

In about 1955, it was sold to Vancouver resident William Armson. In 1983, Mr. Armson donated the piano to the Victoria Conservatory of Music while they were situated in the annex to St. Ann’s Academy on Victoria’s Academy Close. On June 13, 1984 The Castle Society's Board of Directors authorized the purchase of the piano for Craigdarroch.1   Castle Society President Dorothy Laundy advised Society members of the purchase of the piano from the Conservatory in her March 4, 1985 written Report. The Society's Furnishings Committee reported to the Board of Directors on its fundraising efforts on March 19, 1985. A Piano Committee was formed, and at the May 14, 1985 Board meeting Directors were informed of an initiative to hold a fashion show at the Empress Hotel in order to raise money to recoup the cost of the piano.2 

The piano has been on display in Craigdarroch’s drawing room ever since it was acquired, except for a brief period in early 1994 when it was stored at Glendale Hospital in Saanich, BC while the Castle underwent life-safety upgrading.

1. Minutes of the joint meeting of The Castle Society's Board of Directors and Executive Committee, June 13, 1984. At their regular meeting held January 9, 1985, the Board considered whether to create a plaque listing those donors who contributed $100 or more toward its purchase.  There is no record of the decision taken, and such a plaque was ever produced.  

2.  Minutes of the The Castle Society's Board of Directors meeting at Craigdarroch, May 14, 1985. 
101.6 x 147.7 x 213 cm
Wood; Ivory; Metal, iron; Brass
Steinway & Sons
Serial Number
91,995; 19/9/98-2270
inlaid into rosewood above the keyboard: 
Steinway and Sons
Patent Grand
New York  
London Hamburg
Country of Origin
United States of America

Related people/businesses/organizations
Steinway & Sons (manufacturer)
James Dunsmuir (owner)
Jessie Muriel "Muriel" "Moulie" Dunsmuir (owner)
Related Associations
Hadleigh (was used in)
Hatley Park (was used in)
Related Objects

book, music, 2008.004.001 (is related to)

book, music, 983.138 (is related to)

catalog, auction, 984.064.002 (is related to)