Golden Musical Instruments: A Brief History of the White House’s Two Gold Pianos

Over the years, the White House has been home to two famous pianos decorated richly with gold. Way back in 1903, the Steinway & Sons piano company donated a grand piano that was completely covered in gold leaf, and it was spectacular. Today, you can see that instrument on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it was moved after Steinway donated a second gilt-adorned piano to the White House in 1938. That second piano, which was reportedly a favorite of piano-playing Harry Truman and his daughter, is still in the presidential residence today. It is more modestly decorated with gold leaf than the 1903 instrument was, but still beautiful. Note that there are other grand pianos in the White House, but they are your regular old shiny black instruments.

The White House Steinway grand piano, Gift of Steinway & Co. 1938. Image via WhiteHouseHistory(dot)org.

The White House Steinway grand piano, Gift of Steinway & Co. 1938. Image via WhiteHouseHistory(dot)org.

How Likely Are You to Find a Golden Piano?

The odds are practically nonexistent. Even if you do, the total amount of gold in any gold leaf decorations will be so small that it will not be worth recycling, even if you call a highly qualified precious metals recycler like Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners.

Where You Will find Gold in Musical Instruments

Although it won’t pay you to look for a rare gilt piano, you can still find sources of recyclable gold in some musical instruments and their accessories. Here are some to be on the lookout for...

  • Gold-plated and solid gold flutes – There are solid gold flutes in the world. One is played by the famous virtuoso James Galway. The odds of finding gold-plated flutes are better. Although they are rare, they do exist. In fact, some instrument makers, including Mirumatsu, are still making them. What about saxophones, which usually have a golden color? Although they look valuable, their gold tone is achieved by applying yellow lacquer over an instrument that is made of silver or silver alloys.
  • Gold decorations on violins, violas, cellos, double basses and bows – Although gold-toned decorations may look small, they are the best source of gold to be found from any music-related source. Some old violins have gold decorative inlays, and old bows can be decorated with small rings made of gold-plated silver or even karat gold. So when you’re visiting antique stores or estate sales, be sure to open any old instrument cases and let your eyes look for the “shiny stuff” that could be gold.
  • Gold circuit boards on keyboards and electronic instruments – Although they are much less glamorous than the White House gilt pianos, they contain gold in their circuit boards. Plus, they are common. Some school systems and colleges even toss them in dumpsters without stopping to think that each of them contains a small amount of gold.
  • Gold decorations on other musical items – You should also be on the lookout for small gold decorations on conductors’ batons, metronomes, and even antique tuning forks.

Will the White House Itself Be Decorated with Gold if Donald Trump Becomes President?

Mr. Trump is famous for adorning his hotels, casinos and apartment houses with gold-colored signs and decorations. But truth be told, those decorations are mostly aluminum that has been anodized to appear like gold... and of very little metallic value.

But the message is, be on the lookout for gold wherever musical items are found. If you find something golden that glitters, call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344 and tell us. Mention today’s blog post and ask whether your items qualify for free shipping to our labs for testing.

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Can You Recycle Precious Metals from Musical Instruments