How to Assess the Value of Piano Player Rolls

Discover the value of player piano rolls in today's age.

Player pianos, and player piano rolls, are nothing new.  They are downright vintage, dating back to the late 1800s.  And more recently, they’ve been seen in the modern pop cultural realm of HBO shows like “Westworld.”  But, what is the value of piano player rolls today?  And how is their worth determined?  Well, let’s explore these questions and try to get some insightful answers!

The Value of Player Piano Rolls

The value of player piano rolls ranges from $10 to $50 on average. However, some vintage player piano rolls that are rare or highly coveted by collectors can sell for hundreds of dollars, with some exceeding $500.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of piano player rolls currently on the market in order to better gauge their worth. You can also read more about player piano value here, as well.

Examples of Piano Player Roll Value

1) We will start with a series of listings of a few QRS Recordo rolls being sold at Abebooks. The prices range from $37.50 for a roll of “Melody in F” by Rubenstein (played by Earl Billings) to “O Strassburg, O Strassburg” being sold for $750

Why the sharp contrast in value? Well, these are vintage collectibles at this point.  As such, anything related to the condition of the collectible can affect its value—especially cosmetic damage.  That also includes the box that encases the roll too.

Don’t forget to look out for the cap in the roll if there are pictures provided by the seller. The cap protects the roll from getting hard because exposed elements will destroy the flexibility of these rolls, making them completely unusable.

The QRS company still exists and makes a few rolls, but they seem to be just novelties. Prices range from $10 to $45.

2) AmpicoRolls is also wise looking into when it comes to assessing piano player rolls’ worth.  The proprietor of AmpicoRolls is a huge collector and loves using the rolls on his Knabe Grand Piano.  With that said, aging and the need to downsize has forced the sale of some of his prized rolls in his collection.   The prices tend to range between $6 to $8 per roll, with a variety of ragtime and classical music. With that said, the seller acknowledges that the rolls are is playable but not pristine condition.

3) The Reeder Pianos company is another site that sells a smorgasbord of piano rolls. Once again, the price ranges factor in rarity, brand, and condition. From what I’m seeing, the average price seems to sit comfortably around $10.  

Some of the notable names and brands you’ll see up for sale here are Ampico, QRS, Klavier, Melodee, and Columbia.  Reeder pianos acknowledges that although the rolls they sell are in used or vintage condition (and some may even be reissued or copied piano rolls), that they’re going to range from simply “playable” condition to rolls in downright great shape. 

Unfortunately, these listings only have one small photo of the roll in question with a brief explanation of the condition and rarity.

If you have some curiosity of how player piano rolls are made, check out the video below:

Piano Roll Brands

Brand names like Aeolian, Ampico and QRS are the most recognizable names when you’re looking to find value in a piano player roll. Not only were they the most common that I saw in my journey, but they also have more price variation depending on condition and rarity.

That is not to say obscure brand companies that made piano player rolls are not valuable, because they could be if the condition is up to snuff and can be properly played in a player piano without any issues.

Below, check out a tour from the 1980s showing how QRS manufactured their player piano rolls:

Types of Piano Player Rolls

Another interesting aspect to consider when buying a few piano player rolls is that the earliest rolls were “arranged” or metronomical. These rolls were kept in a constant tempo because these pianos were used to dance. Anyone who has seen a player piano in a saloon can conjure up images of dancing.

The rolls that you may see the most common in listings on the web are hand-played rolls. These rolls, as the name implies, had a player play the composition while a machine would record the sound. There would be another person punching the holes into the paper, or perforations, to be accurate.

The reason why I noted that most rolls you may see on the internet will be the hand-played is because the box may usually indicate if it was played by a musician.  So try and use that as a key reference point when not only trying to identify the value or a piano roll, but how that roll can (or was) best used.

The final example of piano player rolls that you may see is the “reproducing roll.” These rolls were created by the Aeolian Company around 1914 with the name “Duo-Art”. These rolls are unique because like a regular roll, it can be played by itself, but it tends to be marketed as a “reinterpretation” of a musician’s original composition. 

How to Identify the Value of Piano Rolls?

Just like a piano, to find out the value of a piano player roll, research is the key to getting the right price. I recommend talking with sellers like AmpicoRolls and Reeder Pianos because they are reputable and know what factors matter most as it pertains to the value of a roll.

If you’re looking at a listing now, always read the description from a reputable source because they will detail the problems with the roll. Say for instance that the roll has a rip or tear on the pages, or its cap is missing—these are factors that will affect the roll’s value.

Just remember that if the box says that the roll was “Played by Hoagy Carmichael” (or any other artist), then that marks the roll as a “hand-played roll.” However, if the roll was made by the Aeolian Company with the “Duo-Art” label (for example), then that roll is a “reproducing roll.”

If you’re planning on buying a player piano, you might be asking if certain player rolls fit in certain player pianos—or are they all universal?  The answer is “it depends,” so it’s a bit complicated.  Generally, you should be able to mix and match and have fun, but if you were to buy an Ampico roll (for example), then it would only work inside of an Ampico reproducing piano.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply