Hupfeld Animatic Rolls

Hupfeld called its Animatic general catalog of piano rolls, published in 1921, „Weltarchiv pianistischer Kunst“, A Global Archive of Pianistic Art. Those contemporary piano rolls, whether the marked-up ones or the historically most interesting recorded ones, certainly develop into of the biggest cultural treasures of piano music when taken together with the many other piano roll repertoires of the other famous manufacturers. This page gives an overview of the different types of piano rolls to understand their different philosophies, designs, operational areas, qualities etc.


Hupfeld repertoire

The piano roll repertoire was of special meaning as being one of the essential distinctions between different suppliers of self-playing (grand) pianos. Hence, all manufacturers tried hard to offer a most attractive repertoire. This concerned the extent of the repertoire as well as its topicality or artistic value. Near the heydays, catalog supplements were released every month that presented the newest titles and thus satisfied the prevailing taste.


Artist rolls

After the introduction of the recorded piano rolls by M. Welte & Sons in 1904 and the publication of the artist's piano rolls by Hupfeld after 1906, other manufacturers also increasingly advertised "artist's piano rolls" which were sometimes recorded by pianists who were absolutely unknown even then. The book "Im Aufnahmesalon Hupfeld" (In Hupfeld's Recording Studio), a total number of approx. 18,000 produced artist's piano rolls is stated - including 4,500 of Welte and 2,500 of Hupfeld.


Hupfeld catalogue 1921

The introduction of Hupfeld's Animatic general catalog of piano rolls from 1921 reads, "The treasure of rolls, of high material value already in view of the invested fees, represents a generation of high value also with regard to culture [...], assigned to convey the play of our best pianists to future generations and thereby to make them immortal. […] A text like this, revealing the largest artist's rolls repertoire of the world and giving an overview of almost the entire piano literature of all advanced cultures, [...]". An active buying and selling of piano rolls for the different systems originated as early.


Piano roll catalogues

Here are some page numbers to give an impression of the extent of the catalogs. The design of the catalogs and the assortment of titles was of course different, so that the number of pages does not permit a systematic conclusion on the number of titles.

Aeolian catalog, 1910, for 65 piano rolls: 482 pages
Hupfeld General catalog, 1913: 693 pages
Hupfeld Animatic catalog, 1921: 440 pages
Ampico catalog, 1925: 350 pages
Welte catalog, 1925: 230 pages


Rachmaninoff playing for Ampico

The suppliers of reproduction piano rolls tried to increase the appeal of their repertoire by exclusive contracts that were signed with the great pianists and composers. This effect was best visible at the American Piano Cooperation: Despite initial difficulties due to the late market entrance, they took Sergei Rachmaninoff exclusively under contract. This raised the interest in this system distinctly and attracted other famous pianists. Ampico's piano roll production reached its peak in 1920, issuing 4,000 rolls per day!


Hoffmann playing for Aeolian

The Aeolian Company New York bound famous artists in the 1920s, among others, by the cooperation with Steinway & Sons and exceptionally high fees motivated artists to state in writing that they made "exclusive" recordings for Duo-Art. Josef Hofmann, for example, is said to have received 1,000 $ per recorded piano roll. At that time this was a minor fortune. It is said that pianists received very attractive fees for recording sessions from Welte, too.


Ampico and Aeolian adopted Hupfeld rolls

When Hupfeld made in 1906 recordings of artists like Edvard Grieg and Alfred Reisenauer who were already in old age when the recording was made and soon passed away, these recordings were adopted by other manufacturers like Aeolian or Ampico against royalties - and, as the example to the right may show, distinctly indicated in catalogs.


QRS roll production

QRS went on to produce new piano rolls, mainly in the 88 note standard format till early 2000 (~600,000 pieces per year in 1980), so that recent titles are available for the pianolas as well. Even now, QRS offers piano rolls from its stock - these rolls can be ordered from their website. A very interesting video on the production of piano rolls at QRS' is found on YouTube.


Prices of piano rolls

The prices of piano rolls are often only dependent on the length of the piano roll paper, not on their artistic value or the production costs. A piano roll of, say, 8 minutes of playing time cost approx. 12 Reichsmarks - twice as much as a shellac record of the same playing time. Artist's piano rolls were quite more expensive. Welte rolls cost in 1905 between 6 and 50 Marks. When inflation spread in 1922, Hupfeld Animatic rolls cost between 450 Marks and 900 Marks.


Used piano rolls

Piano rolls may be found nowadays at the second-hand market. If they were treated and stored well, they will still be playable, even after 100 years. There are also individual suppliers who copy punched piano rolls from ancient originals. These new piano rolls, made of modern paper, unwind very well. The use of recently punched rolls is recommended to protect the sometimes very valuable originals, for example, those of the Welte or Hupfeld reproduction systems.


Infos about piano rolls

On the following pages you will find detailed information on the following subjects.

typology of rolls, titles and artists

Typology of rolls Piano Rolls - Title and Artist Piano rolls for sale