Tunes with teeth: Edison might have left his mark on piano

Oct 31, 2022, 10:14 PM | Updated: Nov 1, 2022, 3:07 pm
Robert Friedman plays a Steinway grand piano once owned by Thomas Edison, with possible bite marks ...

Robert Friedman plays a Steinway grand piano once owned by Thomas Edison, with possible bite marks from the inventor visible, on Sept. 28, 2022, in Woodstock, N.Y. Edison, who was hard of hearing, bit into phonographs and pianos to help him better experience music. Friedman purchased the piano last year and hopes to find a home for it where it can be seen by the public. (AP Photo/Michael Hill)

(AP Photo/Michael Hill)

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. (AP) — Hard of hearing, Thomas Edison found a unique way to appreciate piano music. As someone played, the great inventor would lean in close to the instrument, right above the keys, and he’d bite the piano.

Pressing his teeth into the wood of phonographs and pianos helped Edison experience the vibrations in his skull. Or in his own words, it allowed him to “hear through my teeth.”

Robert Friedman recently showed off marks on a Steinway grand piano once owned by Edison — a cluster of shallow indentations roughing up the black lacquer above the keyboard. Friedman, who buys and sells Steinways, purchased the piano last year and says he was surprised by the toothy signatures left by the inventor of the phonograph. He’s now looking for the right home for the novel historical artifact.

“I believe that it belongs somewhere where many, many, many people can see it,” Friedman said.

Edison bought the Model “B” Ebony from Steinway & Sons in 1890 for $725. Paperwork with the sale includes the handwritten notation “office furniture,” indicating it was sent to his lab in New Jersey. The piano “for some reason unknown to me it gives better results than any so far tried,” Edison wrote the company. “Please send bill with lowest price.”

Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. When he bought the piano 13 years later, he was experimenting with sound recording. Edison owned the instrument for decades, so it’s possible it was used in early recordings.

So did Edison’s teeth make those marks?

There’s no known old black-and-white photo of Edison chomping this piano to prove it. But he was known to bite into phonographs and pianos to help him experience music as his hearing faded. His daughter once recalled a guest weeping at the sight of Edison clamped on to a piano as someone played it.

“I hear through my teeth, and through my skull,” said Edison, as quoted in Edmund Morris’ 2019 biography. “I bite my teeth into the wood and then I get it good and strong.”

The formulation is simple for Friedman: Those are tooth marks, and who else would have bit the piano?

“I’ve probably had my hands on a few thousand Steinways in the last 50 years,” Friedman said. “I’ve never seen that anywhere.”

Friedman bought the piano for about $45,000, sight unseen, in early January 2021 as part of an estate sale on Long Island. Friedman didn’t notice the marks at first.

His friend Charles Frommer, a musician and recording history enthusiast, came to Friedman’s house in New York’s Hudson Valley to tune the piano, noticed the indentations and told him “those are Edison’s bite marks.”

Friedman, who calls himself the Steinway hunter, finds and buys the high-end pianos from people and then sells them, usually to dealers or rebuilders. But this one is more complicated.

Given this piano’s historic association, he doesn’t want it to go back into private hands. He has yet to find an appropriate historic site that would buy the piano, which he is offering for what it cost him to purchase, ship and recondition it.

The Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey, passed up a chance to buy the piano from its previous owner in 2020 for several reasons, including limited space, cost and the fact that some original interior parts were replaced since Edison owned it, museum curator Jerry Fabris said in an email.

Friedman is undeterred and still looking for a home. A documentary also is possible, or having the piano recorded for a virtual instrument sample library. In the meantime, the piano has been featured at fundraisers for the Ulster County Jewish Federation at the home of friends in Woodstock who housed the instrument until recently.

And, yes Edison’s listening technique has been tested on the piano. Not wanting to mark up the instrument any further, Frommer said they tried it with wooden shims placed on the piano.

“We were able to replicate the effect,” Frommer said. “And yeah, you do hear it in your skull.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A protester holding flowers is confronted by a policeman during a protest on a street in Sha...
Associated Press

At Shanghai vigil, bold shout for change preceded crackdown

SHANGHAI (AP) — The mourners in Shanghai lit candles and placed flowers. Someone scrawled “Urumqi, 11.24, Rest in Peace” in red on cardboard — referring to the deadly apartment fire in China’s western city of Urumqi that sparked anger over perceptions the country’s strict COVID-19 measures played a role in the disaster. What started as […]
24 hours ago
FILE - A worker rides a rail car at a BNSF rail crossing in Saginaw, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 20...
Associated Press

Rail workers say deal won’t resolve quality-of-life concerns

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — When BNSF railroad conductor Justin Schaaf needed to take time off from work this summer, he had to make a choice: go to the dentist to get a cavity in his molar filled or attend a party for his son’s 7th birthday. He chose his son. “Ultimately I decided to take […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Web designer Lorie Smith is shown in her office on Nov. 7, 2022, in the southwest part of Li...
Associated Press

Both sides see high stakes in gay rights Supreme Court case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is being warned about the potentially dire consequences of a case next week involving a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for same-sex couples. Rule for the designer and the justices will expose not only same-sex couples but also Black people, immigrants, Jews, Muslims and others […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: December 3, gas disaster in Bhopal

Today in History Today is Saturday, Dec. 3, the 337th day of 2022. There are 28 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Dec. 3, 1984, thousands of people died after a cloud of methyl isocyanate gas escaped from a pesticide plant operated by a Union Carbide subsidiary in Bhopal, India. On […]
24 hours ago
FILE - John Duarte, a Republican candidate in California's 13th Congressional District, arrives at ...
Associated Press

GOP’s Duarte takes California Central Valley US House seat

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republican John Duarte defeated Democrat Adam Gray on Friday in a new California U.S. House district in the Central Valley farm belt that produced the closest congressional contest in the state this year. With virtually all of the ballots counted, Duarte has just over 50% of the vote. Gray conceded in […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

Family seeks answers after police kill man on his own porch

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The family of an Austin, Texas, man is seeking answers after he was fatally shot by police last month on his front porch following a late-night emergency call by a neighbor. Video and audio released Thursday show Austin police officers arrived Nov. 15, yelled “drop your gun,” then fired at Rajan […]
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Tunes with teeth: Edison might have left his mark on piano