Built in Faribault in the 1890s by Searick Nelson and his partner, Fridolin (Fred) Schimmel, a rare piano made its way home to Faribault.
“This priceless piece was donated to the Rice County Historical Society and brought here by the kindness of people who know the importance of history,” said Susan Garwood, Rice County Historical Society executive director. “Some pieces just simply belong in a museum.”
Only made in Faribault, the Verti-Grand piano is one of five remaining. The other four are spread out across the world with one owned by a Faribault local, one in the National Music Museum in South Dakota, one in a museum in Missouri and one in Germany.
Schimmel was born in Austria, but grew up in Germany with his family, learning the art of piano making. In 1892, he came to Faribault and formed a partnership with Nelson. The Schimmel-Nelson piano manufacturing company began producing piano designs patented by Schimmel and made with high-quality materials from Germany.
To decrease the space taken up by a traditional piano, Schimmel created the Verti-Grand piano which is a grand piano stood on its end, making it stand about six feet tall.
Passed from generation to generation, one of the Verti-Grand pianos traveled from a Civil War veteran who bought the piano in Minneapolis all the way to his descendant, Tom Engel. Since then it’s gone to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Texas and, finally, Maryland where Engel now lives.
Earlier this year, Engel decided to move out of his Maryland home and pass the piano on. He tried to get an artifact appraisal of the piano, but it was too unique to price. Eventually, he donated it to the Rice County Historical Society.
While piano movers loaded the priceless piano into the truck, it was Faribault residents — Pat and John Chappuie — who volunteered to bring the piano back home.
“It’s a good feeling to bring it back home to where it was made,” said volunteer Pat Chappuie.
Her husband, John Chappuie, said “it’s a good thing we recovered it; it’s a beautiful piano — very rare.”
Garwood is excited for the public to see the ingenuity and creativity of the past. Though it has not yet been evaluated for possible recital use by skilled pianists, the Verti-Grand piano will be on display at the Rice County Historical Museum during the Rice County Fair. It is also on permanent exhibition.