Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Upright grand piano

c. 1830-1835
Joseph Hisky

Collection of the Springfield Art Association

Springfield lawyer and politician William L. May bought this piano in the early 1830s. Although this time in Illinois history calls to mind primitive log cabins and handmade furniture, many of Springfield’s early citizens, like May, were both prosperous and sophisticated. They kept up with fashions through magazines newspapers, reports from acquaintances in the East, and their own travels, and furnished their homes with elegant objects from the East whenever possible.

The heavy, blocky, architectural nature of this piano is typical of the Late Classical Revival Style, popular from the 1820s to the 1840s in Illinois. Made in Baltimore by Vienna-born instrument maker Joseph Hisky, this piano features mahogany veneer and a hand-colored landscapeengraving. At a time when the average laborer earned $150 per year, Hisky pianos were known to sell for $350, not including freight charges to ship this large, heavy object to Springfield.