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Own A Piano From “Casablanca”

December 14, 2012

Where would we place it?13cityroom-piano-190-articleInline

No one would mistake you for Ingrid Bergman, though you and she shared a moment. And what a moment it was. It made you one of the most famous pianos in movie history. You must remember that: The flashback scene in Paris, the one that turned“Casablanca” from simply a war story into one of the most enduring cinematic love stories ever told.

Now you are to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s by an auctioneer who has sold other famous movie props — the “Rosebud” sled from “Citizen Kane,” for example. Sotheby’s expects you to sell from $800,000 to $1.2 million in the auction on Friday. That is between 34 to 48 times what Bergman was paid for sharing top billing with Humphrey Bogart.

You are not really in tune, but not badly out of tune, either, and that is with no help from a piano technician. Sotheby’s said the piano had not been worked on since it was delivered for display several weeks ago.

Considering that “Casablanca” was shot in black and white, a spoiler alert is probably in order here. Readers who want to keep imagining the movie in black and white should skip to the next paragraph. In real life, the piano is green and tan. Sotheby’s said it still had several coats of paint, apparently left over from appearances in other movies, when it was bought by a Los Angeles collector in the 1980s. He scraped off the layers, revealing colors that “Casablanca” audiences could only guess at.

The piano is weathered, and a bit sluggish. It cannot handle the thrill of a trill, as Michael Feinstein — the well-known pianist and singer, who, with Ian Jackman, is the author of “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in 12 Songs” — discovered when he tried it at Sotheby’s on Monday. “It’s not gratifying to play,” he said, “but that’s not actually what it’s about.”

No. As he said after playing “Someone to Watch Over Me,” this piano was a prop. Bogart, who stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, must have liked this piano because it, too, is rather short. He would not have towered over a conventional upright the way he towered this one.

It is also slimmer than most pianos. It has only 58 keys, 30 fewer than a conventional modern instrument. “It’s a cafe piano,” said the auctioneer at Sotheby’s, David N. Redden. “It was designed to be wheeled from table to table. The pianist would move it to the next table. It’s rather like the violinist coming round to each table.”

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