Beginning in the 1800s, the piano stood as a symbol of all that was good in the American home. Many viewed the piano as only being less important to domestic life than the kitchen stove. Every young girl, who would one day become a lady, learned how to play the piano like she learned to read, write, and embroider. This instrument was the first luxury item to enter the mass market, being produced in large factories and shipped out to stores and buyers. In 1867 alone 25,000 pianos sold in the United States. Seventy percent of school age children were being taught how to read music. An estimated half a million children were taking piano lessons.
The Decker Brothers Piano Company operated a factory based out of New York City. The company opened in 1862 and quickly became known as a high quality piano company. They held numerous patents for improvements on their pianos. One of the improvements they became known for allowed the piano to stay in tune longer, and created a generally more durable instrument. Today, these pianos are good candidates for restoration because of the innovative techniques and high quality construction the company used.
During the hay day of the company their instruments were said to be of a quality with famous piano companies like Steinway. Some of the best concert pianos today are built by Steinway & Sons. David Decker, one of the founders, ran the company until 1885 when he retired. The company continued under his brother, John Jacob Decker, until his death in 1896. The company shuttered within a few years of his death. Some piano enthusiasts believe that Decker Brothers could have become one of the premier piano manufacturers of the 20th century if the company had remained in business. Imagine what that would mean for the piano world. There would be another big name out there to compete with top brands like Steinway and Yamaha. Decker Brothers, a little known and long closed company, may have become a household name under different circumstances.
John D. Loucks, one of Sheridan’s founding fathers, purchased a Decker Brothers piano for his family. The piano has ivory keys, and beautiful dark stained wood. They were probably living in Iowa at the time, but the piano moved with them as they moved west to Wyoming. Annie May Loucks Garbutt inherited the Decker Brothers upright piano from her parents. Annie was born in 1871. She attended boarding school in Iowa, and learned how to play piano like many young women in her day. She married C.W. Garbutt, who owned a grocery in Sheridan. The couple had four sons and a daughter. The family lived near downtown Sheridan, at the intersection of Brooks and Brundage streets. She lived here for the rest of her life. Her son, Phillip, inherited the piano from his mother. The piano remained in the Garbutt family until it came to the Sheridan County Historical Society in the late 1980s.
As of March 2021 the Loucks family piano is on display in the Early Sheridan gallery of the Museum at the Bighorns. Our goal is to someday have the piano conserved, so the well built instrument can last even more generations into the future. Come visit the Museum at the Bighorns to learn more about the Loucks family, and see their Decker Brothers piano.