As the oldest known stringed instruments, a harp from Egypt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art dates back to about 1300 B.C. When establishing the value of an antique harp, a number of factors figure into its worth. The harp might be only 50 years old or it could be 250 years old -- its condition affects its value. When you have an antique harp restored to a playable condition, its price naturally goes up. The type of harp also affects how much it is worth, as some were made for students, while others are built for professional musicians. Anyone interested in purchasing an antique harp should be prepared to spend a considerable amount of money, as these harps can range from a few thousand to $20,000 or more.
Lever Harps and Lap Harps
Also called a Celtic harp, lever harps use a fingertip-manipulated device that changes the string's pitch. The two types of lever harps are the classic lever harp and the Celtic lever harp. Lever harps are much less expensive than pedal harps, as these are the harps with which beginners use to learn. The lap harp is a smaller version of a lever harp; it is portable and held in the lap while being played. Lap harps typically have 22 to 26 strings. Lever harps have a lower value when compared to harps used by professionals, such as concert, single- or double-action pedal harps.
Pedal harps and full-size lever harps typically have 34 to 47 strings with pedal harps being the harp you see in a symphony orchestra or concert. Pedal harps have seven pedals that change the pitch of the whole set of strings, making it easy to change keys when necessary. Pedal harps are the most expensive of the three types of harps. Antique harp collectors are particularly attracted to pedals harps with elaborate and ornately carved columns, especially when the harp is associated with a famous harpist or musician. Some of these harp are covered in gold leaf, which adds to their value.
One of the decisive factors that determines the value of an antique harp is the distinction between harps that are simply decorative and ones that are restored to playable condition. Harp collectors cherish antique harps for their aesthetic qualities, and if someone famous played it or owned it, the value goes up. But most restored antique harps are a work of art, even it not in playable condition. The decorative features greatly enhance the harp, and add to the value of the harp even if it is not restored to playable condition. Starting bids for a 1915 Lyon and Healy harp for example, can begin at $4,000 to $6,000 at auctions.
An antique harp that is restored costs considerably more than a harp that is not functional. This is because the restoration work involved to restore the harp is labor- and time-intensive. Harp restoration requires experienced craftsmanship. In 2013, Clive Morley listed prices for their collection of antique harps. The harps included a Lyon & Healy 1920 completely restored and re-gilded pedal harp at $18,971. An Erard single-action 1810 pedal harp at $19,730, while the price for a Naderman Hook harp -- built in 1770 or 1780 -- was only revealed to buyers upon request.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.