The Steinway name is well known to most Americans. This distinguished American family is famed for their manufacture of quality pianos, and in the musical world, the name “Steinway” is synonymous with excellence. The Steinway pianos were crafted by hand; quality was always the primary concern. Few American manufacturers any longer place such an emphasis on quality as the Steinways did with their pianos.
Theodore E. Steinway was born in 1883. He joined the Collectors Club of New York in 1912. In 1922, he provided the funds for the Collectors Club to purchase the extensive philatelic library assembled by Chief Justice Suppantschitsch This was a momentous step for the Collectors Club, and from that time their philatelic library became and has remained one of the most extensive in the world. Fittingly, after his death, the Theodore E. Steinway Memorial Publications Fund was established by the Collectors Club in his memory.
Theodore E. Steinway saw the importance of careful scholarship and philatelic literature for the future of the hobby. He also saw the importance of establishing and maintaining standards of integrity. In 1945, he joined with the other prominent American philatelists and became an original incorporator of The Philatelic Foundation. PF co-founder Alfred F. Lichtenstein, who was the first Chairman of the Foundation’s Expert Committee, was a close personal friend. From 1950-52, succeeding Admiral Frederick R Harris, Steinway became the third Chairman of the PF’s Expert Committee.
During his tenure, the PF’s headquarters was located on the fourth floor of the Collectors Club, one of the places nearest and dearest to his heart. Some older philatelists might still remember the “Theodore E. Steinway Nights” there, an annual event that insured a “standing room only” crowd. Steinway had a flair for theatrics and was an accomplished amateur actor. These skills were put to good use when he spoke on any topic relating to philately.
Mr. Steinway in one of his favorite spots, the library on the second floor of the Collectors Club
As Chairman of the Expert Committee, Mr. Steinway demanded attention to detail and perfection. Just as his family’s pianos had become the most respected in the world, he insisted on the highest level of professionalism and quality for The Philatelic Foundation. He was a “take charge” Chairman, and inspired others to work with the same dedication that he exemplified in his own life. He continued to bolster the standards of excellence that have remained the cornerstone of the PF, was a genuine ambassador of goodwill for the PF and for philately.
No matter how busy he was, he was always willing to give of his time to help others. He participated as a judge and an executive in numerous international philatelic exhibitions. He and Alfred F. Lichtenstein were the galvanizing forces behind the 1947 Centenary International Philatelic Exhibition (CIPEX). Following Mr. Lichtenstein’s untimely death in 1947, Theodore E. Steinway served as Chairman of the jury at CIPEX.
As for his collecting habits, Linn’s World Stamp Almanac describes him as the “Renaissance Man” of American philately because of the scope of his collecting interests. Henry M. Goodkind called him “the true old-time collector, always enjoying to assemble as many stamps as possible.” His most famous collection was his specialized study of the “Sydney Views” of New South Wales. Of German descent, he also prided himself on his major collections of Hamburg and old German States. Mr. Steinway also built a significant collection of stamps with “socked-on-the-nose” cancellations. He did not seek to follow the herd, but sought his own directions in his philatelic pursuits.
Interestingly, some of his collections became harbingers of future developments in the hobby. Mr. Steinway was perhaps the first prominent philatelist to embrace topical or “thematic” collecting. Perhaps his most favorite collection was the one that merged his vocation with his avocation, a large and important collection of stamps and covers relating to his family business — music on stamps.
In all reports and reminiscences of Mr. Steinway, several things stand out. He reached a level of competence, if not excellence, in all traditional and scholarly aspects of philately. He blazed paths that future generations of philatelists would follow. But, Mr. Steinway’s most unique and extraordinary qualities were those of his personality. Theodore E. Steinway was a kind, caring and generous human being. He did not enter and rise in the world of philately in order to gratify personal ambition or to show off his own superiority or to seek financial gain.
He exemplified the spirit that has made philately the greatest hobby in history. He saw philately as a means of sharing experiences with his fellow man and enriching the quality of life. For all his tireless devotion to the hobby and its betterment, he never lost perspective. He was a devoted family man, and took great joy in his familial roles as husband, father and later grandfather. The well-being of his family and the education of his six children took priority over new acquisitions for his stamp collections.
Also, in a hobby too often dominated by elitism and cliques, Steinway went out of his way to embrace the newcomer. He always found time to be helpful and encouraging to younger philatelists. He saw that the great philatelists of tomorrow are the beginning collectors of today. On April 8, 1957, philately mourned the passing of Theodore E. Steinway at the age of 73. After his death, most people learned of the true level of his self-sacrifice and generosity for the first time. On numerous occasions he had helped collectors who were having financial difficulties; he had quietly made the financial arrangements for promising philatelists to attend important international exhibitions and gain international judging experience when they were not otherwise financially able.
His son, John H. Steinway, carried on the Steinway philatelic tradition, and he too served on the Board of Trustees of The Philatelic Foundation. John H. Steinway passed away on August 29, 1989 at the age of 72.