Piano-making in Hong Kong

Submitted by LizB on Thu, 05/28/2020 - 20:32

I was intrigued to find out recently (when going through Public Works Department annual reports from the 1920s) that there were piano factories in Hong Kong. The only two I am aware of at the moment are the Robinson Piano Co. (in Wanchai, see https://gwulo.com/node/12881) and a piano factory in Shaukeiwan Road (I.L. 2845), built ca. 1929 with the factory downstairs and living quarters above (mentioned in the 1929 PWD Annual Report). Does anyone have any more information on piano-making in Hong Kong? Was it difficult to source the wood and to maintain pianos properly in the HK climate? Are there any surviving examples of locally made pianos?



My piano was made in HK in the 1920s by the Tsang Fook piano company, using the trade name Morrison. It was bought by my paternal grandmother Florence Ada Griggs who was a piano teacher giving lessons from her home in Happy Valley during the 1920s and 1930s. It was shipped to Sydney with her when the women and children were evacuated from HK in 1940 and she continued to play it there. I inherited it from my parents and I and my sons still play on it here in London.

It is made out of a hardwood from Singapore, is in good condition and is regularly tuned. It has been admired by the piano tuners I have used over the years and is unusual in that the edges of the keys are rounded. It was made with an electric light bulb in the body of the piano, behind the pedals, which was used so that the heat from the light would dry the piano out in the humid HK climate. 

My grandmother became friendly with Tsang Fook in the 1930s and would purchase sheet music for him during my grandparents' leave in Britain. I understood Tsang Fook learned how to make pianos in Germany in the early part of the 20th century. My father was apprenticed to Tsang Fook when he left Central British School in the early 1930s, I understand after pressure from his mother, but he disliked it so much and yearned for an adventurous outside life, so he left and joined the HK police!

Hi Sue,

Thanks so much for this fascinating story of your well-travelled piano. I'm impressed that your family managed to get it sent to Australia with them when they were evacuated. The rounded keys and electric bulb inside the piano are very interesting features - now I know how the humidity was dealt with! (I suppose there weren't the same fire regulations back then.) I enjoyed reading about your long family connections with Tsang Fook and a bit of his history too.  Is there any possibility you might post a photo of the piano here on Gwulo, please? It would be great to see it. 

Cheers, Liz

Dear David,

Thank you for sending the link concerning my grandfather George Griggs. I had not been aware that he could play the organ so it was very interesting to learn that. George and Ada were active participants in the pre war musical life in HK and performed in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. George was a member of the choir at St John's  Cathedral and I have  a photo of him from the 1930s, in his surplice, alongside the rest of the choir.

George, my maternal grandfather Walter Smith (who both worked for the PWD) and my father Ronald, were all interned in Stanley during the Japanese occupation and all survived. I have the brief messages sent by them during their incarceration, courtesy of the Red Cross, to their evacuated womenfolk in Sydney, and other letters sent in the immediate aftermath of their release.

I will be responding with photos of my Tsang Fook  tropicalised piano to LizB in the near future.

Regards, Sue 

Edmund Wong, who runs Tsang Fook these days, and as far as I know a descendant of the Tsang Fook family, is still around if anyone wants to ask him about Tsang Fook history? He must be around 70 these days?