Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow

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Not to be confused with the German composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner, this souvenir is from Wagner Piano – a local company set up by A C Hoe and his wife. Now, the mystery: if you look at the picture closely, you’ll notice the words “established since 1920″. But according to the Wagner Piano story, this company was set up in 1951. The same story also mentions that A C Hoe’s father – F L Hoe – left Ningbo (China) for Singapore in 1920. 

Perhaps some of our history buffs could give a clue or two to help us out here….

  1. Nancy says:

    Way back in 1920 my great grandpa Hoe Fook Ling (F.L.Hoe) who already started a piano business company in Singapore and a branch in Malaysia. In 1951, it was my grandpa Hoe Ah Choy who set up “Wagner Piano Company”. Therefore our history in this line of piano business was established in 1920.

    • Ipoh Remembered says:

      Dear Nancy, it’s a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks for writing, especially about the subject of your family passion — and enterprise.

      Do you know where the original family shops in Singapore were? That part of the city has been completely transformed. I’m sorry to say I think even the original address does not exist any more.

      If I’m not mistaken, Nang Fong on Brewster Road is (or was) run by one of your Ipoh uncles. And do you have another uncle named Willie in Singapore?

  2. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Dear felicia … The story of piano-making in Malaya involves only a few families but, with more than its share of rivalry, betrayal, estrangement, vengeance, hubris, and marrying the boss’s daughter, it leaves your typical Greek tragedy in the shade.

    In this connection, you may recall my suggesting some months ago an interview of the good people at Nang Fong in Ipoh. The firm will celebrate its 75th anniversary in a couple of years. If you get a chance to talk to them, they may tell you much more than I can — although they’d likely withhold some painful details — but I know you are pressed for time so for now perhaps what follows will suffice.

    this souvenir is from Wagner Piano – a local company set up by A C Hoe and his wife. Now, the mystery: if you look at the picture closely, you’ll notice the words “established since 1920″. But according to the Wagner Piano story, this company was set up in 1951. The same story also mentions that A C Hoe’s father – F L Hoe – left Ningbo (China) for Singapore in 1920.

    Yes, these stories are often filled with ambiguities and contradictions. Sometimes it’s because people’s memories differ; sometimes all acting in good faith they nevertheless use different definitions; sometimes they take poetic license; and sometimes, well, they contrive to be “economical with the truth.”

    In this particular case, those two statements re 1920 and 1951 (in bold) do not contradict each other, so when the writer says “established since 1920,” it is just one way of looking at the company’s history.

    Consider for a moment a different example: just the other day, discussing John Fraser’s “Nest” on Maxwell Hill, I mentioned that he and David Neave originally founded the Singapore and Straits Aerated Water Company in 1883. It was not until 1898 that they floated it as Fraser & Neave, Limited. The two companies were legally distinct and financially rather different; and yet some histories of “F & N” don’t even mention the 1898 event; or, if they do mention it, assert that it was merely a change of name.

    The case of Wagner Piano is no less complicated. As you know, it involves at first a father and a son. It also involves a series of companies.

    The year 1920 is said to be when the father, Hoe Fook Ling, arrived from China.

    Ningbo, not far from Shanghai, was famous for the skill of its carpenters and furniture-makers. From there to Singapore in the early 1900s came several enterprising individuals, particularly from the Chiu, Wong, and Hoe families.

    Initially Fook Ling may not even have made pianos; several Malayan piano-makers, all from Ningbo, began as makers of lacquered furniture. But by the mid-1920s, certainly, he had set up a piano dealership (it was located near the original Singapore railway terminus that Ed Spooner had built in 1903). Fook Ling’s health was not good, however, and by the late ’20s he had returned to China. The original firm was replaced at the same location by a successor firm, managed for a time by his relatives.

    His son, Hoe Ah Choy, meanwhile, worked for a piano-maker in Shanghai. In the mid-’30s his employer sent him to work in Malaya. In 1951, in KL, he started his own business, called Wagner Piano.

    Does that help?

    For more information from sources located in Ipoh, you can try calling Nang Fong (est. 1944) at 05-253-1068. You can also try calling the Wagner Music Shop (est. 1972) at 05-545-5803.

  3. felicia says:

    Thank you, Ipoh Remembered. We’re trying to piece all these little bits together….hopefully we can eventually have a good write up to share with the rest of our Readers.
    As for contacting Nang Fong, I did try but the didn’t get through. A friend of mine told me their shop at Brewster Road is closed (drove past yesterday, just to check…and yes, Nang Fong is closed). Perhaps I should try Wagner (thank you got the phone number).

    • Ipoh Remembered says:

      Dear felicia … I’m sorry to hear that Nang Fong is now (permanently?) closed. Thanks much for trying to reach them.

      Yes, do try Wagner in Ipoh when you have a chance.

      Another member of the family runs Weng Lee, also in Ipoh. You can try them at 05-548-1668 – but as it’s Nancy’s branch of the family, perhaps you don’t need to.

      By the way, about “the Wagner Piano story” (as you found it on line): you may have noticed that some details provided therein are incorrect. Let me know if you want elaboration.

  4. felicia says:

    ” By the way, about “the Wagner Piano story” (as you found it on line): you may have noticed that some details provided therein are incorrect. Let me know if you want elaboration. ”

    As always, your elaborations are most welcome, Ipoh Remembered :)

  5. Ipoh Remembered says:

    As requested, a few comments on certain parts of “the Wagner Piano story” (as found on line):

    In Singapore, F L Hoe setup a piano business called Union Piano Co. […] Not long after he successfully built his first piano in his workshop under the brand ‘Kinner’.

    By 1850s, Shanghai already had a piano shop, Moutrie, Robinson & Co. […] His son, Hoe Ah Choy, joined Moutrie, Robinson & Co., operating in Shanghai working as a piano apprentice. In 1936, A C Hoe at the age of 25, was sent to Malaysia (then known as Malaya) working as a tuner and repairer for Moutrie, Robinson & Co. Moutrie, Robinson & Co. closed down in the early 1950s […]

    Union Piano was not the first business that the Hoes set up in Singapore; it was the second. The first was called Kinnear Piano (not “Kinner”); it lasted about two years.

    As for Moutrie, Robinson: it did not exist in the 1850s; nor did it exist in the 1930s when Hoe Ah Choy came to Malaya; nor did it close down in the early 1950s. It was founded in 1890 and lasted only three years.

    ——

    What follows is some background information on Moutrie, on Robinson, and on the interaction between them.

    In 1875, Syd Moutrie, coming from a family of innovative London piano-makers, sailed out to join the staff of a large British department store in Shanghai. He soon struck out on his own, forming S. Moutrie & Co. with a shop on Nanking Road. A few years later, the business having grown, he moved down the street into larger premises.

    It was in 1890 that he acquired an experienced partner, Walter Robinson. Their new firm was called Moutrie, Robinson & Co. — but the partnership lasted only three years. Upon dissolution, the original firm, S. Moutrie & Co., re-appeared solo in Shanghai (as did Robinson’s own firm in Hong Kong).

    In 1895, Moutrie, until then primarily an importer, retailer, repairer, and tuner of pianos, started building them in a factory on Nanking Road. Many of his workers were skilled craftsmen from Ningbo, not far away. In 1899, the company was re-structured and became S. Moutrie & Co., Limited. Success brought more success and soon a new and larger factory was built. In 1905, Moutrie even opened a branch in Hong Kong, where his old partner Walter Robinson’s piano manufacture was based.

    Robinson, meanwhile, had already opened a branch in Malaya in 1895, selling pianos made in London by, among others, Moutrie’s family and Moutrie’s old employer. Moutrie’s business did not reach Malaya until a decade later, via an agent.

    Syd Moutrie died in 1907. In 1909 his firm began growing its own branches in Malaya, beginning in Singapore. The Ipoh branch survived into the late 1960s, at least, but I do not know how many pianos they were selling by that point, nor what became of the firm subsequently.

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