R. Corney & Co (明新): Glass Merchant and Mirror Manufacturer
York Lo: Corney & Co – Glass Merchant and Mirror Manufacturer
Established in 1902 (although not formally incorporated til 1921), R. Corney & Co Ltd (明新有限公司) was a leading glass merchant and mirror manufacturer in Hong Kong which produced glassware, mirrors, light fixtures and other glass-related products. Despite its long history, limited information is available about the firm. A R.Corney ad from the Rosenstock’s Directory of China and Manila in 1909 includes the following descriptions – “the premier beveling and silvering work in the East”, “plate and sheet glass importers with the largest stock in the East”, “Advertising Mirrors a Specialty – Any size or shape required”, “Gilding and signwriting -Old Mirrors Resilvered” and “Export orders receive careful attention”. Its location was listed as “Causeway Bay, near the Polo Grounds”.
In the 1955 ad from the HK Building Contractors Yearbook, shown right, the company claims to be the first glass manufacturer in the Far East which polished glass edges using machines. Its sales office was listed as 127 Des Voeux Road Central while its factory was located at 96 Tung Lo Wan Road in Causeway Bay.
The eponymous founder of R. Corney was Robert Corney (1853-1938), who started his career as a plate glass silverer in Durham, England. In around 1900, he migrated to Melbourne, Australia and became a glass merchant in Carlton. Reports on the discussions at the Tariff Commission in Australia in 1906 suggested that Corney started R. Corney in HK to take advantage of the cheaper labor costs and R. Corney imported glass into HK and then silvered and beveled them and shipped the end products to other markets including Australia. (The author would like to thank Corney’s great grand-nephew Sean Taggart from New Zealand for sharing his research on Corney and the origins of the firm)
R.Corney founder Robert Corney and his wife Isabel Taggart in HK. (Courtesy of Sean Taggart)
Three Chinese merchants with the surname Lau, Sin and Lam were also involved in the founding of R.Corney in partnership with Corney, the most prominent of which being Lam Woo (林護,1871-1933), the contractor, philanthropist and backer of Sun Yat-sen while more info is required about Mr. Lau (we know he was a native of Zhongshan) and Mr. Sin, both presumably Chinese Christians who lived in Australia before settling in Hong Kong like Lam.
Left: Sinn Pui-kwan (PK Hoe). Source: A Century of Commerce, 1941; Center: Lam Woo; Right: Paul Lau (Lions Club)
By the mid-1930s, R. Corney had 70 workers and $40000 worth of equipment at its Causeway Bay factory making a wide variety of glass products including glass lamps which sold for $30 with comparable quality to imported ones that sold for $130. Buildings in HK such as the HK Hotel and Gloucester Building in Central and theaters such as King’s, Queen’s, Alhambra and Oriental all bought their lamps. (HK Chinese Factories Survey, 1934)By the 1940s, R. Corney was managed by Sinn Pui-kwan Hoe (aka P.K. Hoe, 冼培坤, 1892-1960), a member of the Sin family and native of Ko Yiu district in Guangdong province. According to his obituary, P.K. Hoe arrived in HK at the age of 14 to study at the Kadoorie School. He later joined his uncle in Sydney, Australia before returning to HK in 1917 and joining R. Corney. He was a director of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and Tai Hang Kaifong Welfare Association and the vice chairman of the Confucian Society. In 1950, he and his wife decided to relocate to Sydney where he eventually died a decade later. He was succeeded at R. Corney by its deputy managing director, William Iu-Shue Lau (劉耀樞, 1902-62), a graduate of Lingnan University and University of California and likely the eldest son of one of the firm’s co-founders. William Lau was married to Sue Lam (林遂恩, 1902-80), a daughter of the firm’s other co-founder Lam Woo.
In 1951, a dispute arose between the three families when two members of the Lau family who were members of the board – LC Lau and Paul Lau (brothers of William Lau) filed a petition to have the company wound up as they alleged that 4 directors and 2 shareholders withdrew $400,000 from the company without lawful authority. The petition was granted but ultimately the firm was not wounded up. By 1955, Paul Lau was elected chairman of the firm while L.C. Lau served as its managing director.
Left: Article about the winding up petition of Corney & Co (China Mail 1951-1-12)
Paul Lau (1914-1998), whose full Chinese name was Lau Iu-pong (劉耀邦) went by the name Lau Pong (劉邦), which was the same Chinese name as Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty. After graduating from Lingnan University in Canton with a degree in chemistry, Paul ventured to Shanghai where he established the exclusive bottler of Green Spot soft drinks for Northern and Eastern China with his friends. When Shanghai fell to the Japanese, Paul returned to HK to join the family business. In addition to Corney, he was also involved with National Lacquer & Paint, the maker of Camel Paint and served as its deputy managing director.
L.C. Lau (劉龍鏘, 1906-1973) was an art lover, so much so that he even established an oil painting department for R. Corney to import oil paintings from Europe and promote local painters. His wife W.Y. Fok (霍媛瑤,1926-2016)who was also a director of Corney, is the daughter of Fok Chi-tang (霍芝庭), who once held the gambling monopoly in the Guangdong province before acquiring the majority control of the Bank of Canton in Hong Kong.
Left: CMA and Amoy Canning chairman Wong Toke-sau (center) opening an oil painting show at the City Hall for R. Corney & Co in 1962. The person to his right was likely L.C. Lau (Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1962-9-4); Right: Paul Lau (right) and Alfonso J. Ben (left) from the board picture of Camel Paint in 1964
At its 60th anniversary in 1962, R. Corney under the leadership of the Lau brothers decided to re-develop its factory site at 90-96 Tung Lo Wan Road in Causeway Bay neighboring Victoria Park into a 14-story residential building. The factory was relocated to 72-78 Pan Hoi Street in Quarry Bay.
1962 ad promoting the sale of Ming Sun Building. (Source: Kung Sheung Daily News 1962-2-20)
In 1973, L.C. Lau died and was survived by 2 sons (Daniel 劉定宇 and Jerome 劉定成) and 2 daughters (Kin-yue Lau Fu 傅劉健瑜 is co-founder of Chinese International School, Christina Lau Chan is founder of St Catherine’s International Kindergarten) and Paul Lau, who was district governor of the Lions Club in HK and Macau in 1967-68 died in 1998 with no children.
Today, the company is still in existence but is primarily a property holding company.
- Wah Kiu Yat Po 1960-8-2
- 香港工商日報, 1951-12-07
- HK Canton Macao Directory 1949
- http://news.singtao.ca/toronto/2012-06 17/hongkong1339915067d3926672.html
This article was first posted on 30th June 2017.
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