Tsang Fook Piano (曾福琴行): A Century of Music in Hong Kong

York Lo: Tsang Fook Piano (曾福琴行): A Century of Music in Hong Kong

HF: York suggested that since the 105 year old firm has just announced its closure in March, maybe we could move the planned posting date of this article forward. Happy to oblige.

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Left: Front page ad for Tsang Fook Piano’s 50th anniversary and opening of North Point branch in 1966 with pictures of its main store at Marina House and the new North Point branch (KSDN, 1966-11-17); Right: ad for Tsang Fook Piano in 1939 listing all the products it carried (HK Telegraph,1939-12-16)

Founded in 1916, Tsang Fook Piano is the oldest and one of the largest distributor of music-related products in HK which manufactured its own line of Morrison pianos in its first five decades and acted as sole agent for major electronic brands such as Sony and Nordmende and instrument brands such as Kawai pianos and Gibson and Fender guitars. Aside from leaving its mark on generations of music lovers and students, Tsang Fook also left a mark in the HK cityscape as the area where the Tsang Fook Piano Factory in North Point was located has been known as “Kam Hong Street” (琴行街, or Piano Company Street) since 1937.

First Movement: Tsang Fook under its founder from 1916-1940

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Left: Tsang Fook; Right: the Tsang Fook Piano factory in North Point in the 1930s

A native of Ching-yuan (清遠) in Guangdong province, Tsang Fook was born in 1879 and joined the British-owned Robinson Piano (羅便臣鋼琴) in HKin 1905 where he learned how to tune pianos. Later, he travelled widely in Europe and America to learn about pianos and received his certificate in 1915 from the Niles Bryant School of Piano Tuning in Michigan. Upon returning to HK, he founded Tsang Fook Piano in 1916 in Wanchai, providing piano tuning and repair services and began manufacturing its own Morrison brand (摩利臣) of pianos with parts designed by himself which were enhanced to adapt the humid weather of HK and Southeast Asia. At first, the firm was making several dozen pianos per month but with its quality rivaling imported pianos at lower costs and perhaps more suitable for Asian climate, Morrison Piano soon established its reputation in the market and was receiving orders from the UK, Southeast Asia and Australasia. (KSEN, 1955-1-5) According to the memoir of HKU Vice Chancellor Rayson Huang, Morrison was the best make in HK in the 1930s and his father gave one to his younger sister Rayann Huang when she passed Grade 6 of Trinity College of Music and the piano cost $500, which was three times his father’s monthly salary. (A Lifetime in Academia, 2011) Below ads from the 1930s show that Tsang Fook accepted old pianos as partial payment for a new one and the difference could also be paid by small monthly instalments and the firm provided 10-year warranty for its pianos.

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Three ads of Tsang Fook Piano promoting its records in 1928 (left) and Morrison pianos in 1935 (center) and 1932 (right)

In 1929, Tsang Fook built his own factory on King’s Road in North Point and moved its office and showroom from 94A Wanchai Road to 9 Ice House Street in Central. When the Marina House at 19 Queen’s Road Central was completed in 1935, Tsang Fook moved in where it remained until 1980 when it was re-developed into the present day Landmark. The 1939 ad in the beginning of the article shows that Tsang Fook carried a large variety of music related products aside from piano even back then including all types of music instruments, radios, gramophones, records of all genres, books about music, sheet music and even musical cigarette boxes. When ZBW, the precursor of Radio Hong Kong (now RTHK) was first launched, most of the records they played were borrowed from Tsang Fook and Moutrie & Co.

In April 1940, Tsang Fook died at the HK Sanatorium at the age of 61 and was buried at the Chinese Christian Cemetery in Pokfulam. (HK Daily Press, 1940-4-18)

Second Movement: Tsang Fook from 1940 to 1980

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Left: Tsang Kay; Center: Margaret Tsang (WKYP, 1963-4-3) Right: Law Tin-kwai

Tsang Fook was succeeded by his younger brother Tsang Kay (曾貴, also spelled Tsang Kwai), who joined the business in the 1920s. Under Tsang Kay’s leadership, the firm survived the Japanese occupation and resumed production after the War. In 1950, Tsang Kayretired and his stake in the firm was inherited by his 5 daughters Margaret(曾儀懿), Elizabeth (曾儀瑞), Mabel (曾儀棣), Lily (曾儀麗) and Yee-mei and only son Chuen-yan while Margaret’s husband Law Tin-kwai (羅天携)who married into the family three years earlier succeeded him as general manager of the firm.(HK $ Directory, 1970)Outside of business, both T.K. and Margaret were active in community affairs, both having served as director of Po Leung Kuk (T.K. in 1958 and Margaret in 1963) and both were involved with charities in Cheung Chau and alumni affairs of King’s College. T.K. was also director of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rotary Club of HK West and president of the HK & Kowloon Chinese Radio Association (1956-59) and Lo’s Clan Association (1957-59). (HK Album, 1967)

A native of Cheung Chau, Law’s father Law Sum-man founded the Cheung Chau Public School in 1921 and his older brother Tin-yan served on the Rural Committee of Cheung Chau and was chairman of the Kaifong Welfare Association. (WKYP, 1971-8-30) Born in 1914, Law was a graduate of King’s College and proved to be a capable heir who took the business to a new direction.

By 1954, Tsang Fook was making 6000 Morrison pianos per month and its factory was half mechanized and equipped with state-of-the-art drills, saws and other equipment. By then, Tsang Fook had made and sold over 50000 Morrison pianos, but it eventually suspended its production and shifted its focus to distribution. In the late 1950s, Tsang Fook secured the HK distributorship of two radio brands from Japan – Silver (銀聲牌) and Sony, the latter in partnership with Chung Yuen Electrical (see article). In 1961, Tsang Fook set up Fook Yuen Electronic with Chung Yuen to act as sole agent in HK for Sonyproducts and Marantz hi-fi products from the US with Law as chairman and Margaret and Chung Yuen’s Chiu Oi-wah as directors. Tsang Fook’s involvement in the lucrative partnership lasted for slightly over a decade until Sony acquired 40% of Fook Yuen from Tsang Fook in 1973. Tsang Fook also became the sole agent in HK for Nordmende (樂滿第), a leading German manufacturer of radios, televisions and tape recorders in the 1950s and 1960s which was later acquired by Thomson. Allegedly the Japanese piano manufacturer Yamaha was turned down by Tsang Fook when it approached them to act as its agent in HK in the 1950s, so Yamaha went to Tom Lee Music instead and formed a highly successful partnership in 1960 that lasts to this day. As Tsang Fook phased out of piano production, it became the sole agent of Yamaha’s rival Kawai (whose founder was an apprentice of Yamaha’s founder) in the 1960s.

In the summer of 1963, T.K. Law and his wife went on a 3 month round the world tour during which they visited the television factory of Nordmende in Germany and the head office of Sony in Japan. (WKYP, 1963-9-23)

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Left: Tsang Fook’s ad for Nordmende portable radios from Germany; Right: Tsang Fook ad for Kawai pianos (KSEN, 1969-3-22)

In the late 1960s, Tsang Fook began to expand its branch network. In November 1966, Tsang Fook celebrated its 50th anniversary and opened its branch at 480 King’s Road in North Point. The firm also hired the HK Philharmonic to perform a concert, screened a movie at the Queen’s Theatre and held a reception at the HK Hilton which was attended by over 2000 guests including Tang Shiu-kin, C.Y. Kwan, P.Y. Tang and many others. (KSEN, 1966-11-18) Law also established the Tsang Fook Memorial Scholarships at the United College at CUHK the same month, awarding 4 scholarships of $1000 each year. (WKYP, 1966-11-25) By 1969, Tsang Fook had also added a branch in Yaumati at 487 Nathan Road and a US NPD showroom in Wanchai.

In the 1970s,Tsang Fook started its music education department, offering lessons in piano, violin, guitars and drums etc which also helped its agency business as it was the HK sole agent for Chicago Musical Instruments (later Norlin), which was the owner of Gibson and Epiphone guitars, Armstrong flutes and Olds brass instruments; Fender guitars from the US and Kawai piano from Japan. (KSEN, 1974-12-31) Over the years, the firm had sponsored many concerts and music competitions such as the HK Music Festival that promoted the use of Western musical instruments in HK.

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Left: T.K. Law (center) and representative from Wo Kee Hong signing sponsorship contract with Bee Gees rep Pato Leung (梁柏濤,left) with Tsang Fook as the lead sponsor for a Bee Gees concert in HK in 1974 (KSEN, 1974-6-21); Right: T.K. Law (center) presenting a Kawai electric piano to the winner (left) of a TVB game show hosted by Wu Cheung-chiu (right) in 1975. (KSEN, 1975-1-16)

Third Movement: Tsang Fook Since 1980

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Left: Ronald Law giving speech about selecting instruments at his father’s Rotary Club of HK West next to his father T.K. Law who was president of the club that year (WKYP, 1980-9-29); Right: Tsang Fook ad for Fender instruments with picture of its store at Marina House on the left.

By the late 1970s, early 1980s, T.K. Law’s sons Law Wing-chiu (羅永超), a chemistry Ph.D. and Ronald Law Wing-keung(羅永强), who graduated from MIT with a B.S. in electrical engineering and M.S. in management, had joined Tsang Fook and began to take over.

In 1985, Tsang Fook entered the mainland Chinese market through the distribution of hi-fi and musical instruments and the same year donated 15 instruments worth a total of $10000 to the Chinese Performing Arts Troupe under the Beijing Bureau of Education. In 1989, Tsang Fook resumed production of Morrison pianos with designs by a German piano engineer and manufacturing done by the Beijing Piano Factory. To promote the sales of hi-fi equipment in the mainland, Law Wing-chiu traveled there frequently and wrote a book about hi-fi and acoustics.

By the early 1990s, Tsang Fook had four outlets in Hong Kong total 20000 sq ft and a 3000 sq ft music center and over 100 employees. In 1996, Tsang Fook celebrated its 80th anniversary with a joint commemorative concert with HK Baptist University and Pan Asia Symphony Orchestra which were celebrating its 40th and 20th anniversary respectively.

This article was first posted on 22nd January 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Design of Radios and Music Players in Japan from the 1950s to the 1970s – Hong Kong link
  2. Phonographs, Gramophones and Record Companies in Hong Kong
  3. From Sony to American Standard: the story of Chung Yuen Electrical and Acme Sanitary Ware

 

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