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Ennever & Enever family history & ancestry. Click here to return to the home page WJ Ennever (1869-1947). From the portrait by J Seymour R.A., exhibited in the Royal Academy.

W. J. Ennever & Son and Ennever & Steedman, pianoforte manufacturers in London and the related Nunns family, pianoforte manufacturers of New York

Ennever piano keys

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The Ennever family of pianoforte makers

William Joseph Ennever was born in Hornchurch, Essex in about 1802, having been ch ristened on the 2nd January 1803 and was the eldest son of Robert Ennever and Mary (nee Knight).  He married for the first time in 1824 to Jane King and after her death in 1838, due to childbirth, he married Margaret Juana Hederman in 1840.  There were seven children from the first marriage and six from the second. No record has been found of a child born to Jane after 1834 and it is therefore assumed that she died before their child was born or that the child's birth was not registered. Stillbirth registration did not begin until 1927 and this is also a possible reason.

William Joseph is first recorded as a pianoforte maker in 1827 at the age of 24 although nothing is known of how this became his chosen profession nor whether he was working for himself at this stage or employed.  One family member believes the pianoforte manufacturing business to have begun in France although there is nothing currently to substantiate this.  William Joseph's father, Robert, appears to have been a successful business-man, being recorded as a "Dairy man" and a "Gentleman", while Robert's wife is described as "of independent means" in 1841.  Several members of the Ennever family of this period were sawyers and this occupation (someone who sawed timber) could possibly have been a forerunner of the pianoforte manufacturing business. 

There is also a suggestion that the Wade family may have been the source of these woodworking skills while it is probable that the Nunns family were connected with the early days of the business because Joseph Ennever, William Joseph's cousin, married Sarah Gibbs Nunns and Sarah's family had strong later connections to the piano forte business.  Several members of the Joseph Ennever and Robert Nunns families emigrated to the USA in the early and middle 19th century and the Nunns family and their associates became renowned piano makers (see below). 

W J Ennever (1829/30-1917), c1880 son of the founder

In the 1841 census William Joseph is living at William Street, Regents Park, Middlesex.  From the census it would appear that a William Cooper and his son, also William, together with another son, Henry, who is working as an apprentice are pianoforte makers in William Street and a number of other residents apart from William Joseph Ennever are employed in the industry.  These include a John Ramanis, Miles Stravely, James Mills, Daniel Tryne(?), Charles Batchelor, Henry Matt, William Askell and James Stanton (or Stonton). There are also two Professors of Music, William Day and John Clarke, suggesting that a music school could also have been in the street.  The Post Office London Directory for 1846 confirms that a Wm. Cooper at 24 William Street was a pianoforte key maker and it also records a John Clarke, professor of music at 59 Bayham Street, Pancras Road, a very short distance away.  There is no Ennever listed, however.

At the beginning of the 19th century it was estimated there were only about a dozen pianoforte manufacturers in England whereas by the time of the 1851 Exhibition there were between two and three hundred in London alone.  This dramatic change was brought about largely by the availability of steam power to cut the timber and the increasing network of railways which quickly replaced the sea as a faster and cheaper method of distribution.

Extract from the catalogue of The Great Exhibition. Ennever & Steedman, London.

At the Great Exhibition in 1851, Ennever and Steedman exhibited two walnut marqueterie cottage pianos, having been listed in the Post Office London Directory a year earlier.  Their pianos featured a peculiar keyboard: mother-of-pearl being substituted for ivory on the white keys, and tortoiseshell for ebony on the black ones. Their address was 3 Little Crescent Street, London.  In the 1851 census William Joseph is living at 5 Robert Street, Regents Park and is recorded as having 40 (or possibly 60) men working for him, suggesting an output of 5-10 pianos a week.  Although the family have a young servant they are sharing the house with three other families, one of which is headed by Thomas Moor, a pianoforte furnisher.  Next door, at number 6, is a George Thomas also a pianoforte maker, with four men and two apprentices working for him, James Stevenson and John England.  Also next door, at number 4, is a professional singer and a teacher of music.  William Joseph's eldest son, also William Joseph and who was born in 1829/30, has now joined his father as a pianoforte maker.

William Joseph's niece, Frances Ann Ennever, married Daniel Lynch (later Lensh) in 1850 and Daniel is recorded as a pianoforte tuner on the marriage certificate. In the 1851 census he is a journeyman pianoforte maker and it is assumed he is working with, or for, his wife's uncle, William Joseph.  In the same census Samuel Clarke, who had married William Joseph's sister Emma in 1839, was also listed as a piano maker, his trade being that of a carpenter/joiner.

In 1851 Ennever and Steedman, of 31 George Street, Euston Square, advertised an elegant walnut marquetry semi-cottage pianoforte, being a new design with double-action as well as a single action plain walnut square-fall piccolo, or microchordian pianoforte.

London Gazette October 1852

In 1852 Ennever & Steedman were listed in the Post Office London directory at 3 Little Crescent Street and 31 George Street, Euston Square.  In October 1852, however, William Joseph Ennever and James Steedman announced the dissolution of their partnership in the London Gazette (see left). They have several addresses including 4 Werrington Street, Oakley Square, St Pancras and 21 Percy Street, Tottenham Court Road.  It is likely that the financial difficulties that followed so quickly would have been a factor in the dissolution of the partnership. 

The Leeds Mercury 1/5/1852

An advertisement in The Leeds Mercury of May 1852 indicates that Ennever and Steedman were successors to Allison and Allison and may therefore have acquired the business of Allison and Allison although later events suggest that Allisons may have continued in business on their own account.

London Gazette October 1854

In October 1854 William Joseph Ennever assigned all the assets of the business and his personal estate and effects to two main creditors, a timber merchant and a pianoforte-action maker, Henry Brooks, suggesting that he had been buying in the mechanical parts of pianos, manufacturing the cabinets and then assembling them.  I understand this was the norm for the industry at the time and confirmation of this arrangement can be found in the picture of an H Brooks & Co piano key from 1877 (see the 1877 cottage piano images below).

The South Australian Advertiser 26/8/1858
South Australian Advertiser 26/8/1858

In December 1854 the London Gazette records Marsh and Steedman as pianoforte manufacturers at 42 New Bond Street, London and James Steedman is recorded as having been granted a patent in 1856 for the invention of "improvement in pianofortes".  He, too, appears to get into financial difficulty and assigned his assets to his creditors, including the same timber merchant in 1857.  An advertisement also exists for Ennever (late: Allison) pianos in Australia although it is not known if there was an export business or if they had been taken abroard by families moving to the country as no other record of exported pianos has been found.

James Steedman emigrated to New York City in about 1860 and began building pianos there in about 1863. Steedman is listed as being in partnership with John Dingle, forming the firm of Dingle & Steedman, in 1864. This partnership was dissolved by 1868 at which time Steedman went into partnership with Alexander Hollyer to form the company of Steedman & Hollyer. This partnership was dissolved in 1872. In 1873, Steedman admitted his sons William and Mark Steedman into partnership, forming the form of Steedman & Company. Steedman & Company went out of business in 1876. Steedman specialized in building better quality square grand and upright pianos, and his instruments are exceedingly rare today1.

The business continued as W J Ennever & Co and W J Ennever & Son, later Sons, because on 23rd June 1859 an Ennever "brilliant toned 6 7/8 octavo Piccolo Pianoforte" was advertised for sale in The Times.

The Times 23rd June 1859

In the 1861 census William Joseph is recorded at 18 Soho Square, Westminster with his son, both being pianoforte manufacturers. The family business had moved to Soho Square from 75, Dean Street according to the manufacturer's label on an example of an upright piano by W. J. Ennever & Co. (see below).  In 1871 William Joseph senior is recorded as a "Pianoforte Maker Master" employing 14 men and 3 boys.  This is a dramatic reduction from the workforce of twenty years earlier and may have been due to increased automation and/or reduced demand.  Various trade and other directories list Ennever & Son during the 1870s and 1880s and they can be found in Kelly's Directory of the Cabinet & Furnishing Trades in the 1880s and 1890s.

The Choir and Musical Record July 18 1863

An 1863 advert in The Choir and Musical Record confirms the link with Ralph Allison & Sons or Allison and Allison suggested by the fact that Allisons were also located at 1 Werrington Street in the mid-1860s.  It indicates that apart from manufacturing their own-brand pianofortes W J Ennever & Co were also manufacturers for Allisons.

The Times 18th May 1864

In 1864 the business was advertising for a clerk and bookkeeper at their "manufactory" in Soho Square. 

 

An example of a W J Ennever & Son bichord pianoforte with walnut case circa 1871, showing the fretwork with what is believed to be the original silk lining.  This piano, shown below, is now in the writer's possession, having previously been owned by Finchcock's Musical Museum in Kent.
An example of a W J Ennever & Son bichord pianoforte with walnut case circa 1871
Ennever & Son piano
The manufacturer's label on the inside of the keyboard lid
Ennever & Son piano
The manufacturer's serial number (4601).
Label
The signature and date of the key maker (on the right-most key). Edwin J Nutt is recorded as a "Pianoforte Maker", aged 25 in the 1871 census but his employer is not known.
Label
A more ornate instrument, as yet undated, serial number 4864. Pictures courtesy of David Moss.
An example of a W J Ennever & Son pianoforte 1870s
Ennever & Son piano
The manufacturer's label on the inside of the keyboard lid
Ennever & Son piano
The manufacturer's serial number (4864).
Label
Piano interior showing hammers
Label
An ornate instrument (below), now in the USA.
Another example of an ornate, W J Ennever & Son pianoforte with candelabra. Serial number: 5827 Courtesy: Deborah Peacock.
 Another example of an ornate, W J Ennever & Son pianoforte with candelabra.  Courtesy: Deborah Peacock.
The manufacturer's label on the inside of the keyboard lid
 Another example of an ornate, W J Ennever & Son pianoforte with candelabra.  Courtesy: Deborah Peacock.
This later ornate instrument (below) was originally in London and is also now in the USA.
An example of a later, more ornate, W J Ennever & Son pianoforte with decorative burled and carved walnut case. Serial number 6091. Courtesy: E Milani.
An example of a later, more ornate, W J Ennever & Son pianoforte with decorative burled and carved walnut case.  Serial number 6091.
The manufacturer's label on the inside of the keyboard lid
 The manufacturer's label on the inside of the keyboard lid
The candelabra
  The candelabra

In 1872 two Ennever & Co pianos were advertised for sale in The Times, one being a 7 octave cottage pianoforte in a walnut case and the other a 6 3/4 octave rosewood pianoforte and in 1875 a "brilliant-toned full compass pianoforte in handsome inlaid walnut case" was advertised as well as a full-compass trichord pianoforte. Other advertisements for similar pianofortes are also shown below. I understand 'full compass' to mean a keyboard of 7 or 7 1/4 octaves and bi or trichord indicates the number of strings to each hammer.

The Times 3rd June 1872
Times Advert
The Times 20th July 1872
Times advert
The Times 4th December 1875
Times advert
The Times 6th April 1875
Times advert
The Times 24th April 1877
Times advert
London Gazette 7th April 1868

Although it is not known for certain that Daniel Lynch (see above) worked for the Ennever pianoforte makers he too was made bankrupt in 1868 and promised to pay his creditors 6/- in the £.  He is, however, known to have continued in the business of making piano strings and tuning pianos, and both he and his eldest son, Joseph Edward Lensh, are recorded as pianoforte stringmakers in 1873.

There is one later connection between the Ennever family and pianoforte manufacturing in that Augustus Ennever, grandson of the founding W J Ennever, married Marie (May) Hill in 1904, May having shared a house in 1901 with William Clarke, also a pianoforte manufacturer in the St Pancras area.

Further adverts can be found in The Times for Ennever pianofortes during the 1870s, 80s and 90s and as late as 1913 but no details of the instruments themselves were given and so have not been included. All the adverts were private sales or sales by auction and not adverts by W J Ennever.

In 1919 Murdoch's of Oxford Street advertised an Ennever Upright Grand piano in "second-hand - slightly used" condition for 32 guineas (the equivalent of approx. £1000 today).

In 1883 George Vincent, a son of William Joseph senior by his second marriage, is recorded as a pianoforte maker but later becomes a piano repairer and tuner.  In 1890, he proposed a piano tuner's association, and issued a circular to tuners aiming to form a representative body to bring some respect to the trade which he felt was being damaged by untrained or incompetent tuners.  He proposed:

  • The entrance fee to be paid on joining the Association is 2/6, Annual subscription 5/-.  AIMS: to form a representative body of the profession to speak with authority on behalf of same.
  • To take such measures as shall lead to the registration of duly qualified tuners and promote the thorough training of apprentices and others.
  • To endeavour by all lawful means to get rid of the class of incompetents who having received a form of lessons without any practice, are going about doing serious injury to the profession and to the public, who before engaging them have no means of distinguishing them from practical men.
  • To establish an employment registry whereby employers and tuners can be brought together according to their requirements without publicity.
  • To do all such other lawful things as may conduce to the welfare of the profession and the benefit of the public

Source: Music Trades Review (15th March 1890) p12

Post Office London Directory 1901-6
Ennever & Son, piano manufacturers Post Office London Directory

Historical phone directories are a particularly useful source for family historians and in the UK date from 1880, the year after the public telephone service was introduced into Great Britain.  The Post Office London Directory lists Ennever & Son from 1901-6 but there is no entry in 1907 onwards nor are they to be found in Alfred Dolge's "Pianos and Their Makers" or Kelly's Directory, in 1911.

Two examples of other undated W. J. Ennever & Ennever & Sons upright pianofortes.

An early example:

W. J. Ennever & Co. upright piano (possibly late 1850s)
 	      W. J. Ennever & Sons upright piano (possibly 1860s)
W. J. Ennever & Co. piano (detail)
 	      W. J. Ennever & Co. piano (detail)
W. J. Ennever & Co. piano (serial number)
          W. J. Ennever & Co. piano (serial number)
W. J. Ennever & Co. manufacturer's label 18, Soho Square, from 75, Dean Street
 W. J. Ennever & Co. manufacturer's label
		          18, Soho Square, from 75, Dean Street

 

Photographs courtesy of Peter McKay.

A later example:
An example of a later Ennever & Sons upright piano (undated)
An example of a later Ennever & Sons upright piano (undated)
Ennever & Sons logo
 Ennever & Sons logo

In approximately 1913 an Ennever & Steedman piano number 11,504 was sold by Peake's of Sunderland and believed to be new or nearly new.  It appears that they had continued to use the Ennever & Steedman name long after the dissolution of the partnership.

Possibly following on from Ennever & Steedman or Marsh & Steedman, Sandon & Steedman began in the business around 1883 and seem to have been listed in directories for about a decade.

The Nunns family and Nunns and Clark of New York

Robert & William Nunns Square Piano c1825 Serial # 558. Keyboard compass: 68 notes 5 1/2 octaves. Keyboard covering: Original ivory with boxwood moulded fronts and original ebony sharps. Cabinet: Crotch mahogany with rosewood stenciled nameboard. Has six turned and fluted legs with matching pedal leg. Has two sheet music drawers; brass molding around bottom of case with brass medallions at the corners. Mostly original finish. Dimensions: 67 1/2" x 26 1/2", 33" from top of case to floor. Action: All wood frame design with early English action with escapement. Overhead clothes pin style dampers with original wooden dust cover for the strings. Very elegant early piano with beautiful ornate stenciled nameboard in almost perfect condition. Beautiful legs with stamped brass collars at the tops on front four legs; back legs never had collars.
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

William Nunns emigrated to New York in 1821 and he was joined by his elder brother Robert and his wife Eleanor and their three children who arrived in New York from London on the ship "Cincinnatus" in April 1822.  Robert was described as a "merchant" and travelling with them were two of Robert's siblings, John & Mary.  William had also travelled on the Cincinnatus and was similarly described as a merchant.

According to various sources the Nunns & Clark company was established in 1823 in New York City, the year Chickering (America's first piano company) was established.  According to piano historian Edwin Goode (2001), "Nunns and Clark had the reputation for being among the best builders in New York, both for musical quality and for cabinetry."   Historical sources of the history of the Nunns piano-makers are conflicting and this is reflected in the information below.

Nunns & Clark advertisement
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

The Antique Piano Shop describes the firm as "one of the most illustrious and historical piano makers in American history were brothers Robert and William Nunns.  Robert & Willian Nunns established their firm of R & W Nunns in 1823. The firm built pianos both under their own name and also for the prominent Dubois & Stodart Piano Company of New York City until 1836.

Both Robert and William are believed to have worked at the piano makers Kearsing & Sons before founding their own business.

William Nunns: In 1836, William Nunns went into a separate partnership with Augustus Brumley to create the Nunns & Brumley Piano Company, a venture that was very short lived. In 1839, William Nunns left the firm entirely to his brother Robert.  In 1843, William Nunns went into partnership with John & Charles Fischer to create the Nunns & Fischer Piano Company. Nunns & Fischer built pianos until 1848 when William Nunns withdrew to establish his own firm of William Nunns & Company, which remained in business until 1853 when he retired.

Pianos by any of these names are exceedingly rare today and of museum caliber. They deserve the finest restoration and preservation available as they are irreplaceable parts of America’s musical history"1.
Nunns & Clark advertisement
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

Robert Nunns: From 1832-1838, the name of the firm was changed to Nunns, Clark & Company when John Clark joined the firm. After 1838, the firm was known as Nunns & Clark. By the 1840’s, Nunns & Clark were so successful that they had 'warerooms' in several major cities in the United States. The Nunns & Clark firm enjoyed a superb reputation and great success until they closed around 1860.

Robert Nunns, his son Robert and his brother John Francis can be found in New York directories from the 1850s to the 1880s as either piano manufacturers or retailers, and tuners and are also recorded as Nunns & Clark at 785 Broadway & 96 East 26th Street with Robert Nunns junior being recorded in Brooklyn in 1881 and Madison City in 1883 as a piano tuner. 

New York City Directory 1857
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

A Henry Nunns is also in the business in Madison in 1883 and this is certainly Robert's son, born 1833, who had married his cousin, Mary Amelia Ennever.  Mary was the daughter of Joseph Ennever, above, and therefore a cousin of the founder of the Ennever pianoforte business.

Nunns & Clark were among the first piano builders to incorporate cast iron frames to manage the string tension.  An example was offered for sale recently and was described as "The case follows the simple design of Federal period furniture, yet has stunning crotch mahogany on the case and rosewood above the keys.

1830s Nunns & Clark Federal Style Forte Piano with 73 keys
Serial number 4744
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

The original finish is very clean and the ivory key tops are in  perfect condition. The key fronts are natural wood, with scalloped carvings. All the original parts are intact including the strings, action parts, and metal name plate over the keys. This piano received a very careful, museum quality restoration, retaining the original parts"2.  They are also credited with the innovation of adopting Charles Sackmeister's SCALING with heavier STRINGING in 1827 . 7

Nunns & Clark's instruments were exhibited at New York's Crystal Palace in 1853 to great acclaim.  In 1850 they had begun using Rudolph Kreter's machinery for covering " a whole set of hammer-heads at one operation" with graduated layers of felt.   7

Square Piano, 1853 Nunns and Clark, Maker; Robert Nunns, Maker; John Clark, Maker New York Various materials; L. of case perpendicular to keyboard 118 cm (46 1/2 in.); W. parallel to keyboard 223.3 cm (87 7/8 in.); total H. 95.9 cm (37 3/4 in.); D. of case without lid 37.4 cm (14 3/4 in.); 3-octave span 48.2 cm (19 in.); L. of longest string 173.3 cm (68 1/4 in.); L. of shortest string 4.3 cm (1 11/16 in.); L. of c2 string 28.8 cm (11 3/8 in.) Gift of George Lowther, 1906 (06.1312)
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a "costly showpiece of Renaissance and Rococo Revival eclecticism, an obvious status symbol perhaps intended for display at New York's Crystal Palace exposition, elevated the reputation of the English immigrants Robert Nunns and John Clark, partners in New York since 1833; they had exhibited an equally ornate piano in London in 1851. Built on the scale of a billiard table, this massive rosewood instrument stands on elephantine legs surmounted by lush carved bouquets. Slips of mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, and abalone embellish the seven-octave keyboard. Within, a lacquered iron frame reinforces the case. The felt-covered hammers could have been made by machines invented by Rudolph Kreter, who assigned his patent to Nunns & Clark in 1853. At that time, some eighty employees, including members of the Steinway family, were producing about three hundred instruments annually at Nunns & Clark's factory in Setauket, Long Island"3.

Nunns and Clark piano with a 6-octave keyboard (c1850-1875) at Campbell Mansion, Bethany College, Bethany W. Va. USA
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

According to James Grebe "two brothers, John and Charles Fischer began working at the firm of R and W Nunns and Clark Piano company in 1840.  Later it became Nunns & Fischer .  In 1845 it began with serial number 2500.  By the turn of the century about 500 pianos were made annually.  At that time they were located in New York.  After the turn of the century it was sold to the American Piano Company and later in 1932 by the Aeolian Corporation.  It continued to be manufactured until 1982 with serial number 219400.  It is hard to figure out how long it remained a unique piano unto itself rather than another one of Aeolian's pianos with a different leg style or different music rack design and slapping on a J & C Fischer decal on the fallboard."4

Extract from the catalogue of The Great Exhibition. Nunns & Clark, New York.
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

Along with Chickerings (America's first piano company) and Meyer, Nunns and Clark received a medal for their exhibit at The World's Fair (The Exhibition of the Industry of all the World) at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851 (also known as the "Great Exhibition")5.

Previously the Nunns and Clark factory, Setauket, Long Island.  Photo c1900
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

Known later as the "Upper" rubber factory, this factory building was located across from the current North Fork Bank at approximately 46 Route 25A in Setauket, Long Island, the area being known locally as "Chicken Hill".

Built c1845. Robert Nunns built this home at approximately 128 Main Street. By 1874 the house was owned by Phebe Ridgway. The house, which stood between the present Setauket School and the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, was torn down c1954.
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

The factory had been founded as the Nunns and Clark Piano Factory before the Civil War and it was later occupied by the local rubber company.6  The Civil War marked a down turn in sales and Robert Nunns became bankrupt in 1867, was forced to close the factory and to sell his home.  His son-in-law James E Walker bought the home so that it could remain in the family. 7

Robert Nunns is known to have lived in Setauket from 1845 although it is probable the family home was in the area from much earlier.

Other sources record that Nunns & Clark were an extremely successful firm and that in 1855 the partners owned $150,000 of real capital, $15,000 of tools and had in stock 40,000 feet of pine and mahogany worth $20,000.  The firm employed 80 men and 3 boys, who each earned $40 a month and who in that year produced 300 pianos worth $150,000.  Spillane (1890:152-53) wrote that "while very much is written and spoken about Nunns & Clark, they have never been identified with any reforms and innovations in piano structure or acoustics after 1840.  They simply made average pianos after stereotyped principles first produced by other makers, employed good men, paid good wages."

Musical Instrument makers of New York by Nancy Groce
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York
Musical Instrument makers of New York by Nancy Groce
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York
Nunns & Clark piano serial #10071, built 1858 with lowest key dated July 21st 1859. Courtesy of Paul Fulcher.
Nunns & Clark piano serial #10071 with lowest key dated July 21st 1859.  Courtesy of Paul Fulcher

Nunns & Clark continued in business until 1860 while Clark is not listed after 1858 although a piano with an R. Nunns & Clark decal and its lowest key dated 1859 is known (see left).  In the The American musical directory, 1861 by Barbara Owen Nunns was listed alone and described as a piano manufacturer with a factory at Setauket, Long Island.  Other members of the Nunns family, William Jr, Robert Jr and John Francis worked in the trade as journeymen and piano dealers through the 1860s.

Willam Nunns' career was more uneven than that of his brother Robert.  After heading R & W Nunns from 1823-32 and Nunns, Clark & Company from 1833-38, William and the piano tuner Augustus Brumley formed the firm Nunns & Brumley in 1836.  In 1839, Nunns withdrew entirely from Nunns, Clark & Company and apparently left the city for several years.

"Pioneer Piano Maker Dead" New York Times 18/12/1907
Nunns & Clark, Robert Nunns piano New York

In 1843, Nunns joined the firm John & Charles Fischer, which was the reorganised as Nunns & Fischer.  Their partnership lasted until 1848 when Nunns withdrew to head his own firm, William Nunns & Company, which remained in business until 1853.  William Steinway wrote that as a young apprentice, "he had lost all his savings of $300 by the bankruptcy of his employer, William Nunns, in 1853."  The following year Nunns retired from then trade, probably moving to Setauket, Long Island, where he and his brother had established their factory many years before. 8

I understand from a Nunns family member 12 that Steinway & Sons took over the 88 Walker Street, New York City location and business when Nunns became bankrupt and that William Nunns was taken care of by the Steinway family because of the kindness he had shown to the young William Steinway when he was his apprentice.

William's ventures in piano manufacture included the development in 1847 of the "Melodicon", a piano with chromatic kettledrums.  These efforts were ultimately less successful and contributed to his bankruptcy. 9

A Robert & William Nunns manufactured Square Piano c1825 Serial #730. Decal missing. Courtesy of Joseph Howell.
A Robert & William Nunns manufactured Square Piano c1825 Serial #730.  Decal missing.</br>Courtesy of Joseph Howell.

In their obituary for William Clark in December 1907 The New York Times writes that the firm of Robert Nunns and Clark "built the first piano in the United States" and also records that William Clark had married Eliza, a relative of Robert's.  I have not determined who Eliza is although it is probable this was Robert's eldest daughter, Elizabeth.  William & Eliza had three children, Robert Nunns Clark, John Nunns Clark & Mrs Eleanor Nunns Clark all of whom survived their father.  While the New York Times records William's father as John Clark, it remains unclear why they claim that it was William who formed the partnership with Robert Nunns and constructed the first piano in the United States.

A Robert Nunns, Clark & Co. Square Piano Serial #2371. Probably c1840s. Courtesy of Rosemary Frerking
A Robert Nunns, Clark & Co. Square Piano Serial #2371. Courtesy of Rosemary Frerking

The piano shown above, the 1830s Federal style piano, was restored by Shaffer Pianos of Albany, New York 2 and they have also recently fully restored the Empire style piano shown below right.  You can see more images and hear Ron Shaffer playing this Empire piano on YouTube here or by clicking the 'Play the video...' link below.

There is good evidence that Chickerings 10 had sold their first piano in 1823 while the date of the first Nunns piano is less clear so, while probably not the first, the Nunns brothers can certainly claim to have been 'one of the first' piano makers in the USA.

Nunns & Clark Empire Style square grand with 82 keys serial #8448. Probably 1845-50. Courtesy of Scaffer Pianos
Nunns & Clark Empire Style square grand with 82 keys

William Nunns was a man who was an inventor and while his main attention will certainly have been focused on his piano-forte business was nevertheless fascinated by other uses of the piano mechanisms as witnessed by the application to the US Patents Office for an 'Automaton Dancer'.

The US Patents Office patent from a William Nunns of New York was for an 'Automaton Dancer' using a piano-forte action and is dated 31st May 1864.

His invention consisted of a rising and falling platform connected to a vertically-sliding rod and operated by piano-forte action.

Patent No. 42,962 W. Nunns, Toy Dancer May 31, 1864
 Patent No. 42,962 W. Nunns, Toy Dancer May 31, 1864

The dancer was suspended over the platform and on touching the key the platform assumed a uniform rising and falling motion and was thrown in contact with the feet of the dancer (or other jointed figure).

Patent No. 42,962 W. Nunns, Toy Dancer May 31, 1864
 Patent No. 42,962 W. Nunns, Toy Dancer May 31, 1864

The dancer 'assumed a dancing motion of the most comical nature when the key was used repeatedly'.

A much earlier patent by Rudolph Krieter, assignor to Nunns & Clark and witnessed by Henry Nunns and S. H. Maynard, was devoted to improving the manufacturing process of what was identified as the 'most delicate, difficult and tedious parts', of piano-forte manufacture, that of covering of the hammers'.  This patent was dated January 4th, 1853 11.

The 1891 UK census also records a Charles Nunn as a piano manufacturer in the St Pancras district of London, close to the Ennevers and in the heart of pianoforte manufacture in the UK, although no connection has been found to link him to the Nunns family above or to the Ennever piano makers.

Further examples of Nunns & Clark pianos
An early Robert Nunns, Clark & Co square piano.
 An early Robert Nunns,  Clark & Co square piano.
An early Robert Nunns, Clark & Co square piano.
 An early Robert Nunns,  Clark & Co square piano.
An early Robert Nunns, Clark & Co square piano.
 An early Robert Nunns,  Clark & Co square piano.
An early Robert Nunns, Clark & Co square piano.
 An early Robert Nunns,  Clark & Co square piano.
A very early Robert Nunns, Clark & Co square piano with serial number 1904, built in 1833. With thanks to AJ Nunn (no relation) who kindly sent me the details.
An early Nunns & Clark piano &organ with serial number 4960, believed to date from the 1830s.
 An early Nunns & Clark piano &organ with serial number 4960, believed to date from 1831.
An early Nunns & Clark piano &organ with serial number 4960.
 An early Nunns & Clark piano &organ with serial number 4960, believed to date from 1831.
An early Nunns & Clark piano and organ with serial number 4960, believed to date from the 1830s. With thanks to Karen Poydenis who kindly sent me the details.
Two examples of recitals on Nunns' pianos

Elizabeth Eredita Johnson playing "Fur Elise" on the Society’s 1860s Nunns piano
 

Courtesy of the Three Village Historical Society

 

Ron Shaffer of Shaffer Pianos, New York, playing the 1845 Nunns & Clark Square piano.
 

Courtesy of Ron Shaffer of Shaffer Pianos

 
I also include below extracts from various books and documents kindly sent to me by Paul Fulcher that gives some further details about the history of the Nunns' piano-makers. Show details

From a book published in 1890.

In 1824 Robert & William Nunns started in business at 96 Broadway, and soon eclipsed all the New York manufacturers then making pianofortes. This was a notable house truly. They initiated a radical departure immediately after starting into the trade by introducing the present French action in their instruments, then in a rather imperfect state, however, and, in fact, anticipated in detail very important improvements in actions afterward patented by Erard in Paris. A member of the family, John F. Nunns, was granted a patent for a square action on May 5th, 1831, which takes in many of these improvements. In most houses the old English hopper and fly action was in use, and not until about 1850 was it generally discontinued in New York, although several makers in Boston and Philadelphia had for years used various modifications of the French "rocker" principle for regulating purposes, applied in different ways in combination with the English, French, and special patent actions. The Chickerings and Gilberts, of Boston, however, stuck all along to a peculiar variation of the English action, well known to practical piano-makers even now. The Chickerings, even up to a recent period, continued to use that action, improved somewhat, meantime, and many critics have styled them antiquated and so forth, in consequence. A little experience with the "wearing" possibilities of this action - principle will, however, show that when the hammer - centers and flanges become worn and shaky, the interposition of the underhammer or "hopper" between the jack and the hammerheel, gives a better and firmer quality to the tone produced than would be possible in the French - action arrangement in badly made actions.

One of the best "scales" ever seen up to 1827 in New York was furnished the Nunns by Charles S. Sackmeister, who showed its value to them in an instrument he had just finished at his house. Robert and William Nunns, who had the reputation of being singularly honorable, instead of devising some scheme and getting the "scale" copied, purchased it from Sackmeister, and it became a most valuable innovation. In a few years it was common property among New York and Philadelphia piano makers. Before this year the Nunns' and others proceeded very "gingerly" about altering the position and scale of the bridges, length of strings, and other standard features of the instrument as it was then made. Sackmeister started out in a revolutionistic manner by placing No. 10 wire where No. 8 formerly was in the upper treble register, graduating the increased thickness of his wire down to the bottom strings, and placing his bridges in an entirely original range of distance from point to point, so as to correspond with his stringing, with the successful results pointed out. Sackmeister, I learn, drifted around the city drawing "scales" and modelling improvements for piano-makers, who realized largely by his skill and gave him little credit. Germans were scarcely tolerated in those days, and had a hard time to get along, therefore Sackmeister, like Gutwaldt, was kept down by force of circumstances.

Sackmeister patented a down-striking action on May 17th, 1830, that won him considerable notoriety. Apart from this he was noted for many years prior to this date as a most progressive maker and inventor.

Returning to the Nunns brothers, I find that John F. Nunns, another of that family, had a separate place at 57 Orchard Street for several years between 1832 and 1836. Robert & William Nunns did business from 1824 up to 1833, in which year they had their warerooms at 137 Broadway, when John Clark came over from England and was taken into partnership, the firm becoming Nunns, Clark & Company. In this year their advertisement was to be found on the files of the Sun, and reads like this : " Robert Nunns, Clark & Company (formerly R. & W. Nunns) respectfully inform their friends and the public that they have always on hand an assortment of cabinet, square, and horizontal grand pianofortes from their manufactory, at their warerooms, 137 Broadway, two doors north of the City Hotel." William Nunns withdrew from business relations with his brother meantime and began manufacturing for himself. In some time he became associated with J. & C. Fischer, thus giving birth to Nunns & Fischer, which passed into J. & C. Fischer after 1840, owing, to the withdrawal of Nunns, who again began business on his own account.

Nunns, Clark & Company became Nunns & Clark in 1838, and continued to lead as piano-makers until 1858, when their star faded. They dropped out of business after this date. While very much is written and spoken about Nunns & Clark, they have never been identified with any reforms or innovations in piano structure or acoustics after 1840, such as we associate with Steinway & Sons, Knabe & Company, Chickering & Sons, Loud Brothers, Hazelton Brothers, and other old firms in existence before the "sixties." They simply made average pianos after stereotyped principles first produced by other makers, employed good men, and paid good prices. I must, however, note one important fact subjoined.

In 1851 Nunns & Clark purchased the hammer-covering invention patented by Rudolph Kreter for a trifle, and thereby were the first to use the present improved method of hammer-covering, probably, in the world. More improved forms of covering machinery are now in existence owing to the exceptional genius of Mr. Alfred Dolge, but Kreter was really the initiator of the original machine, which made it possible to cover " a whole set of hammerheads at one operation," to use the words of Kreter's claim. Nunns & Clark thereupon introduced felt extensively in their instruments, distributed in several thicknesses through the hammer-range varying from treble to bass as desired.

This is not alone a mere technical incident, on the contrary, the discovery of this method of hammer - covering, in connection with the introduction of felt, more generally marks an era in the acoustic and musical development of the pianoforte as pointed out in reference to Alfred Dolge elsewhere. Therefore this is why it is given particular notice. Kreter's patent is No. 9526, and was assigned in advance to Nunns & Clark. This machine was used as early as 1850 by them. I find that Kreter's machine passed into the hands of Mr. A. Dolge in 1870 and was sent to Brooks & Company, London.

From the Pierce Piano Atlas

NUNNS & CLARK PIANO COMPANY Established in 1824, as R. & W. Nunns, by William and Robert Nunns at 96 Broadway, New York. John Clark arrived from London in 1833 and was taken in as a partner, the firm became Nunns, Clark & Company. In 1833 the warerooms were located at 137 Broadway, N. Y. In 1838 William left, and the name changed to R. Nunns & Clark. In 1850 Nunns & Clark started using a hammer - covering machine, invented by Rudolph Kreter, and were the first to use the improved method of hammer - covering. They purchased the rights to this machine in 1851. By late 1858 or early 1859 the Nunns & Clark Co. had stopped manufacturing pianos. Built mostly squares grands and some uprights, and wing grands.   Back to top

 

Sources

1 The Antique Piano Shop http://antiquepianoshop.com/
3 The Metropolitan Museum of Art http://www.metmuseum.org
5 Adventures and Achievements of Americans by Henry Howe
6 The Setaukets, Old Field and Poquott  by Three Village Historical Society
7 Susan L Bingler CG, descendant
8 Musical Instrument makers of New York  by Nancy Groce
9 Piano by R & M Palmieri
10 Jonas Chickering (Wikipedia) Wikipedia
11 US Patents Office
12 Melvin Nunns
13 Paul Fulcher (Lively-Fulcher Pipe Organs)

If anyone has any further information, photographs or documentation etc about any of these pianoforte businesses, or the life and career of William Joseph Ennever or the Nunns family or indeed an Ennever or Nunns & Clark piano, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Author:  Barry Ennever

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