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PHILIPS, HENRY (Heinrich) JOSEPH, piano manufacturer; b. 7 Sept. 1811 in Hattersheim (Federal Republic of Germany), son of Henricus Philippus Philips and Catharina Glöckner; m. 17 May 1835 Louisa Carolina Schmidt in Hamburg (Federal Republic of Germany); fl. 1845–50 in Nova Scotia.

Henry Joseph Philips had apparently learned the cabinet-making trade before his arrival in Hamburg around 1830. From 1830 to 1835 he worked with a Mr Wagner crafting musical instruments. On 3 April 1835 Philips was admitted as a citizen of the city. In the Hamburg directory of 1842 he was listed as the successor to a Mr J. A. M. Schrader at a pianoforte factory, and in 1845–46 he appears as a piano manufacturer.

In 1845 Philips came to Nova Scotia with pianos to sell and was so successful that he decided to open a factory in Halifax. Sir John Harvey*, the lieutenant governor, purchased a piano from him – one which is reputed to have been the first piano manufactured not only in the colony but also in what was to become Canada. About two years later Philips formed a partnership with a John B . Philips, possibly his brother; John had come to Halifax about 1845. In October 1847 H. and J. Philips of Barrington Street was advertising “Home Manufactured piano fortes” and requesting the ladies and gentlemen of Halifax to “call and examine our new Iron framed grand square seven octave double Action” pianos. The partners stated that they had made their instruments expressly for the Nova Scotia climate and claimed that their “correctness and fullness of tone is not to be surpassed by any foreign production.”

The partnership was dissolved on 1 Aug. 1848 and Henry Joseph Philips continued the Piano Forte Manufactory at the same location, setting up later on Granville Street. In October he advertised that he had just built several new instruments “with all the latest improvements and in the newest fashion . . . [which] can be sold at a lower price than any imported Pianos of the same size and pattern.” He continued to promote his instruments in the Halifax newspapers throughout 1849 and 1850, after which time all trace of him is lost. John B. Philips remained in Halifax manufacturing pianos until he sold his establishment on 29 July 1859 and apparently left the colony. In 1857 he had advertised himself as the inventor of the “Patent Iron Piano Forte” and listed eight instruments in walnut, mahogany, and rosewood with prices from £35 to £100.

According to historian Harry Piers, “all parts of their pianos, except the imported keys and actions, were made here by Henry J. Philips; H. & J. Philips, and finally J. B. Philips, from about 1846 to 1859.” As well as being the first people to manufacture pianos in British North America, the Philipses encouraged the emigration from Europe of craftsmen who continued their trade in Nova Scotia for the next several decades.

Phyllis R. Blakeley

PANS, RG 32, 157, 2 Sept. 1847. Staatsarchiv Hamburg (Hamburg, Federal Republic of Germany), Bürgerbuch von 1835, no.191; Hamburger Adressbücher, 1839–46; Hochzeitenbuch der Wedde II von 1835, no.263. N.S., Provincial Museum and Science Library, Report (Halifax), 1936–37: 29–30. Morning Courier (Halifax), 5 Oct. 1847; 6 June, 22, 25 July, 8 Aug., 3, 24 Oct., 30 Dec. 1848. Morning Journal and Commercial Advertiser (Halifax), 26 Sept. 1859. Times and Courier (Halifax), 18 Jan. 1849. Cunnabells N.-S. almanac, 1857: 94; 1858: 84. Halifax and its business: containing historical sketch, and description of the city and its institutions . . . (Halifax, 1876), 96–97. G. E. G. MacLaren, Antique furniture by Nova Scotian craftsmen, advisory ed. P. R. Blakeley (Toronto, 1961), 90–95.

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Cite This Article

Phyllis R. Blakeley, “PHILIPS, HENRY JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/philips_henry_joseph_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/philips_henry_joseph_7E.html
Author of Article:   Phyllis R. Blakeley
Title of Article:   PHILIPS, HENRY JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   September 29, 2023