This very faint advertising cover shows either a piano or small organ labeled ‘BELL’ and it is addressed to Mr. David Allen Jr, c/o Bell Organs & Piano Co. Ltd., Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The blue ‘Two Penny’ and grey ‘Half Penny’ stamps of New South Wales are postmarked with a duplex SYDNEY/ AU 10/ 2-PM/ 96/ 37 with a barred N.S.W. oblterator. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
Although the Bell Company stopped manufacturing instruments in Guelph in 1930, their products still linger on. The company made pianos, pianettes (small pianos), player pianos, melodeons, organs, benches, stools, and phonographs. With the head office in Guelph, the Bell Company grew into one of the largest companies in the British Empire with locations in Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Another Guelph business, the McLeod Piano Company made melodeons and was bought by Bell adding the McLeod melodeons to the product line. The Bell Company product lines of pianos and organs extended from small suitcase size pianos to nine-foot high organs. They eventually produced 50 products that were sold in 30 countries.
Kelly Pianos was a Guelph music store that had Bell put the Kelly name on Bell made pianos. The Bell company also made games booklets, and these contained musical games with a brief description of the game, such as ‘London Bridges’. They also made instructional manuals for piano playing, which included basic lessons on music theory, piano exercises and sheet music. In 1928 the Bell Company factories and assets were sold to John Dowling of Brantford, Ontario. The Guelph business directory lists the Bell Piano and Organ Company until the 1931 issue.
In 1934 the assets were sold to Lesage Piano of Ste-Therese, Quebec, but Bell was kept as a brand name until 1975. In 1986 Lesage closed, but its Rösch brand continued until 1991, when it also closed.
William Bell senior was one of the early Guelph business giants. He was born in Dumfries, in the southern county of Dumfries-shire, Scotland on September 5, 1833. His parents William and Mary Bell, along with brothers Joseph and Robert, later moved to Canada. Young William had learned the carpentry trade in Scotland and later became a contractor. He moved to Toronto in 1853 and then to New York City or Minnesota. He came to Guelph in 1860 to marry Isabella Christie. They moved to Minnesota in 1861 following his carpentry trade. In 1865 the couple returned to Guelph with son William Jr. and daughter Edith. There he joined his brother Robert to form the Bell Organ Company. William’s sales and business knowledge allowed the business to develop new products, acquire rivals and establish export markets. His carpentry expertise stressed quality products. By 1883 their two factories with 400 men occupied a downtown block (Figure 2).
A lumber yard with drying kilns and stables with 200 men was across the street on the other side of the railway tracks. In 1884 the company was sold to a British syndicate that controlled the factory and business, until the company was sold to John Dowling of Brantford in 1928. When the organ and piano businesses were well established, William turned to other ventures. He was co-founder and president of the Guelph Board of Trade, Guelph Junction Railway, Globe Building and Loan, Traders Bank of Canada, and VP of Manufacturer’s Life Insurance, and also he served on the local school board. He retired from the Bell Company in October 1897, and he died an untimely railway death on September 26, 1912, aged 79 years. A picture of William Bell is seen in Figure 3.
There was extensive advertising for Bell Pianos in Australia, particularly in Queensland where the sole agents were Whitehouse and Co., and this included a testimonial for the Bell Company from the principal of the Guildhall School of Music, William H. Cummings, which appeared in The Brisbane Courier on 30 July, 1902 (Figure 4).
An example of the McLeod small organ made in Guelph, which was bought in 1867, by the Bell Company, is seen in Figure 5.
The majority of the text and Figures 2, 3 and 5 were derived from a Bell Piano Newsletter, October 2006.