Two covers sent from Sydney to a piano manufacturer in New Castle, Indiana, USA prompted this paper. The first had embossed octagonal KGV heads of the 1d red and the ½d green as well as an affixed 1½d brown KGV head stamp, making a total of 3d postage. The stamps had a roller cancellation of SYDNEY/ JE 9/ 1919/ 1015AM/ N.S.W. The sender’s name is rubber stamped in purple, at top left, as F. Owen French/ 94 Pitt Street/ Sydney, and the letter is addressed to H. Edgar French, 603 S. 14th Street, New Castle, Indiana, U.S. America (Figure 1).

The second cover is from the same sender, now at a slightly different address of 92B Pitt Street, Sydney, Australia, printed in black, associated with a diagram of a piano, as well as a printed line below of ‘Jesse French & Sons’. The cover has a Sydney ‘Rat Tail’ registration label (called this on account of the elongated limb of the ‘R’), as well as the two crossed red crayon lines, and for extra good measure, a hand-stamped purple ‘REGISTERED’. The postage consists of two KGV heads, the 2d brown and the 4d milky blue, postmarked REGISTERED/ 8 JE24B/ SYDNEY N.S.W. The letter is addressed with a purple hand-stamped ‘Jesse French & Sons Piano Co., New Castle, Ind., U.S.A. (Figure 2).

The reverse, shown partially, has a drawing of a large industrial plant (assumed to be that of the parent USA piano company) as well as 3 postmarks, an originating Registered Sydney, as on the front, plus 2 copies of a double ringed CHICAGO, ILL./ AUG/ 1/ 1924/ REG. DIV. (Figure 3).

I need to say at the outset that the Australian sender was probably a member of the USA ‘French’ family, but proof of this is not available. I have found one item at a genealogy site where an American, Arthur French Kelly stated: “My grandfather was Horace E. French and my great grandfather was Jesse French. As a child I visited the French piano factory in Newcastle (sic), Indiana, a number of times. Several of my family continue to own French baby grand pianos. My mother Elizabeth French, recalls a cousin by the name of Bruce French who moved to Australia in the 1950s, from whom she lost contact.” This French family member and the date of arrival in Australia, would appear to have limited relevance to the sender of the covers.

A website, gives background on the American piano manufacturer, Jessie French and his company:

“Mr. Jesse French, the president of the company, started in the music business in 1872, branching out into the piano business in 1875, and has been continuously connected with the industry ever since. Mr. French was the founder of one, and intimately associated with others of the best known and most successful factories and distributing companies in the United States. It has always been the aim of the company to make the Jesse French & Sons instruments the very best that they could produce, regardless of expense. The Jesse French & Sons’ piano is an artistic production, the culmination of years of experience in the music trade.”

“They are made in grands, uprights, foot-power and electric players and reproducing pianos in great varieties of size and styles, and in all of the fancy woods. Every part of the instrument, with the exception of the hardware, is produced in the mammoth factory in New Castle, Ind., erected especially for the purpose and equipped with the idea of securing the best possible results in every department in every way connected with the production of Jesse French & Sons pianos. For in them, the question of quality is paramount and the desire to excel a very potent force. Two expressive mottos are well known in this connection, viz.: ‘Quality First and First Quality’ and ‘A Name well-known Since 1875′.”

In January 1955, the P.A. Starck Co. of Chicago purchased the company and it continues to make their pianos, utilizing more modern features. An example of a Jesse French/Selmer upright piano of the 1940s is shown (Figure 4).

A label taken from “The Genuine Jesse French Piano” stating it to be a “Favorite For The Home” and “Fully Guaranteed Against All Defects”, “Made Only In New Castle, Ind USA” is shown with a photo of Jesse French, as its central motif. The piano was advertised at a price of $625 (Figure 5).

The first cover dated 1919 was sent to H. Edgar French (presumed to be a family member) and his name briefly crops up at one website devoted to the demise of the player piano, as follows: “A successful piano manufacturer, H. Edgar French, responded to Etude’s article with some interesting facts” – and that’s all!

Addendum (August 2009):  To my surprise the first cover came up for sale again, and to my greater surprise I found a previously unseen website of the entire French family who originated in England.  Horace Edgar French was one of the sons of Jessie and Callie French, and Horace was born in Tennessee on 3 April 1877, and died on 15 June 1968.   He married Ellen Mae Fuller (‘Nellie’) in New Castle, Indiana.  He worked as a salesman in a piano factory, most likely that of his father.  Horace eventually became the president of a piano company and his son Horace jnr worked with him.  A picture of Horace Edgar French snr is seen in Figure 6.

Addendum:  This paper was published in the NSW Philatelist February 2007, Volume 29, pages 1-4.

I wish to thank Mara French for the photo of H. Edgar French which is taken from her splendid French Family History website.

Addendum (September 2010):  I received an email with more information on the USA French family, as follows:  I do not know the date of the information about the Australian French connection, but Arthur Kelly, who was quoted in the article is my cousin.  I am Horace Edgar French III, and Jesse French was my great grandfather.  My father (Horace Edgar French Jr.) was born in New Castle, Indiana and lived there with his father Horace Edgar French Sr. until they moved to Texas.  Horace Sr. operated the French Piano Company factory in New Castle, while French Jr. established a retail piano store in Montgomery, Alabama.  The store operated until around 1959.  I also recall my father talking about Bruce French who had moved to Australia.  I have often wondered about him or his descendants that may reside in Australia.

Can someone help with the Australian ‘French Family’ particularly with a piano business association?

Categories: Business, Family History