John C. Fox trained both as a musician and as a manufacturer of pianos in the United States and Europe. He established a successful manufacturing firm in New York City (J.C. Fox and Company) and arrived in Kingston (Canada West) in February 1861 to sell pianos made by this firm. By June he had a branch store in Kingston and within a year had started a piano factory. By 1862 he was a resident of Kingston and had discontinued the New York firm. In September 1862, he competed in the provincial exhibition in Toronto and won first prize for the best piano. He also supplied instruments for visiting musicians and as a skilled performer himself, performed at numerous concerts and musical events including the first Confederation celebration in Kingston. His pianos were known for their superior quality and one was even presented to Lady MacDonald which was sent to the first Prime Minister’s residence in Ottawa. There is also a fine example on display at Fort Henry in Kingston.
Fox expanded his business in January 1864 purchasing a large stone building on Princess St. in Kingston, now the recently restored S & R building.
In 1865 he received a patent for a modified sounding board with a cast iron band that allowed his pianos to withstand the string pressure and produce a sound quality equal to the concert grand and upright pianos that were becoming increasingly popular in the late 19th century. He advertised these instruments as “Double Iron Clad Pianos” capable of exceeding competitors in both price and beauty of tone.
By this time, Fox owned the largest piano factory in Canada and was exporting his instruments all over the world. He employed over 60 men, many of them skilled artisans from American firms such as Steinway and Chickering who were willing to relocate to Canada to avoid conscription during the American Civil War. Fox and was producing six pianos a week which is quite remarkable for instruments that were entirely hand made. He had sales agents in Picton, Cobourg, Toronto, Hamilton and London.
In May of 1867 a fire destroyed the Princess Street factory and in October the collapse of the Commercial Bank brought financial failure and eventual insolvency. Fox suffered severe head wounds in early December 1867 from a sleighing accident and died in January of 1868.
The John C. Fox Serial # 3749 was acquired by Warren Seale in 2008 through an unlikely combination of chance, circumstance and coincidence and there remain many unanswered questions. The instrument was restored to pristine condition by John Hall of Napanee Ontario, probably the foremost authority on Fox pianos.
Although there is still much speculation and research in progress about Fox, his wife and child as well as questions regarding his cross-border dealings during the height of the American Civil War there is little doubt that the John C. Fox #3749 Square Grand is one of the finest remaining, fully restored and playable examples of these remarkable instruments in existence today and a treasured showpiece of the Ed-Vintage Studio collection.