A History of the Calisia Piano Maker

 UK Piano page logo UK Piano Page

Kalisz the piano-making centre of Poland

c-factory.gif - 25744 Bytes

in Kalisz located near Opatowek, Kalisz has been one of the main piano-making centres in Poland for almost two centuries. It is also an important industrial centre. Its development in the nineteenth century was favoured by its location on the border of territories influenced by Russia and Prussia. The east-west, north-south and other trade routes met there, connecting the town with Warsaw, Wroclaw, and Cracow. Furthermore, this provincial city (a district between 1845-1867) was situated on a river supplying factories with water, and surrounded by forests rich in wood necessary for building and production.

First of all, however, the development of Kalisz was supported by the economic policy of the Congress Kingdom of Poland that came into being in 1815. It provided planning and stimulated economic development of land impoverished by partition and recent wars. Foreign tradesmen were encouraged to settle in the Congress Kingdom by privileges and facilities such as a tax release for six years, a release from the military service, release from duty on tools and property brought to the country, and other credits and benefits. As a result thousands of tradesmen with their families came to the Congress Kingdom. Many workshops were opened: textile workshops (like the one of A. G. Fiedler in nearby Opatowek - now the home of the Industry History Museum), tanneries, dye-houses, carpenters' workshops, and many others, among which were numerous piano factories. Once in motion, that economic machine did not stop, despite recessions and economic fluctuations over the century. In the middle of the century workshops were converted into factories, supplanting small workshops. Kalisz was transformed into a big industrial centre. Industrial development made the middle class richer and stronger, so that it became the leading social class. Along with increased wealth came cultural development, new ideals, new educational and behavioral patterns, and a new social group, the intelligentsia. Music played a very important role in their life -- in 1818 the Kalisz Music Association was founded. The piano was the most popular element of middle class music culture in the nineteenth century. It became the symbol of a proper education and social status, the symbol of middle class culture.

No wonder that first piano factories in Kalisz were founded as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century. A bit earlier in 1781 Jan Boguslaw Petera came from Berlin and temporarily settled there. He offered pianos, organs, violins, harpsichords, and clavichords. Pianos were produced with alterations such as mutes, flutes, moderators, and other mechanical sound registers. There is historical evidence that between 1812 and 1818 Petera was a piano producer in Poznan. Most probably also Fryderyk Gruneberg and August Schell produced pianos. The former (born about 1779 in Hamburg, died 1812 in Kalisz) was known as an organ master, and had his workshop in St. Stanislaw St. in Kalisz between 1808-1814. The latter (born about 1787) was mentioned in 1822 as a citizen and instrument maker.

Historically documented traditions of piano making in Kalisz can be traced back to Jan Jerzy (Georg) Lindemann, born about 1792 or 1798 in the Duchy of Hessen-Kassel, and died on the 7th of May 1827 in Kalisz. He opened his workshop about 1823 and produced, for example, 20 instruments in 1827, 30 in 1828, more than 30 in 1844, and in 1845 about 30. From October 1845 to September 1847 he built 50 pianos, and repaired and rebuilt 20, using, among other items, 80 pounds of imported sheepskin and 5 quintals of iron wire. In the period of 1847-1848 he employed up to 10 cabinet makers. His instruments were presented at the Warsaw Industrial Exhibition in 1845 (including a piano with a Viennese action, palisander veneer, inlayed, and a keyboard covered by mother of pearl, worth 750 roubles). In that period his serial instruments (with Viennese action, veneered with mahogany) cost 75 ducats (they were accused of having useless dampers in the highest register). For the Music Association in Kalisz Lindemann made a piano worth 1200 Polish zlotys, now in the Piano Collection of the Pomerania Philharmonic. Bydgoszcz possesses one of his instruments from the end of the 1840s.

Lindemann's competitor Karol Grunberg (born about 1796 in Saxony, died on the 18th of September 1853 in Ogrody near Kalisz) was mentioned in documents as a piano maker already in 1830. In the 40s he was making about 10 instruments per year (of low value). In 1847-1848 he built a few pianos employing a few cabinet makers. Most probably he employed a piano journeyman named August Schell (born about 1810), who could have been the son of the instrument producer mentioned above.

Another instrument workshop belonged to Fryderyk Glandt (born about 1802 in Liebstadt, died after 1866), who was known in Kalisz since 1832. In 1840 he was the mate in Lindemann's piano factory, and in 1851 he produced organs. Around 1852-1862 he was the owner of the piano factory, and in 1862 he opened a pub. In 1852 Antoni Herzberg played a piano of Glandt's production during his concert in Kalisz. Next year Glandt made twelve pianos veneered with mahogany, worth 3000 roubles (employing four cabinet makers. and equipping his workshop with machines worth 3700 roubles). In 1859 he made pianos worth 3700 roubles.

In the second half of the century the system of production changed. Instead of being made from start to finish by one worker, instruments were assembled by specialized workers in separate elements and actions. More complicated technology was employed, more and more machines were used. Instruments were built from prefabricated elements and actions were made in other specialized factories. That resulted in standardization and lengthening of the series of instruments.

A new generation of piano makers in Kalisz was originated by Fryderyk Hintz. (The detailed history of factories and factory owners with the description of their instruments can be found in the catalogue.) His factory, working between 1854 and 1890, produced reed organs in its final period. Hintz was one of the first to produce pianos of the so-called American system, namely with over-stringing, full cast-iron frame, and English double repetition action. Such an instrument was shown at the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873.

His employee and successor was Gustaw Arnold Fibiger, who also practised and worked in the famous German firms Quandt, Irmier, Bluthner, Bechstein, and Seiler. In 1873 he opened his own workshop in Kalisz where he built his first piano in 1878. Such were the beginnings of the factory that has been working up to the present (since 1949 known as Calisia). In 1939 it produced over 20,000 pianos. A lot of them received awards at many exhibitions such as the World Exhibition in Paris and London, among others.

In 1855 Teodor Betting became Hintz's partner. He probably also worked with his father-in-law, Glandt. Betting had trained in Leipzig, at Bluthner's factory, in Wroclaw, and St. Petersburg. In 1887 he opened a piano factory in Kalisz which he worked until World War II. The factory produced about 18,000 instruments and won awards at World Exhibitions in Paris, Antwerp, and Brussels.

Fibiger's nephews, Aicksander and Karol, after training in their uncle's factory as well as abroad opened their own factory in Kalisz in 1899, which was known as Fibiger Brothers or Apollo. They produced several thousand instruments awarded at Poznan International Fairs until 1947 when the factory closed. Between the wars the factory specialized in piano, organ, and reed organ keyboards, supplying many Polish firms.

This picture of piano making in Kalisz would be not complete without mentioning a cast-iron foundry established by Arnold's brother Rudolf Otton Fibiger (born on the 13th of July in Kalisz, died on the 8th of February 1919 in Kalisz). He started his career as a confectioner and in 1896 opened the foundry where in addition to grates they made frames for pianos used by local industry. The firm existed to the end of World War II, and in 1930 its production was 150 tons of casts.

During the last century Kalisz gradually grew from a small town, the second after Warsaw, to a big one as a piano centre. At the turn of the century it dominated over the capital of the Congress Kingdom of Poland. Total production of instruments in Kalisz increased from several dozen per year to over a hundred in the last decade of the century, and several hundred in the first decades of the next century. In 1913, for example, 800 pianos were made. Before World War I, despite the recession, its output was several times larger than Warsaw's production.

The war brought destruction, impoverishment and long-lasting economic crisis. In 1914 the city was bombed by the Germans causing damage to Arnold Fibiger's factory and leaving Betting's completely ruined. After the war all three local piano factories returned to work under difficult conditions. In 1921 Betting's factory was moved to Leszno Wielkopoiskie. The other two firms belonging to the Fibiger family found themselves in a new situation. On the one hand, though poor after the war, the Polish market grew. At the same time the traditional foreign Russian market practically disappeared. Moreover, besides Warsaw piano factories, firms from Regained Territories (Poznan, Bydgoszcz, Rawicz, Leseno) and smaller ones from Lvov and Radom took their place on the map of competitors. The Kalisz centre lost its dominant position which was most significant during recessions (the years after the war and the recession of the 30s). For example in 1932 the production of Kalisz represented only 18 percent of the total Polish production. Troubles of producers in Kalisz reflected not only the situation of Polish makers but also of the whole world music industry. In spite of all the problems the factories survived until World War II, and even periodically enlarged their production, with the economic boom of the second half of the 20s and at the end of the 30s.

The next war again brought destruction and ruin. The German invader reorganized both factories in 1939 and changed their production to furniture and weapons containers. After the war in a new economic and political situation the first piano was made in 1947. Fibiger's firm was nationalised and its name was changed to Calisia. The Fibiger Brothers' factory was less lucky. At first it repaired instruments and after 1947 it was liquidated. Its equipment was moved to a newly opened piano factory in Legnica (the tools and machines of a few former factories in Legnica fell a prey to war reparations for the benefit of the USSR).

Fibiger Pianos (later changed to Calisia) was founded in 1873 by Gustaw Arnold Fibiger, at first as a repair workshop, at 549 Al Jozefowa St. In 1898 they moved to Szewska St., later renamed to 9 Chopin St. (a corner of Nowa St.), where it has been operating until the present. In 1878 Fibiger made his first piano, and the existence of the firm has been dated from that year. In 1884 it produced 60 instruments, employing 14 workers. In 1885 the value of the production was 6000 rb., with the employment of seven people. Fame and reputation came in 1885 when Fibiger built a large concert piano (240 cm, overstrung), which the same year was presented at the Warsaw exhibition for 600 rb., together with a overstrung upright piano, for 450 rb. At the next exhibition in 1888 they showed a grand and upright piano.

In 1898 the factory was equipped with a steam engine of 15 HP. It gained more and more customers and soon had its own storehouses in nearly every bigger city in the Congress Kingdom and Russia. In 1900 a new factory building belonging to the family was finished. In 1902 it was equipped with a gas engine of 12 HP and employed 40 people; in 1903 31 people were employed with an annual production of 37,800 rb.

From 1905 to 1910 the average employment was 50 workers, with an annual turnover of 75,000 rb. From 1911 the factory, a leader in the Polish piano industry and piano exports of that time, was situated in a building twice as big as before, which has been preserved up to this day. The enlargement included four floors, a drying house and storehouses, a 75 HP gas engine, modern machines, along with specialization and labour division.

In 1912 the employment level reached 120 with an annual turnover of 150,000 rb. Before World War I it had the potential of employing over 200 workers with an annual production of more than 1000 instruments. After it had been partly destroyed during the war and then rebuilt, the factory was run by the founder's son Gustaw II, and after his death in 1926 by his successors and Karol Broniszowski.

During 1922 to 1926 the employment level was 26 workers; in 1930 it was 120, with the production of 500 instruments and a turnover of 625,667 zl.; in 1932 there were 75 workers, and capital of 412,589 zl.; in 1936 they sold instruments for 248,881 zl. while the capital was 520.000 zl. and employment was 45 persons; in 1938 there were 59 employees and 4 clerks; in 1939 there were 90 workers. In the 1930s, the potential production capacity of the factory was 2500 instruments per year, though it was not fully exploited. During World War II the factory produced furniture and munitions containers. After the war it still made furniture, and in 1948 it was nationalised. For many years Gustaw Arnold III, a grandson of the founder, was working as a general manager and the first constructor in the Calisia factory that opened after the war.

The Calisia piano factory continues old traditions. The last of the Fibigers, Gustaw Arnold III, became a director after the war, and since 1953 a general constructor of the factory once belonging to his family. He designed most piano and upright piano models. It was his initiative to create a Technical School of Building Pianos which prepared trained staff for the needs of the factory. Fibiger lectured there and from 1955 to 1964 he was a director. Now the production reaches several thousand instruments per year (the total production of Calisia has already exceeded 100,000 pianos and upright pianos). The factory is one of the two piano producers in Poland (the other one is in Legnica). Kalisz is still the capital of the Polish piano industry.

The Fibiger factory received the following awards at exhibitions: silver medal - Warsaw 1885; gold medal - 1890; Grand Prix - Paris and London 1906; grand gold medals - Paris 1906, London 1907, Czestochowa 1909, Rostov on Don 1911, Stavropol 1911, Kishinev 1912, Vilnius 1928, Katowice 1928, Poznan 1929; gold state medal - Poznan 1929; grand gold medal - Vilnius 1930; grand gold award - Warsaw 1932. Enthusiastic praise came from pianists J. Wieniawski, I. Friman, A. Michalowski, A. Rubinstein, M. Wasowska, K. Jaczynowska, E. Petri, and J. Turczyiiski. The factory specialised also in instruments of style, made mainly to order, according to the catalogue. A grand piano of style 148 cm long was sent in 1939 to the world exhibition in New York. Many instruments of Fibiger survived in private and musical collections like those of M. Poznan, such as a grand Louis XVI from about 1926.

Serial production numbers :

1890 1725
1893 1851
1895 2006
1902 2724
6th Sept. 1907 5035
1908 5481
1910 7417 to 7875
1914 13095
May 1925 15151
1926 15550
1933 18024
1938 19180
1939 20697
1968 44777
1969 47555
1970 50666
1972 57555
1973 61375
1974 65300
1975 69400
1976 73700
1977 78160
1980 91215
1983 103259
1985 109000
1988 1142240

Information was supplied by
Krzyszto Guzowski

For more information about your piano on any advice on pianos
you can ask on our Piano History Forum

©2005 Barrie Heaton.

Visit my website Piano Tuning in Lancashire.