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John Church Company Charles Robinson from has compiled some great research on John Church already and I'm expa...

John Church Company & Royal Manufacturing Company - Cincinnati, Ohio

John Church Company

Charles Robinson from has compiled some great research on John Church already and I'm expanding on his work to pull together a complete picture of the company at the time.

John Church can thank the generosity of Oliver Ditson for his success in business.
Oliver Ditson set up successful businesses and allowed his managers to take them over.  This was the case with John C. Haynes, Boston, who made ‘Tilton Improvement’, Bay State, Excelsior and Hub Guitars.  Also with George Lyon and Patrick Healy, Chicago, who under the Lyon & Healy name became the biggest manufacturer of stringed instruments in the early part of the 20th century.
Oliver Ditson also set up a music branch in Cincinnati managed by John Church.  Somewhere between 1859 or 1871 (accounts are conflicting) John Church was signed over as the owner and he incorporated The John Church Company in 1885.  He had a retail arm of all things musical, specializing in pianos and sheet music, and a small manufacturing arm producing the ‘Imperial’ label of instruments.


They sold pianos, organs, violins, flutes, guitars, banjos, music boxes, cornets, cellos, tambourines, zitherns, music stands, harmonicas, accordions, drums, metallaphones, fifes, celestinas, toy horns, and a whole catalog of music books for the aforementioned instruments [9].

Royal Manufacturing Company

The Royal Manufacturing Company was incorporated on April 11th, 1891 in Cincinnati, Ohio with $2,500 of capital stock in the industry of musical instrument manufacture [1]. A little over a year later in September of 1892, the firm was fully absorbed by the John Church Company (est. 1885) in a huge, multi-business deal that involved capital worth five million dollars [2][3]. 

The Music Trade Review described the move as "a re-organization of the separated interests controlled by the John Church Co., to be unified under one general head" which suggests to me that the Royal Manufacturing Co was established for the sole purpose of providing instruments for Church.

Image Credit: Google Books - The Publishers Weekly c.1892

To summarize the image, The John Church Company (based in Cincinnati with a branch in New York) absorbed
  • The Everett Piano Company of Boston
  • Root & Sons Music Company of Chicago
  • Harvard Piano Company of Boston
  • Royal Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati
The new company was set to be led by 
  • Frank A Lee (existing vice president of the John Church Co)
  • William N. Hobart (active in the May Musical Festival Association)
  • Edward Rawson (active in the May Musical Festival Association)
  • A. Howard Hinkle (retired member of the school book publisher Van Antwerp)
  • William Hooper (only mentioned as being a 'capitalist', likely an investor)

The Imperial Company

'The Imperial Co' ivoroid badge on the back of a guitar
Image Credit: Reverb - Santa Barbara Rare Musical Instruments

The Imperial Company is the name that appears on many instruments sold by John Church and I originally suspected it was a brand name but the trademark filing lists it as being a company. I'm not fluent in the workings of patent and trademark law but I suspect that perhaps Church set up a shell company for more allure and credibility behind the instruments that he was selling. 

US Trademark No.60026982 for the Imperial name
Filed March 8th, 1895 but noted as being in use since December 1886
Image Source: Google Books - US Patent and Trademark Gazette c.1895

The only other reference to the company that I can find is a mention in an 1898 newspaper discussing firms in Cincinnati [12]. No other records of such a company in Ohio, Illinois, or New York. The earliest mention of an Imperial guitar I can find is an 1891 classified ad in an Indiana newspaper and the latest is a 1902 ad from a shop advertising the guitar as "new but slightly shopworn" [10][11]. 

Given this information, I believe that the Imperial brand were produced between 1886 and ceased around 1900 when John Church and other retailers seemingly stopped advertising Church's guitars.

The Pearl Guitar

The John Church Company sold a model or line of guitars known as 'The Pearl' to Porter & Davis in Lima, Ohio in the early 1890s. 

Image Credit: - The Lima News c.1892

Streicher Tuning Machines

I've previously covered an 1895 patent for tuning machines designed by Aloysius (Alois) Streicher and assigned to the John Church Company and it appears that he was responsible for most of their tuning machines as I've seen the plate shape on a few instruments of this make.

Patented Streicher tuners
for mandolin
Streicher tuners
for guitar


By WWI, The John Church Company was still in business as an excerpt in The Music Trade Review c.1914 notes the departure of one of their managers as he went to serve with the British. Frank A. Lee was still the president of the company and his son, Raymond, had previously worked in advertising for the company [4].

In 1920, the John Church Company was putting out advertisements searching for 'boys to learn the music business' likely trying to attract younger talent and workers. 

1920 advertisement from The Cincinnati Enquirer
Image Source:

  • 1925
    • The John Church Company prepares to leave their location on West Fourth Street due to the new Federal Reserve Bank of Cincinnati moving in [7]
  • 1926
    • Dayton Music Center purchased the entire retail sheet music and book stock of John Church Co [6]
    • The George P. Gross Piano Company purchased the stock of pianos at the West Fourth Street location including the esteemed Everett line which they began producing again[4]
  • 1928 
    • Lyon & Healy takes over the remaining piano assets of the John Church Co [5]

Ad in the Chicago Tribune c.1928
Image Credit:

  • 1930
    •  The Theodore Presser Company, a sheet music distributor, purchased what was left of the John Church Company [8].
    • This appears to be the final dissolution of the company



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