1904 Fairfield Von Heiden Upright Piano

Era: Cultural background: Collection: Theme:Economics Music Settlement Shops WW1
V. Heiden Piano No. IV
V. Heiden Piano No. IV, Courtesy Fairfield City Museum and Gallery

Fairfield City Museum and Gallery, Smithfield, Australia.

Object name
Von Heiden Upright Piano.

Object description
Upright piano with a wooden case made of solid cedar with cedar veneer, and burr walnut veneer on the front surface. The piano is mounted on a double steel frame with castors, and two metal foot pedals. Solid cabriole brackets support the keyboard frame. The keys are made of ivory. The name “V. Heiden” appears under the sheet music rest. “V. Heiden Patent.” appears moulded into the steel frame in the upper left hand corner, and moulded in the upper right hand corner of the frame is the model number “Heiden No. IV”.

Von Heiden piano detail

The piano was made by German migrant, Carl von Heiden who, with his wife Gertrude, resided at the Von Heiden Estate in Carramar, City of Fairfield. In the early 1900s, the property was a landmark for recreational boating users opposite at Latty’s Boatshed on Prospect Creek.

Von Heiden Estate, opposite Latty's Boatshed, c. 1932
Von Heiden Estate, opposite Latty’s Boatshed, c. 1932. Fairfield City Library and Museum Photographic Collection

Carl Wilhelm Gunther von Heiden was born in Lichterfelde, Berlin, Germany in 1879, the only son of a Prussian army officer. Von Heiden states in his application for Naturalisation that he arrived in Melbourne from Shanghai on the S.S. Germania on the April 4, 19041. Many of the Germans who arrived in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century arrived as individuals and for individual reasons, and those with manufacturing skills were attracted to Sydney and Melbourne.2 Von Heiden had been called up for military service, but it appears that that eventuality was avoided, as he came via Switzerland to Australia in 1904 as a Lipp Piano representative. He subsequently worked for Palings in Sydney.3

Carl’s ambition was to manufacture pianos. He started training at Carl Berstein factory in Berlin, then moving to work with Steinways in New York prior to his recall to Germany for compulsory army service. With that experience behind him, in Sydney he opened a factory in Little Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, and show rooms in Pitt Street, and at 96 Paddington Street, Paddington he sold his own brand pianos. Advertisements on his shopfronts, brand his pianos as either “V. Heiden” or Von Heiden.

Showrooms of the V. HEIDEN PIANOS at 290 Pitt Street
Showrooms of the V. Heiden Pianos at 290 Pitt Street on the Corner of Bathurst Street Sydney. Courtesy Fairfield City Museum and Gallery

The Von Heiden business flourished until the outbreak of World War One and although he was naturalised on 6 August, 1914, and not interned, he suffered financial loss, whether as a result of anti-German sentiment is uncertain, and closed his business in Sydney.

V. Heiden Pianos Show Room at 96 Paddington Street, Paddington. The factory and office are advertised as at Little Oxford Street, Darlinghurst. Courtesy Fairfield City Museum and Gallery4

Through promotions by German manufacturers and the German Government at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, German pianos became very popular with families in the early 20th century, providing entertainment at social and family gatherings. Oral histories record that Carl tuned pianos for neighbours at Carramar, particularly amongst the German community5.

In 1922, Carl moved separately from his family to Brisbane where he initially started a repair workshop in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, and then re-established manufacturing pianos at the Heiden Piano Factory in Stanley Street, South Brisbane in 1932. Operating under the name of Carl Heiden, he also manufactured pianos for Palings, which were sold under the name of either Heiden, or Victor & Belling. For the manufacture of his pianos, he used English beech for tuning, planks and bridges, Swiss pine for soundboards with local timbers such as solid Queensland maple being used for the case and veneered panels, and either Schwander (English) or Higel (Canadian) actions and keyboards. The South Brisbane factory operated until his death in 1936.6

Following his death, the Von Heiden Estate at Fairfield, was bequeathed to the Protestant Church, and in 1955 an aged persons’ complex with small self-contained units was constructed on the site. Part of the former Estate on the banks of Prospect Creek are now a public reserve known as Heiden Park in Carramar, Fairfield, with little visible evidence of the remains of the Von Heidon Estate.

Von Heiden residence at Carramar, c. 1920

Vance George paints a picture of the ornate design that the former house and gardens displayed. “The von Heiden house had a high gabled roof and wide verandahs; the formal gardens were adorned in the fashion of the times. Balustraded steps and walled gardens led down to the water’s edge; there were fishponds with ornamental fountains, and white statues of water bearers lined the paths.”7

Remnants of the former ornate garden of the Von Heiden residence, Carramar

Remnants of the former ornate garden of the Von Heiden residence, Carramar

Remnants of the former ornate garden of the Von Heiden residence, Carramar.

The moulded square stone baluster base in the Museum’s collection, is a remnant of the grand balustrade staircase that led from a courtyard of the von Heiden house toward the banks of Prospect Creek. The stairway, and a fountain with a statue of a boy, remained in situ until the 1980s. Photographs in Vance George’s history of Fairfield 1982, show the boy statue still in place.8

Fountain and balustrade, Von Heiden residence, c.1950s

Fountain and balustrade, Von Heiden residence, c.1950s Fairfield City Library and Museum Photographic Collection

Descendants of the von Heiden’s understand from family conversations that the grain shed and pigeon loft were built at the von Heiden Estate by Carl. The fact that Carl owned pigeons during WWI was translated by some residents to mean, that the pigeons were used to carry messages to Germans on submarines.9 In fact, pigeon shooting was a popular sport in the 1920s and 30s.10

The piano is historically significant as evidence of piano manufacturing in Australia prior to the World War One through to 1936, as it is possibly one of the last upright pianos, made by Carl von Heiden in his Sydney factory between 1904 and 1914. Although others were made as gifts for family members, none other than the one in the Museum survives in descendant families. Family members recall fond memories of Heiden pianos being the centre of social occasions in their living rooms11. However, it is possible that a Heiden piano from Carl von Heiden’s Brisbane factory (1932-1936) may still survive. The story behind the piano is an example of how many migrants commenced their new lives with little, and made substantial professional contributions to the development of industries. In this case, it was von Heiden’s inventiveness in using native timbers in his piano cases.


1 Details from a copy of Carl von Heiden’s Application for Certificate of Naturalization, dated 16/9/1914. National Archives of Australia, digital copy No. 43315. The application states that he was living on the premises at Little Oxford Street, Darlinghurst at the time of the application.

2 Burnley, Ian H., p. 75

3 Piano Tuners & Technicians Guild (Qld) Inc., http://www.uk-piano.org/piano -forums. 17/9/2008

4 J. Sands suburban and country directories for the period 1901-1923 indicates that his piano factory at Little Oxford Street, Paddington was listed at that address between 1911-1916.

5 From oral conversations with members of the Konemann family, Fairfield City Museum, February, 2009.

6 Garratty, Ted, History of the Heiden Piano. http://www.uk-piano.org – 17/9/2008

7 George, Vance, 1982, p. 91.

8 George, Vance. Fairfield – A History of the District. Griffin Press, Unley, S.A. 1982, p. 91.

9 Telephone conversation with Ruth King, donor of the piano, March 2009

10 Fairfield City Library and Museum Photographic Collection, image caption

11 Telephone conversation with Ruth King, March, 2009


Burnley, I H 2001, The Impact of Immigration on Australia: A demographic approach. Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

Gapps, S 2008, Fairfield: Evolution of a Migrant City. Fairfield City Museum & Gallery.

George, V 1982, Fairfield: A History of the District, Griffin Press, Netley, South Australia.

George, V 1991 Fairfield: A History of the District, 2nd ed., Southwood Press, Marrickville, Sydney.

Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning 1996, Regional Histories of NSW, Sydney.

Heritage Collections Council 2001, Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Canberra.



Written by Helen Tierney
Fairfield City Museum and Gallery
September 2008 © 2008

Edited by Stephen Thompson
Migration Heritage Centre
May 2009 – updated 2011

Crown copyright 2008©

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