Jean Dominique Adam

The Adam family figures amongst the most important dynasties of bow makers in Mirecourt of the early nineteenth century, with “Grand Adam” finally moving to Paris in 1842 to join the workshop of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. All family members were involved in producing a higher class of bow, and Jean-Dominique’s work varies between direct inspiration from François-Xavier Tourte, or Etienne Pajeot. This viola bow from about 1830 sits closer to Pajeot’s work, especially in respect of the proportioning of the frog, but it is very much it’s own thing. A fabulous viola bow weighing at 71 grams, whilst it works compellingly as a viola bow it is of the type whose balance and flexibility makes a compelling case for using it as a high-powered violin bow. A highly interesting and very rare example sold with the certificate of Jean-Jacques Rampal, May 2004.

James Dodd

This is an early violin bow by James Dodd and the absence of a metal underslide to the frog suggests a date around 1820-30. The overall appearance of the bow is very close to some of the more delicate early octagonal bows by Francois-Xavier Tourte, and particularly close to his follower, Jacob Eury and falls into a category of bows that just as easily includes Nikolai Kittel’s legendary work in St Petersburg. Bows of this sort work exceptionally well for classical repertoire, and provide effortless playing qualities. With highly responsive instruments they can prove exceptional concerto bow. Although they lack some of the punch that a lot of modern players demand, they are very much the connoisseur’s choice.

 

 

Luthiers de la Dyle

I’m very proud to represent Les Ateliers de la Dyle in London. These handmade instruments are made according to a rigorous process of design, material selection and quality control in Romania and are finished off in Brussels before being set up under my supervision to the high standards that I expect for all instruments that I represent for sale. They are both compelling instruments in their own right, and offer a benchmark of quality and consistency upon which I judge all other old and new student instruments. I’m incredibly impressed by how good they are, punching well above their weight – a fabulous instrument for advancing students with a full and rich tone.

Luthiers de la Dyle

I’m very proud to represent Les Luthiers de la Dyle in London. These handmade instruments are made according to a rigorous process of design, material selection and quality control in Romania and are finished off in Brussels before being set up under my supervision to the high standards that I expect for all instruments that I represent for sale. They are both compelling instruments in their own right, and offer a benchmark of quality and consistency upon which I judge all other old and new student instruments. I’m incredibly impressed by how good they are, punching well above their weight – a fabulous instrument for advancing students with a full and rich tone.

George Wulme Hudson

George Wulme Hudson made instruments to different qualities according to the priorities and circumstances of each opportunity. Over the years I have seen several examples of his most deceptive work, all coming from the United States of America with provenances suggesting they were bought by American dealers around the 1940s and thereabouts. This fine violin is such an example, and is a very well made copy of a Carlo Giuseppe Testore, made without a label and unbranded on the interior. Whilst these were certainly ‘speculative’ violins in Hudson’s mind, we cannot be certain of how far he played a part in passing them off as genuine. Although it would be hard to fool an expert knowledgable of Hudson’s work or eighteenth century Milanese examples, it is a particularly compelling instrument. Much of the discussion surrounding these instruments recently asserts that they are simply too good to be Hudson’s work and must be by the Voller brothers, but a more considered examination of internal work, and of the materials chosen for these instruments firmly proves that Hudson’s talents equalled those of the Voller brothers when the opportunity allowed.

Johan Anton Gedler

The Bavarian town of Füssen was a leading centre of instrument making from the mid-1400s onwards, with a guild of instrument makers formed in 1562. It’s importance declined in the early nineteenth century, but when Johan Anton Gedler made this violin it was still one of the most significant communities for violin making in Northern Europe. Various violins of this shape survive by a range of Füssen makers from throughout the century, and they invariably represent the highest standards of craftsmanship in German making of the period.

We can’t be certain of the motivations behind making these instruments, but the variation in design is meticulously worked out, and the production of these instruments is difficult and time-consuming by violin-making standards. My most plausible suggestion is that they were intended for opera and musical theatre productions that required an on-stage presence for musicians, since they are as relatively removed from ordinary violin design as theatrical dress is removed from every-day clothes. The ‘rusticated’ look to the instruments may also relate to the classical orders in architecture and in doing may also be evocative of the undercurrents in eighteenth-century music that developed in German-speaking lands from the antithetical nature of scordatura by Biber and his contemporaries, to the emergence of Sturm and Drang under Gluck, Haydn and Mozart from the 1760s.

The violin is in excellent condition having been recently and sympathetically restored back to a baroque state.

John Joseph Merlin

Joseph Merlin by Thomas Gainsborough

It is difficult to overstate the importance of John Joseph Merlin a true maverick genius of the eighteenth century: His automatons at his Mechanical Museum inspired the schoolboy Charles Babbage to invent the earliest computer, whilst he is perhaps as famous, for  the invention of the roller skates. Amongst his musical inventions is a harpsichord capable of annotating the music being played, and he was also keenly involved in applying scientific method to recreating the famed Cremonese tone in violins.

When this instrument was made, violin makers were already expressing interest in understanding the science behind the Classical Cremonese makers. Antonio Bagatella in Padua would publish his “Regole per la costruzione de violini” in 1782, and closer to home, in London, Richard Duke made strong claims about the qualities of his copies of Cremonese masterpieces. If there is any scientific foundation to Merlin’s experiment, it lies within his attempt to recreate the famed Cremonese tone, with the understanding that if violins that emulated Cremonese shapes were unable to replicate tone, a radical exploration of alternative designs could arguably achieve the stated aim. If any credence can be given to this, the violin is a wonderful example of ‘thinking outside of the box’, so whilst it is a failure in it’s stated aims, it may still be an extraordinary testament to the inventive processes of a creative mind that inspired one of the greatest inventions of modern times. It likewise serves as a forerunner to much of the experimentation in violin acoustics that evolved in the early nineteenth century.

As a maker of automata his genius was singular, but he will perhaps be remembered best for the fateful occasion when he smashed into a plate glass mirror of £500 value, as the consequence of demonstrating his new violin designs whilst test-driving his roller-skates (and forgetting to invent the brakes). His swan at Bowes House is unrivalled:

Luthiers de la Dyle

My newly made instruments by les Ateliers de la Dyle serve as a consistent benchmark for quality upon which we judge all other student-range instruments that come into the shop. They are made to a variety of models, but this particular kind is reminiscent of English making of the 1780-1800 period and very appealing to me. For many years I have been looking for the ideal cello that would appeal to professional musicians as a second-instrument for taking on tour with the idea that an instrument that meets these standards would make a superb instrument for advancing students and amateur musicians.

Les Ateliers de la Dyle instruments are handmade in Europe under rigorous quality control, and are hand-finished in the Meteny workshops near Brussels before being set up in the UK to our exacting standards for sale in London, priced at £4,500

These instruments are made in relatively small numbers to maintain quality control, and the Atelier Meteney cellos that we also stock are made in the same workshop but with carefully selected wood a higher quality of oil varnish, still representing commendable value for money competitively priced at £8,000. Violins and violas also in stock.

Alfred Charles Langonet

During the 1930s British viola players as a whole became increasingly interested in the sound possibility of larger instruments with George Wulme Hudson, John Wilkinson others producing a number of extremely fine instruments measuring sixteen-and-a-half inches and larger, establishing a fashion that would eventually resulted in the emergence of the Tertis Model viola. Alfred Charles Langonet’s contribution to this period of English making was the development of a long-pattern viola allowing the necessary length for a good sounding c-string but taking advantage of the narrower upper bouts to make the instrument easier to play. Stradivari himself had experimented with the long-pattern as a basis for the viola, of which the Royal Academy of Music’s 1696 “Archinto” is an example, but it seems that Langonet bypassed this entirely to produce his idealised longer model. Typically of the Langonet work of this period, the idealised attitude towards making instruments provides it with beautified Nicolo Amati soundholes on a Stradivari body, mixing the elements of Cremonese making that Langonet found most pleasing.

 

Alfred Charles Langonet joined the RAF during World War II, serving in 209 Squadron Coastal Command, and was rigger on the Catalina flying boat that spotted the Bismarck.

Alfred Charles Langonet in 1942 seated in the blister turret of his Catalina flying boat.

 

Condition notes: The viola is in an excellent state of structural preservation with the exception of the varnish, which has been fully restored.

BBC Proms 2017

 

I’m advertising in the BBC Proms programmes this year, so I hope you’ll have a little enjoyment seeing my advert as you listen to the world’s greatest orchestras come to London. And of course, the Proms being what it is, my doors are forever open to the wonderful musicians who come from all around the world to perform here. I look forward to seeing you!

 

Thomas Smith

St James Square in Piccadilly was home to a vibrant community of violin makers for much of the eighteenth century beginning with John Barrett who first arrived around 1714 at the Harp and Crown. From the 1720s Peter Wamsley was the major figure in the area, working at the Harp and Hautboy, a shop that passed on through two generations before being taken over by Thomas Smith. To a greater extent Smith’s work follows in the Wamsley tradition, and his work is characterised both by the chocolate brown varnish but also by such exquisitely painted on purfling that it seems both incongruous to the instrument as a whole, and as if it would have been less work to inlay it instead. The dark Cremonese-style pins on the back of the instrument are a good identifying mark for Smith’s work too. Although the Wamsley and Smith workshop is better known for it’s Stainer copies, I have seen one or two works by Smith that lead in other directions, of which this is an example. The model, whilst somewhat Stainer influenced is far more evocative of seventeenth-century English models, in some ways quite similar to examples by Edward Pamphilon.

Condition notes: The violin is in overall good condition with the exception of ancient worm damage on the bass side upper flank of the back of the violin. This has been grubbed out and filled centuries ago, and is both a solid and reliable repair. The violin is priced with a consideration for this damage.

Richard Brueckner

Richard Bruckner was chiefly a restorer of violins, and consequently his instruments are rare and very little is know of his life. From around 1880 he and his brother Franz established a workshop in Berlin, and by 1900 Richard had moved to London. The violin is a very neatly put together Stradivari copy finished with an amber oil varnish which is very typical for good quality violins made in England for the London trade around the 1890s. The rather generous chamfers on the scroll are the one area where the violin refers back to high-quality German making, but the clean overall aesthetic sits firmly amongst the kind of work produced around the various Wardour Street workshops in London. A fine and very clean instrument with a strong, bright tone.

 

Condition notes: The violin is in a perfect state of preservation and recently setup to an excellent standard.

 

 

Neuner & Hornsteiner

The Neuner & Hornsteiner workshop was one of the largest in nineteenth-century Mittenwald. It produced a variety of qualities of instruments and both cellos and small-sized violins made by them are especially prized. This example is of the ‘long-pattern’ model that is typical of their fractional sized instruments, but instead of the usual deep blackish-red varnish it is finished with a brittle amber oil varnish instead. The workmanship is overall of the highest quality to come from their workshop, and it is a very fine example. A very charming instrument with enormous potential.

 

Spur Violins

A conversation between a Jazz musician and a luthier sparked the beginning of a quest to produce an ideal violin for on-stage performance more than twenty years ago. The luthier in question was Paul Davies from Australia, the violinist was Stéphane Grappelli. I’ve been really proud to be involved in the last four years of Paul’s epic quest to produce an ideal semi-acoustic violin, with fundamental sound qualities that relate to fine playing violins, but with the versatility to take it on stage, and as a foundation for exploring the uncharted depths that electronic music has to offer.

The spur system works on a specially designed transducer fitted around the soundpost that responds to the same internal body resonances of the instrument that give an ordinary violin its characteristic full and rich sound, and a process of re-engineering the instrument with shorter ribs, a flat back and a single soundhole all contribute to cutting out resonances that cause feedback and other problems familiar to instruments played with a transducer.

At present we only have a prototype at the studio. Please enquire to try it out. We expect to receive the first production batch in a few months time, including violas and cellos.

To see the first production prototype in Europe being taken through its paces by Peter Shepperd-Skaerved, watch here.

Circle of Johannes Keffer

Instruments from the Salzkammergut region of modern-day Austria are of particular interest, especially violas which always seem to be of excellent quality. There were various makers producing regional work in this area with a relatively high proportion of contralto and tenore-sized violas made into the early 1800s long after they had ceased to be in regular production anywhere else in the world and perhaps indicative of regional musical practices in churches along the Salzburg valley.

There were at least fifteen violin makers named Keffer working in the adjoining villages of Ischl and Goisern over four generations, in addition to other makers from the Peer and Gandl families working in the same community in number over several generations and their work is very seldom labelled, some clearly never had a label in, and others have been “improved” to Italian, so determining precisely which of the Salzkammergut makers produced this instrument is an impossible task.

The Salzkammergut makers  invariably use plain locally sourced wood and a varnish with very little pigment in it, evidently working in quite a hurried manner which draws very close (and dangerous) comparisons to instruments by the Testore family, and for many years before the instrument came to us,  this instrument was identified as the work of Carlo Antonio Testore. Nevertheless, the characteristic high-foreheaded scroll is  a ‘Germanic’ feature and the sound hole nicks set high in the f-holes provide another immediate reference to this school of making, thereafter there are various identifying features that rule out Milanese making and after that there are many familiar characteristics that put the instrument to the Salzkammergut region.

The instrument has had a distinguished musical career, as a Testore until we examined it, and lives up to it’s reputation in overall terms of sound quality and excellence.

Condition notes: I have never encountered a Salzkammergut region instrument that doesn’t have serious woodworm issues to the point that the presence of repaired worm holes almost becomes a definitive factor in determining authenticity. The viola suffered significant damage in which was extensively restored by J&A Beare Limited more than fifty years ago. There are some filled worm holes in the front but the centre of the belly has been entirely renewed for 2cm either side of the centre joint along it’s length, and there are several exit holes in the back around the top-block area. The viola is priced according to it’s restored condition.

 

 

 

Johann Christian Ficker

There are three Johann Christian Fickers working in Neukirchen, and about 20 members of the family who made musical instruments recorded in total as well as other makers in Neukirchen who worked with them, so as with Klotz violins in Mittenwald one can rarely be certain of who made an instrument unless it has an absolutely authentic label. Nonetheless, this is most likely to be J.C. Ficker (III) and there is no particular difference in value between any of them. This example is of particularly high quality and bears a fake label of “Paulus Aletsee, / fecit Monarchij. 1711”. I note that the compressed upper parts of the letter “e” are a characteristic that I have also seen on genuine Ficker labels. and provides very clear evidence to suggest that the label was inserted into the violin when it was new by the Fickers as a forgery of the work of a celebrated earlier maker (although the extra turn etched into the scroll is a characteristic Ficker trait which is illogical in a violin intended to be a forgery). The overall pattern is somewhat similar to Stainer, but a little fuller and rounder and the quality of workmanship and varnish is of the highest quality for Neukirchen makers. Overall a very fine and characterful eighteenth-century German violin.

Louis Lowendal

Louis Lowendal established a workshop in Dresden in 1855 manufacturing violins on a large scale. His work is distinctive from other German makers of the period, and his connections in a major city, rather than in the violin-making villages of Markneukirchen, Mittenwald and Schönbach seem to have led to a distinctive response to market demand. Instruments are varied in model, design and quality, with a bit more sensitivity to the Cremonese originals they are trying to emulate than other instruments produced on a large scale, and his best work is impressively fine In 1889 the company moved its headquarters to a large building in Reichenberger Strasse, Berlin, where this violin was made, and his regular vists to London and the United States earned him significant export trade.

Lowendal worked primarily to order, and this violin is dated with the name of the intended British dealer, Barton, for whom it was made in 1891 (possibly Joseph Edward Barton from Lincolnshire, who made violins in Llanelli, South Wales). Overall the model is Stradivarian, as indicated by the label, but the soundholes are a little gothic in character, giving it a slight lean towards Guarneri’ del Gesu’s work of the early 1730s. The flattish model which typifies so much of Lowendal’s work produces a loud and clear voice which I always appreciate of his work, that once again

Labelled “Manufactured in Berlin / copy of / Antonius Stradivarius” and additionally marked “Barton 1891”

Condition notes: The violin has been fully renovated and professionally setup by us before being placed on sale. In excellent condition.

 

 

Hawkes & Son

Hawkes & Sons (Boosey & Hawkes after 1930) were a very successful company selling orchestral sheet music and specialising in military band instruments, established in 1865 and setting up an instrument factory in Edgware, North London. Violins sold by Hawkes range enormously, but were always consistent with the high standards to which they produced band instruments of their own. Catalogues from the period when this “Tyrolean” violin were made show that they had regular supply contracts with makers such as Pedrazzini and bow makers including Eugene Sartory.

The “Tyrolean” model label in this instrument seems at first to be  slightly misleading – it is not, as the initial appearance of the violin is of a French Stradivari copy, typical of the J.B. Collin workshops or better-quality worth by Jerome Thibouville-Lamy of the period, but the varnish is slightly more opaque than is found in Mirecourt workmanship of the time, and other features – for example the lozenge-shaped button, and the shading of the varnish – all point towards German workmanship produced specifically to imitate the look of the French to compete in their markets. The violin is made in Schönbach am Tyrol, at the time a hugely important centre for musical instrument production in Germany (later becoming Luby in Czechslovakia).

Condition notes: The violin has had a full renovation and setup in order to prepare it for sale. The instrument is in excellent condition.

 

 

Colin Cross

Colin based this instrument on a mid-eighteenth-century example labelled for Giuseppe Antonio Finolli, working in Milan. We don’t know much about Finolli at all, and there is even some discussion whether the original violin is by him. Nonetheless, it is a compelling instrument and Colin’s copies prove to be  extremely successful serving as a model for a musician looking for a slightly smaller violin: The combination of a slightly smaller body and narrow upper bouts make it a very comfortable instrument to play, whilst the richer and fuller arching compensates for the air-volume inside the instrument  and the stop length (from the top of the body to the bridge) and string length remain those of a full-size violin, allowing modern strings to work at an optimum tension. For a musician who is yet to grow into a full-size violin, or finding one a struggle, this model provides a brilliant alternative.

Altogether a brilliant violin, with bags of character visually as well as a compelling ‘full-sized’ tone.

 

 

Joseph Panormo

A very fine English violin by Joseph Panormo (circa 1768 – 1837) worked alongside his father for almost all of his career, but his individual style becomes more apparent, as does that of his brother George after the early 1800s. This particular example is a very studied copy of an earlier Neapolitan violin by Nicolo Gagliano, finely detailed all the way down to the Neapolitan ‘two-by-two’ peg positioning and as can be seen from a side by side comparison of the violin against Nicolo’s work illustrated below.

A very rare example in such fine condition. This violin responds well with softer strings producing a beautiful and rich tone. It is preserved in near-perfect condition.

Read more in our article on this violin in our Violins & Violinists blog here.

 

Comparison of Joseph Panormo’s Gagliano copy of 1820 against a violin by Nicolo Gagliano from approximately 1760.

 

 

Barak Norman & Nathaniel Cross

Barak Norman died in 1724, after which point his apprentice, Nathaniel Cross went into collaboration with his widow for a period spanning 1724 and 1725. Instruments of this period labelled jointly as “Barak Norman and Nathaniel Cross” are invariably wholly the hand of Cross. This particular small-sized cello was probably intended for an adult viola da gamba player looking for a violoncello of similar scale, and now conforms to a good three-quarter-size. The modelling is exceptionally Italianate – the soundholes are directly copied from G.P. Maggini, and the overall modelling is close to Giovanni Grancino in appearance, making for an instrument of extremely high quality and interest with potential for historical performance, for an adult musician willing to trade size for a compelling history and tonal qualities, or for a talented young player.

Nicolas Vuillaume

Nicolas Vuillaume was the younger brother of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, who worked in the Paris workshop from 1832 to 1842 before returning to Mirecourt in order to oversee production of Vuillaume’s “Stentor” and “St Cécile” models. His Paris instruments are very rare, and equivalent in quality to those of his more famous brother. This example is based upon the 1711 “Duport” Stradivari but slightly enlarged (763mm rather than 755mm)  in size. The “Duport” was the most famous Stradivari cello in France, and central to J.B. Vuillaume’s own work. It is  signed on the back and dated for Nicolas Vuillaume’s  last year in Paris, “N.Vuillaume a Paris 1842”.

It is perhaps significant of this cello that the original Stradivari was sold by Duport’s heirs sold to Franchomme the following year for a record 25,000 Francs and it was much celebrated as the greatest Stradivari cello in Paris. (It was later the cello played by Mstslav Rostropovich from 1974 to 2007.)

Length of back: 763mm.

Condition notes: The violoncello is in restored condition, the ribs having been made from unseasoned wood and have been strengthened to a good standard, but the back and the front are in a good state offering a good prospect to acquire a Vuillaume cello at a proportionately lower price. Sold with the letter of Vatelot-Rampal, 2012.

N.B. Nicolas should not be confused with his elder brother Nicolas-François who also worked with J.B.Vuillaume before establishing in Brussels.

Mstslav Rostropovich playing the 1711 “Duport” Stradivari in 1978, the violoncello on which Nicolas Vuillaume modelled this example.

 

Henry Lockey Hill

Henry Lockey Hill (1774-1835 was an extraordinary maker of the early nineteenth century. He probably trained with his uncle Joseph Hill (II) rather than with his father Lockey Hill whose work seems least related to his own, and he was working for John Betts by 1806. At some point he became closely connected to the Panormo family, and his work from this period is very hard to distinguish from that of Joseph and George Panormo.

The cello is to an English pattern slightly on the small side, with unusually Italianate arching reflecting Hill’s strong connections with Panormo. A superb and strong sounding instrument.

Jean-Baptiste Chipot-Vuillaume

Jean-Baptiste Chipot (1847-1892) was born in Mirecourt and apprenticed under Derazey before working in the Colin-Mezin workshop. In 1870 he married the daughter of a shoemaker, Stella Vuillaume with no direct relationship to the family of J.B. Vuillaume, nevertheless he rather mischievously exploited the name for his own benefit as Jean-Baptiste Chipot-Vuillaume, establishing a small workshop under that name. After his death Charles Drouin took over the workshop and continued the brand-name, though producing instruments to a slightly lesser standard.

This violoncello is a good example of J.B. Chipot-Vuillaume’s work, based on the same B-forma Stradivari model that passes through Derazey from Vuillaume, with strong flat arching that gives it a bold rich sound. The instrument is slightly heavily built but the payback of the extra weight provides for a somewhat richer quality of tone with stunning clarity on the A-string.

Condition notes: The cello has a few minor cracks on the belly that have been well repaired. The scroll is in keeping in the instrument, but later affording a proportionate reduction in price.

Cambridge 2017: Andrea Amati

I am delighted to be returning to Cambridge on 11 July to deliver an informal talk on Andrea Amati. Over the last four years, my Cambridge talks seem to have become a regular event in the diary, open to the public through the Cambridge Violin Workshop. It’s always such a pleasure to visit, I simply love the environment.

If you ever thought of making a violin and have some spare time try one of the short courses at the Cambridge Violin Workshop.

Stradivari’s Messiah: The Oxford Conference September 2017

Following the tercentenary celebrations for Stradivari’s Messiah at Cremona in 2016, I am delighted to take the lead in the organisation of a two day conference on the violin to take place in Oxford on 16-17th September for the British Violin Making Association in conjunction with the Ashmolean Museum.

In the public eye, the Messiah is certainly one of the most controversial objects in display in any museum, and since it emerged from Italy in the 1860s there have been many calls have questioned it’s authenticity. In this conference, our aim will be to interrogate all of the allegations put forward about the Messiah and demonstrate how they have been tested them against the best evidence possible.

The conference is open to the public, although it is cheaper for you if you join the BVMA in order to attend, and members of other violin making organisations worldwide are admitted for the same member’s rate.

For booking information and general information about accommodation and travel see here: http://www.bvma.org.uk/events.html

Nigel Crinson

Nigel Crinson’s violin is modelled around a Stradivari violin from 1719, but the outcome reminds me more of Giovanni Francesco Pressenda’s work from Turin in the early nineteenth century. Given how much I adore Pressenda’s work, that is no small compliment. I’m delighted to have a regular stock of instruments by Nigel, which I find consistently powerful with a broad and complex tone.

Steffen Nowak

Steffen Nowak’s violin is an interpretation of Carlo Bergonzi’s work taking it’s inspiration from work of the late 1730s. Bergonzi’s own work is incredibly experimental and varied within the context of classical Cremonese making of the Golden period. Steffen’s violin fits convincingly within the expected scope of this work. Very tastefully varnished, a warm and brilliant sounding instrument.

Padraig Barden

Padraig Barden is one of several contemporary makers whom I enjoy representing. This particular violin is based on Yehudi Menuhin’s 1734 Guarneri del Gesu, the “Lord Wilton”. Padraig’s personal style tends to leave his instruments slightly lightly built. The effect reminds me of the characteristics I see in Giovanni Baptista Ceruti’s work, which is quite a compliment in terms of developing an individual response to the great Cremonese makers, with benefits to the way it sounds. The instrument has an impressive depth of sound giving it an attractive complexity that I normally expect of older instruments. An ideal instrument for a music student or young professional.

Perry & Wilkinson

I have now seen several violins and cellos made for Perry and Wilkinson in Dublin during the 1820s that bear a very strong relationship to Richard Tobin despite the fact that he had left Dublin for London sometime before 1810, posing a question of whether he returned to Dublin for a short while, or whether another maker in the Perry and Wilkinson workshop travelled to London, learning from Tobin and other London makers whilst he was there. Certainly the scroll of this violin is not to the usual standard found in Tobin’s work, but the strength of the violin and its relationship to Tobin rests in it’s overall modelling as a copy of Nicolo Amati. Other violins from the Perry and Wilkinson workshop tend to be quite predictable flat-arched instruments with no specific relationship to classical models.

The instrument is in original condition, including the original classical-period ebony pegs and a bridge which came with the violin that we judge to be of the period it was made and thus original. Though it is quite a late date for a ‘classical setup’ it is a very good example of a kind of London setup that was effectively unchanged from about the 1760s.

Labelled “Made by/Thos Perry & Wm Wilkinson/Musical Instrument Makers/No1 Anglesea Street/Dublin 1824” and numbered 4639. Stamped “PERRY/DUBLIN” on the back.

 

 

Henry Jay

Henry Jay worked on Long Acre, in Covent Garden, close to Conduit Court where Thomas Chippendale had his workshop. This may be more than simple coincidence, as Jay’s instruments are amongst the most fastidiously worked examples of late eighteenth-century violin making, showing many of the elements of craftsmanship that were common to Chippendale’s own sense of quality and putting them above most of his contemporaries.

Jay probably trained with Peter Wamsley in Piccadilly, for some of his Stainer-inspired instruments are made to near-identical models, but the majority of his work follows a Cremonese influence, mostly following Amati but some rare examples indicate a Stradivari influence. A characteristic of Jay’s work is to leave the upper corners slightly short and to extend the lower corners proportionately, something that is particularly attractive on his violoncellos and present in this instrument, giving a Bergonzi-like squareness to the upper half of the instrument. Overall the model is strikingly close to Stradivari’s work of circa 1680 with the same blend of a low Amatise arching and stridently angular Stradivarian soundholes. It is impressively reminiscent of the 1679 “Hellier” for these reasons.

A very strong and beautiful sounding violin, suitable for professional use.

Length of Back: 358mm
Upper Bout: 165mm
Middle Bout: 113mm
Lower Bout: 203mm

The 1679 “Hellier” by Antonio Stradivari and the Henry Jay, showing similar styling in the soundholes, along with the arching suggesting the violin was strongly influenced by a Stradivari of about the 1680 period.

Condition notes: Sold with the certificate of Benjamin Hebbert Violins Limited. The  violin has a label obscured by dirt and illegible which is consistent with an original label. The scroll has been re-cheeked on both sides, with a dark discoloured varnish over the entire scroll and on the heel of the neck graft, raising questions about the scroll. It is in my opinion genuine, but badly compromised. The body of the violin is in an excellent state of preservation and characteristic for the maker.

Auguste Delunet

Auguste Delunet was amongst the legendary French violin makers recruited by W.E. Hill & Sons in 1880 to work under the direction of Charles-François Langonet. Delunet’s violins are rare, but his technique for antiquing can be found on various repairs and replaced parts of instruments that passed through the Hill workshop. The Voller brothers and other fakers of the period in London adopted a technique of mixing elements from different Italian schools to create a kind of Italianate pastiche of which this is an example. There overall model is of Nicolo Gagliano, but the visually extravagant wood of the back is reminiscent of G.B. Guadagnini or some of the late Cremonese makers. Overall an excellent example of early twentieth century London making, with a fine, dark and mellow tone.

Paul Bailly

Paul Bailly made this viola around 1890 during one of his short visits to London, where he worked on Wardour Street amongst the hive of violin dealers and makers, but established his own workshop in Surrey Street in Battersea. The instrument is a departure from his routine making, and gives a first impression of being an interpretation of Guarneri del Gesu’s work in the form of a viola. With a little more considered view, it is actually a very refined Brescian model adopting much of the characteristic and style of the highly refined Maggini-inspired work of Giovanni Baptista Rogeri. Whether or not either maker made a perfect 16inch viola or not is quite another matter.

The resulting instrument, made in London by a French pupil of J.B. Vuillaume rather unexpectedly prefigures some of the better Italian work of the early twentieth century. It is easy to make (albeit coincidental comparisons) with Neapolitan makers such as Alfredo Contino in the overall concept and appearance of the viola.

Strung with Evah Pirazzi strings, the viola is incredibly strong and vibrant in sound. An extremely versatile instrument with plenty of character.

William Taylor

William Taylor’s address is given as Princes Street, Drury Lane, and he was active in the late eighteenth-century and up until around 1820. His work, as we have got to know it better, follows the various patterns of the London trade around 1800, but the most distinguished examples adopt a good golden-period Stradivari model, of which this is a good specimen. There is considerable speculation that he was a pupil of Vincenzo Panormo. Certainly the use of locating pins on the back – normally ostentatiously darkened for extra effect – places his work close to that of Panormo, although his work rarely comes up to the standard of the best of Panormo’s work or that of Henry Lockey Hill and whilst it is good professional workmanship for the period, the quality of materials and the thin spirit varnish are in keeping with many of the second-tier of makers of the period including the Furber family and the majority of output from the Kennedy workshop. Nevertheless, this is a very charming example of early 19th century English work inspired by Stradivari’s best period.

With Obligato strings, the violin pulls a rich and dark sound with plenty of power. A good strong violin reflective of more prized work by Henry Lockey Hill and the Panormo family but at an accordingly reduced price.

Young British Soloists’ Competition Debut Recording 2017

I was delighted to be a part of the inaugural Young British Soloists Competition in 2015 and to celebrate Louise Alder as winner. As part of the prize, we sponsored the recording and distribution of the winner’s debut album with Orchid Classics. The outstanding reviews in the press say more than we possibly could. Congratulations to Louise on an amazing career ahead.

See more from the Orchid Classics Website

Fiona Maddocks’ review for The Guardian
Nigel Fisher’s review for The Times

Benjamin Banks

The majority of Benjamin Bank’s cellos follow a reduced Amati form, but from as early as the 1760s he made at least three copies of Stradivari’s narrow B-piccola forma (the same form on which the 1730 DeMunck was made). This is one of two known instruments from 1785 made to an embellished B-piccola form, widened by about an inch in the waist and the widths of the upper and lower bouts, creating an extremely successful and important model.

This instrument was noted by W.E. Hill & Sons for it’s extraordinary qualities in the early 20th century. It remains preserved in almost perfect condition. A highly important example of the maker’s work.

Circle of Wilhelm Azan

A very early and rare French seventeenth-century viola approximating the Haute-Contre size found in orchestras of the seventeenth century. The outline, general form and varnish are strikingly simiar to a bass violin by Wilhelm Azan in the Musee de la Musique, Paris, and the partly illegible label gives a clear date for 1668, supported by dendrochronology. Very fine sounding, with considerable Brescian influence, resembling the work of Gaspar da Salo.

Later scroll, and priced with respect to condition.

Atelier Meteney

Our Atelier Meteney and Ateliers de la Dyle instruments are made by the same workshop outside Brussels. The difference comes in the careful selection of materials and the extra time and effort made to produce a more finished product. I feel that the extra effort makes all the difference and produces a recognisably higher quality.

We have been looking for the ideal professional ‘second’ cello on the market for under £5000 and instruments by Les Ateliers de la Dyle is the best cello we’ve found for the price, making it a fabulous intermediate instrument to take students all the way through grade 8, and into university or amateur orchestras.

Les Ateliers de la Dyle instruments are handmade in Europe, finished in the Meteny workshops in Brussels and setup to our exacting standards for sale in London. In my opinion, probably the best handmade cellos available. We are exclusive London importers of these instruments and normally have one or two available to try.

Gagliano Family

This composite violin may have been put together in the W.E. Hill & Sons workshop around 1900 since it completed with a very fine head by Charles Francois Langonet, the foreman of the workshop. The back and ribs come from a late Gagliano violin probably by Giovanni and Antonio made shortly after 1800, but the front is a very good and typical example from the middle of the eighteenth-century with a strong dendrochronological cross-match to other violins of the Gagliano family and stylistically closest to Giuseppe Gagliano from about 1770.

The violin is recently restored, and very fine sounding with a clear and direct tone that is very typical for instruments of this calibre, but a real “player’s instrument” affording an excellent opportunity to own an example of classical period Italian making at a fraction of the normal cost.

Rüdolf Hös

Rüdolf Hös was born to an important family of instrument makers in Füssen in 1640, but was sent away to apprentice in Rome sometime around 1663. His application for citizenship of the city of Munich states that he spent 19 years in Italy, working in Bologna and Venice before his return to Germany. Here he worked briefly in Munich, then Augsburg, and returned to Munich to become instrument maker to the Ducal Court, probably in response to the death of Jacob Stainer, who had been supplying the court with instruments up to at least 1680.

The viola is a direct response to Stainer’s large violas, with a similar rib depth and scale, but it is somewhat narrower, making it an eminently more playable instrument. There are sound Italianate features to the instrument, but in this case I feel that his nineteen years in Italy enhance the sale of the instrument, and not its price, since the viola is strongly Northern European in design. That said, his German contemporaries from Füssen who remained in Italy include Matteo Goffriller and David Tecchler.

Altogether a charming historic instrument of considerable rarity with the expected sound of a great 17-inch viola. The present setup optimises a longer string length, to take full advantage of the size. Some restorations, and priced accordingly.

George Pyne

George Pyne is an English maker who interests me enormously. The majority of his works are fairly unassuming, and result in his reputation being lumped in with less appealing stereotypes of early 20th century English making, but some of his works stand up to the very best traditions of the period, standing shoulder to shoulder with Wulme Hudson, the Voller brothers and other makers with direct links to the vibrant Wardour Street violin trade. The result is that his work and reputation remain underrated, and best examples can offer really good value for money against instruments of comparable craftsmanship and vintage.

Many of his instruments are made simply and unpretentiously, without any trace of faking or antiquing, and contemporary biographers speak strongly about his morals and how he avoided the more devious aspects of violin making. Yet as I have become familiar with his work, I’ve seen more examples that point towards him being as active as the Voller brothers and George Wulme Hudson in creating fakes and imitations.

This violin is based on the work of Giuseppe Rocca, a maker from Turin whose work was common in London in the late nineteenth century, becoming a target for various fakers including the Voller brothers. Features of George Pyne’s work include a habit of almost always using the same sound hole template and soft, wide edge work of a particular style that is present in this example – suggesting that he was more an imitator than a forger in his approach to older instruments, but otherwise demonstrating such a close relationship to genuine works by the Voller brothers that it would be easy to mistake it as their work.

A super violin in it’s own right with a very clear and strong sound under the ear that carries well. The perfect violin for someone hankering for a Voller (or a Rocca) on a smaller budget.

Hippolyte Caussin

The Caussin workshop specialised in producing antiqued instruments for the London and Paris trade, but in the early years their instruments were made to extremely high quality, and the work of the family – Francois-Nicolas and Hippolyte are highly revered, with instruments occasionally appearing by Claude-Augustin Miremont and Paul Bailly.

The violoncello by Hippolyte Caussin is the best of type, an excellent French cello of the mid-nineteenth century, with a strong classical Italian look that has improved as it has aged. The instrument is in excellent condition, and a superb instrument of professional standard.

Lockey Hill

Lockey Hill had a prolific and varied career. This example shows enormous influence from his father, Joseph making it one of the most attractive models to come from his workshop, with especially elegant Amati-styling around the soundholes. An excellent and powerful violoncello with huge professional potential. The cello has expertly restored cracks in both the front and back with a proportionate reduction in price. A very good opportunity to acquire a first-class English cello for a discounted price.

In 1917 the violoncello was acquired for the Royal Artillery Band, and was almost certainly put to use entertaining officers and troops behind the lines on the Western Front. It is one of several instruments known to us with RA Band inscriptions carved into the back of the pegbox of this kind.

Nathaniel Cross

Nathaniel Cross is a much talked about maker of the early eighteenth century, and his concept of combining a Stainer outline with Italian arching anticipates Roman and Florentine makers by a at least a decade, and his constant experimenting with Italianate form underlines his close relationship with Daniel Parker. Hence many of his instruments have been convincingly relabelled as Carcassi or Gabrielli. This example from 1726 (made for John Barrett in Piccadilly and still showing traces from the Barak Norman workshop) has the combination of power, focus, and colour that characterises Italian violins. It is both a historic example, and preserved in exceptionally fine condition. All round, a superlative violin of professional standard at a good English price.

George Craske

George Craske was a prolific and reclusive violin maker, whose enormous stock of unfinished instruments was eventually purchased by W.E. Hill & Sons after his death. He worked to varying standards with his instruments selling for a broad range of prices. I try to always have examples of Craske’s finest work in stock as they offer extremely good value for money, and incredibly versatile.

Benjamin Hebbert Elected Chairman of the BVMA

 

I’m delighted and somewhat humbled to have been asked to stand as Chairman of the British Violin Making Association from September 2016. The association has done incredible work bringing together the fellowship of professional and amateur violin makers both in Britain and around the world, and I hope that in my time ahead we can build this twenty-year-old institution to deliver more to its members and reach out further into the world of instrument making and music.

Whether you are a professional maker, an amateur of whatever calibre, a student or simply someone who is fascinated by the craft behind how violins are made, the BVMA has something to offer you and welcomes you into its worldwide community. For further information and to apply for membership, visit the BVMA website www.bvma.org.uk

 

W.E. Hill & Sons 2016 Study Day

 

I was delighted to be a major sponsor of the British Violin Making Association’s 2016 Study Day celebrating W.E. Hill & Sons and their legacy in September 2016. The study day coincided with the launch of Derek Wilson & John Milnes important reference work on Hill bow making.

Copies of the book can be purchased online from the BVMA here. I hold copies of all of their books at my studio and they can be collected either from my studio once payment has been made.

The British Violin Making Association is open to all who are interested in the craft of violin and bow making whether they are professional, amateur or simply interested and members are invited from all over the world. Visit the BVMA website for further information.

 

Laurent Bourlier (III)

Laurent Bourlier came from one of the more established families of violin makers in Mirecourt, with a legacy going back to the middle of the eighteenth century. Some of his labels declare an association with Nicolas Lupot – more accurately “Bourlier / Après N.Lupot” and this violoncello goes some considerable distance towards vindicating the claim. The model is very flat and powerful in keeping with Lupot and some of the principal Parisian makers of the early 1800s, perhaps reminding me closer the work of Aldric than Lupot, but nevertheless solidly Parisian in it’s modelling. The lighter varnish, and choice of plainer wood distance it from Parisian work and make it characteristic of the very best of Mirecourt work of the early nineteenth century, before the village centred on factory production.

It is very pleasing to be able to represent cellos of this quality, having much of the properties of the finest French workmanship at price reflecting it’s Mirecourt origins.

Bourlier cello stamp

W.E. Hill & Sons Study Day

We were delighted to be principle sponsors and part of the organisation team for the British Violin Making Association’s Oxford study day celebrating the work and achievements of W.E. Hill & Sons. The study day came about as a response to the publication of Derek Wilson and John Milnes excellent reference work on the Hill Bow Makers 1880-1962.

Copies of the book are available from the BVMA website, and we hold a stock on their behalf that can be collected from our shop. Click here to find out more and to purchase.

Kai-Thomas Roth

Kai’s violoncello has enjoyed a distinguished professional career over the last decade, and was recently replaced by it’s first owner with a Vuillaume: Higher praise is difficult to come by. This copy of a Venetian cello by Matteo Goffriller has a huge sound and excellent projection. A serious cello for a young cellist going through Conservatoire and into the profession beyond.

Shem Mackey

To my mind, Shem Mackey probably the most convincing of all modern makers of the viola da gamba, and I can’t help but feel that in a hundred years his well-played instruments will become hard to tell apart from the eighteenth-century originals that he copies. My views are biased of course – we’ve spend weeks on end looking at original instruments and discussing them in detail together. This instrument takes a Barak Norman ‘division viol’ of about 1690 as it’s starting point, but is made from cherry wood with a yorkshire rose as for a rosette below the fingerboard and a head that both mixes the best of English style with the very elegant practice of punch marks that the French style of the early 1700s. An exquisite viol in terms of sound and in terms of visual beauty.

Antoniazzi Workshop

Antonio Monzino was a prolific force in the Milanese instrument trade of the early 20th century. Instruments with his label appear from an enormous number of sources from factory-made German instruments, some of them varnished in Milan all the way through to definitive examples by the master-craftsmen who he represented as an import and export business.

The label of this particular example is explicit in identifying it as coming from the ‘Scuola Cremonese di Riccardo Antoniazzi’ as a copy of a Stradivari model. In fact, it is the same Stradivari model that the Antoniazzis had followed in their work for Leandro Bisiach who made similar claims to the Cremonese tradition on his labels as well, and follows forward in the same tradition.

The label is signed by Antonio Monzino, but we doubt he ever made a violin in his life. Instead the accuracy of this particular Stradivari-derived model, executed with slightly less care than expected from the Bisiach workshop is distinctive for Gaetano and the brothers Riccardo and Romeo Antoniazzi.

To play, the violin has an enormous sound and clarity, definitely on the bolder end of the spectrum, but with tremendous versatility and a subtle depth of colour. A great confident violin with bags of Italian character.

HEBB15001d

George Wulme Hudson

Possibly the most famous violin by George Wulme Hudson, this example was exhibited at the exhibition of Four Centuries of Violin Making in the British Isles in 2000, and is published in the British Violin, and in Adam Whone’s book on Edward Withers Limited, 230 years of violin craft in Soho.

Hudson boasted of making ‘speculative’ instruments intended to deceive the trade, and this is one example. The general outline is that of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu, giving some credence to an original-fake Andrea Guarneri label, but the arching is fuller than one might expect with soundholes that are too amorphous to place it as the hands of any one particular maker. The combination of a willow back and a deep red varnish give mixed messages from the Testores of Milan to Balastrieri or Camilli Mantua. The instrument is almost a masterpiece of deception, combining a variety of Italian influences to create an instrument that has the attraction of an 18th century Italian violin without exposing itself to direct comparison to any specific body of work. A stunning example of Hudson’s highest order of workmanship. Comparable to some of the best productions of the Voller brothers.

Hudson4

Hudson5

Leopold Widhalm

An outstanding violin by one of the leading makers of the German region of the late eighteenth-century. Martin Leopold Widhalm was the maker to the Nuremberg Court when he made this violin in 1782. The majority of Widhalm’s work comprises very fine interpretations of Jacob Stainer’s violins from the seventeenth-century, but this exceptional example combines Stainer’s modelling on the larger ‘Grand-Amati’ pattern of the Cremonese Golden Period. Similar marriages of design and form would happen in Venice, in particular amongst the violins of Peter Guarneri also producing particularly warm and playable instruments with a surprising capability and projection given their generous dimensions. An extraordinary violin, as much a pleasure to look at as it is to play.

Condition notes: Like many German instruments of the period, the varnish is notoriously delicate and the top pigmented coat rubs off easily. There is substantial sensitive restoration to the lower part of the belly of the instrument, but overall it is in a very good state of preservation for this kind of instrument, and the integrity of the woodwork is of extremely high standard. The scroll is of pear wood, as is a trait frequently found amongst violins by Jacob Stainer and his followers throughout the eighteenth century and is original to the instrument and characteristic of the maker’s work.

Giovanni Paolo Maggini

Giovanni Paolo Maggini is one of the great makers of the Northern Italian Renaissance following after Gaspar da Salo in Brescia. Amongst his surviving violins this is amongst the most advanced, with many characteristics that would emerge again in the early eighteenth-century amongst the makers of the Cremonese golden period, directly inspiring some of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu’s later works.

The violin has a standard stop length, meaning that there is very little practical difference between this example and most other violins, however the body is of Maggini’s ‘middle’ size, measuring 370mm long. The flatter arching gives the violin a dark sound, but it still plays like a violin, lacking the sheer depth of darkness that is normally associated with his more heavily arched violins. A violin with incredible projection and loudness, with complex tonal qualities. A truly compelling violin.

Detail of Maggini's decorations inlaid in ebony purfling on the back of the violin.

Detail of Maggini’s decorations inlaid in ebony purfling on the back of the violin.

Jack Lott

Jack Lott numbers amongst the most famous of all nineteenth-century makers, and possibly the greatest faker of Cremonese instruments in history. His repertoire following Guarneri del Gesu is well known, but his attempts at copying Stradivari are much rarer. In this case, he has taken a violin from the early 1720s – perhaps the Lady Blunt of 1721 – as his prototype and imagined a perfect sixteen-inch viola design. Simply one of the most beautiful violas I have seen in a long time, with an easy response and exceptional resonance. A beauty.

Jack Lott's dazzling interpretation of Stradivari's varnish in very pure and fine preservation.

Jack Lott’s dazzling interpretation of Stradivari’s varnish in very pure and fine preservation.

George Craske

One of the finest violins by George Craske that I have seen in a long time, the overall design harks back to the later period of Stradivari’s long-pattern in the second half of the 1690s. However, mannerisms in the soundholes, and a more circular upper bout than is strictly Stradivarian hint strongly that he had seen Daniel Parker’s work. The violin was marked aside as ‘special’ by W.E. Hill & Sons more than a century ago. It still holds it’s own as one of the most impressive sounding instruments I have come across by this maker.

George Craske's interpretation of Daniel Parker's work, against an original Parker of 1705.

George Craske’s interpretation of Daniel Parker’s work, against an original Parker of 1705.

Paul Bailly

Paul Bailly was a pupil of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume who travelled extensively through France, Great Britain and the United States. This early example is very typical Parisian work reflecting his training in one of the great workshops of his time. The model is strongly based on the fabled 1716 ‘Messiah’ and Bailly may have had a hand in some of the precise copies made of it in during his time with Vuillaume. However the outline is slightly narrowed recalling the more slender Stradivari violins of the 1690s. A phenomenal French violin and one of the best sounding examples that I have come across from a generally brilliant maker.

W.E. Hill & Sons

Before 1918 W.E.Hill & Sons made fewer bows, concentrating on production for sale from the Bond Street shop rather than wholesaling through the network of dealers that they nurtured in Britain and abroad. Things would change when William Retford arrived and reorganised the workshop. Bows of this early period are uniformly some of the best that the Hills ever produced, and grades of quality appear to have been an afterthought. ‘W.E.H&S’bows typically had plain frogs and single-strand black whalebone lapping providing a cosmetic impression of difference in quality, but the resulting bow is of extremely high quality. This example is made by Sidney Yeoman (marked with a single nick in the faceplate by the mortise) who began his life in the Hill workshop in 1885 along with the first cohort of craftsmen, and is typical of the early ‘W.E.H&S’standard. The strong dark round stick compares favourably with the better French bows of the period. The total weight, 59 grams.

Condition notes: The bow is in very pure condition, retaining the original whalebone lapping, sold almost as new.

Thomas Tubbs

This bow came from the estate of Kathleen Parlow, “Canada’s Violinist” and pupil of Leopold Auer although the provenance is sadly only by word of mouth. Made around the 1860s, the rounded back of the frog features strongly in James Tubbs’ work of the same period and is some evidence that the two makers were following one and other. Nevertheless, the slightly enclosed throat of the frog is more in keeping with Thomas Tubbs and the eccentric head with only an ebony tip has the familiar proportions of Thomas’s work. A very supple octagonal stick, in typical Thomas Tubbs style. Weight, 59 grams no maker’s stamp visible.

James Dodd

A bow that underlines the continual experimentation of the Dodd family through the nineteenth-century. The swept back head of the stick is very characteristic of both James Dodd moving towards the standards to which Panormo bows were made. The narrow ebony band in the adjuster is original and is also an unusual feature that occurs in Panormo and Dodd bows. Dodd was clearly guided by his own design process, leading to the eccentric head of the bow, but the heft of the stick, terminating in quite an obtuse end, and the general proportions of the frog suggest a strong interest or influence in Etienne Pajeot’s work over the channel in Mirecourt. The round stick has very firm and strong playing qualities, overall weight 59 grams.

Thomas Tubbs

Thomas may have been the earliest bow maker of the Tubbs dynasty, born to a family of silk weavers in Bethnal Green in 1790, his reputation is overshadowed in the early nineteenth-century by the Dodd family for whom he supplied bows and who probably trained him. His work traverses an incredible range of quality and design, but this bow is typical of his successful Tourte-inspired model from which his best bows derive. The bow is stamped at the end of the handle T TUBBS as is expected of him, and the accentuated tip of the bow is a feature that typifies his work. Ivory facings are relatively rare for him and are also an indication of the high quality that he considered this bow to be. The frog and adjuster are later replacements in a suitable style and the bow is priced accordingly. Weight, 57 grams.

Etienne Pajeot

A superb and absolutely typical example of Etienne Pajeot’s work from he 1820-30 period. Pajeot was an extremely influential maker whose workshop began to work on a more commercial scale in the 1840s, but his early bows are some of the most distinctive of the old French school. The bow is silver mounted without an underslide – in keeping with the early date – and is of Pajeot’s typically massive proportions. A very strong octagonal stick, weighing 61 grams.

James Tubbs

Made around 1880, this is an extremely strong and fine violin bow by James Tubbs. His bows of this period are archetypal of his work, with asymmetric pearl eyes on the frog, and the very typical rounded head that features in the majority of his bows, but the slightly higher proportions of the bow add to it’s weightiness giving the bow a feel that is often associated with the later Parisian bows of Voirin and Sartory. A very fine and handsome bow stupid JAS TUBBS on the handle, round stick, weighing 62 grams.

W.E. Hill & Sons

Arthur Brown joined W.E. Hill & Sons in 1945, beginning in the case department before moving into bow making, as was typical for new workers. The silver-mounted viola bow is marked ‘X’ on the head with the original matched frog (letter ‘D’) made by Arthur Copley and marked ‘1’. The bow is dated for 1951 and is an extremely good example of post-war production when the Hills were responding strongly to the loss of trade from traditional centres of high-quality bow making in Germany and France. A very fine and strong round stick weighing 70.5grams.

François-Nicolas Voirin

Francois-Nicolas Voirin was the cousin of J.B. Vuillaume, and one of the most significant bow makes of the late nineteenth century. This example has a expertly repaired head, and is otherwise a very good example of his work with excellent playing qualities. Round stick, 60 grams. Priced fairly according to condition.

Detail of the cheek repair to the head of the bow. The stick is of very high quality and intact.

Detail of the cheek repair to the head of the bow. The stick is of very high quality and intact.

W.E. Hill & Sons

This bow was made by Leslie Bailey, and his number ‘4’ is stamped on the underslide of the frog. Bailey was one of the apprentices who entered the Hill company in 1919 when William Retford re-organised the workshop, leaving for war work in 1939. His bows are usually found with lesser grade stamps on them, and this bow date-stamped for 1937 is typical. Nevertheless, the 1930s were a particularly productive period for the Hills with an extremely high standard of making, and the bow is underrated by overall standards of the Hill workshop. A very good and clean example with great playing abilities, round stick, total weight 72 grams.

Jacek Wesolowski

I’m delighted to offer this copy of the 1744 “Ole Bull” for sale. Jacek Wesolowski worked for a number of years for J&A Beare Ltd before returning to Gdansk in Poland to establish his own business. Jacek’s copy of the Ole Bull is a very fine interpretation attempting to emulate the presentation of the instrument when it was new. Ole Bull copies are typically highly antiqued, and the antiquing compliments the extremely erratic form of the soundholes. However, in this case he has taken numerous references from extremely-well preserved violins by del Gesu. Influence of the tiny 1735 “Chardon” dancing-master’s violin gives indication of the extremely crisp edgework, whilst the 1742 “Alard” and the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” each help to inform his observational style. The dry red varnish is unexpected on Guarneri copies, because original examples are seldom found for comparison, but once again the texture and overall appearance give the impression of how a del Gesu violin would have looked in the first decades of its life.

George Craske

After Craske’s legendary meeting with Paganini in 1832, he moved towards making Guarneri inspired violins, of which this is an early example. The instrument is made to his standard enlarged form, with characteristic flat arching and stylised del Gesu soundholes. The violin is unusual for having a scroll made by Craske, who later abandoned head carving in favour of buying in ready-made parts. A very fine and characteristic example with a strong and powerful tone.

Labelled: “Made by George Craske/(born 1793, died 1888),/and sold by/William E. Hill & Sons, London.”
Length of back: 362mm
Upper bouts: 172mm
Middle bouts: 116mm
Lower bouts: 209mm

 

 

George Craske

This is a rare example of George Craske’s work, from his early period in Bath, made around 1820 or slightly before. The model is very close to the Stradivari violin of his patron Sir Patrick Blake (bequeathed to him in 1815 by J.P. Salomon, and sold following Blake’s death in 1819). The narrow pattern is Stradiari’s shorter long pattern, exemplified by violins such as the ‘Baron Knoop’ of 1698. Craske’s early work incorporates the use of sugar-maple for the ribs a sycamore back, following the interest in this more highly figures wood that was in fashion with makers such as Gilkes and Panormo around the same period back in London. The violin is unusual for having a scroll made by Craske, who later abandoned head carving in favour of buying in ready-made parts.

The violin was probably resold by W.E. Hill & Sons, at which point it acquired their label marking it as “Special Quality”.

Labelled: “Made by George Craske/(born 1793, died 1888),/and sold by/William E. Hill & Sons, London.”
Length of back: 356mm
Upper bouts: 166mm
Middle bouts: 114mm
Lower bouts: 205mm

 

 

Designing for Sound: The Bartlett School of Architecture.

As part of my educational commitment, I’m delighted to be an invited speaker to the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, on 12 February 2015. This is part of an inaugural set of lectures for the designing for sound program, sponsored by Arup Acoustic Consulting and Flanagan Lawrence Ltd. My lecture will be on “Inside the instrument: A violin-making perspective on performance space and sound”, exploring as much as possible, how the development of stringed instruments dominates orchestral sound and influences the performance space. I love a challenge.

More, including a possible podcast after 12 February, to follow.

 

 

Designing for Sound_2015

Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill trainThis viola d’amore is copied from a very fine example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, made by Jean Nicolas Lambert (and sold by his widow in 1772), one of the most outstanding Parisian makers of his day. Jonathan’s instrument is typical of the very high standards of workmanship and acute observational skills that I have come to expect in his work. Quite simply, it is the finest viola d’amore by a contemporary maker that I have seen in many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ludwig Neuner

Ludwig Neuner was the most distinguished violin maker from an important dynasty of instrument makers. He left Mittenwald to work with Andreas Englander in Munich, and thereafter for Gabriel Lembock in Vienna, before moving to Paris to work with Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume for six years from 1861. In 1867 he established his own business in Berlin. This violoncello is an exceptionally fine example from his Berlin period revealing Vuillaume’s direct influence. The cello is modelled after Stradivari of about the period 1710, and has tonal properties that closely compare to the finest Parisian work of it’s period.

 

Labelled “Ludwig Neuner, Berlin anno 1875”

Length of Back: 755mm

Upper Bouts: 337mm

Middle Bouts: 236mm

Lower Bouts: 434mm

Stop Length: 400mm

 

London’s Oldest Violin Shop

In the first of a series of blogs about London violin makers and their trade, Benjamin Hebbert explores a unique architectural survival from the 1680s, purpose built for a family of violin and instrument dealers, and shines a light on the remarkable events surrounding their business.

Gog and Magog striking bells since 1671 at St Dunstan's in Fleet Street and the site of the Mitre where Samuel Pepys heard John Bannister play.

Gog and Magog striking bells since 1671 at St Dunstan’s in Fleet Street and the site of the Mitre where Samuel Pepys heard John Bannister play.

Fleet Street is full of landmarks from London’s musical past: A blue plaque marks the site of the Mitre Tavern where the diarist, Samuel Pepys, listened to John Bannister playing a concert in January 1660. The chiming clock at St Dunstan’s in the West was erected in 1671 to celebrate the church’s salvation from the Great Fire of London. It was the first public clock to have a minute hand, and the wooden characters of Gog and Magog venture out from the portico to strike the hour with their clubs. In its shadow, John Benson had been the principle stationer selling sheet music in London from 1635 and his apprentice John Playford became the most important music publisher in British history from 1651 until his death in 1687. The footings of his shop are still visible against the porch of the Temple Church.

John Carr and his wife Katherine appeared at a shop ‘between the two divels near Temple Bar’. By the time they established their business, John Playford already dominated music publishing, and sources from the period show that they considered each other as friends and colleagues. Roger North, Carr’s contemporary wrote that during his early years when he was a ‘young gentleman of the Midle Temple’ John Carr had ‘a secretary’s office … for wrighting the theatricall tunes to accomodate learners and country fiddlers’. Further sources date that recollection to 1669. Carr’s business changed dramatically in the years that followed: Whilst Playford’s musical publications were intended to a broad market and comprise relatively simple music, Carr’s publications from the 1670s were targeted for a far more virtuosic circle of wealthy amateurs. He is mostly known as a music publisher and would be almost completely unknown as an instrument dealer if it wasn’t for the extraordinary events of 1672.

From the MIddle Temple Gate to Temple Bar in 1760 and today. At the end of the seventeenth-century the shops in view were swarming with music sellers.

From the MIddle Temple Gate to Temple Bar in 1760 and today. At the end of the seventeenth-century the shops in view were swarming with music sellers.

England was already gripped by the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and on 6 May 1672 the press-gang raided shops in Fleet Street during the mobilisation of the British fleet at Sole Bay. The confrontation between Katherine Carr and Richard Sadlington, Captain of the ‘Dartmouth’ – a 32-gun fifth-rate frigate survives in the State Papers. The deposition tells of how John Hudgebut, her ‘apprentice for the trade of instruments’ and the boy ‘Stipkin’ were pressed into the King’s service. She remonstrated with the captain, explaining that Stephkins was a musician and a servant of the King, but affairs turned to blackmail: ‘The Captain told her, if she would give him a violin out of her shop, he would release the prentice’. Remarkably, Katherine Carr held her ground, risking the fate of the two boys, betting that her connections would deliver them safely. Depositions to seek release from the press-gang are uncommon in the state papers, but by the end of the day she received audience from Prince Rupert of the Rhine and won their release. Hudgebut survived to become an important instrument dealer in his own right, and Stephkins followed his parents into becoming a prominent musician in London. In 1703 he formed a bond with the Italian nobleman Gaspar Visconti, and it was his sister who married Visconti and returned to Cremona (and whose name is found on some of Stradivari’s cello and viol patterns). As of Richard Sadlington and the Dartmouth, they survived the battle of Sole Bay, but it was a disaster for the Royal Navy and ended inconclusively with heavy losses for both sides.

Wilhelm van der Velde's eyewitness painting of the sinking of the Royal James at the battle of Solebay, a sight narrowly avoided by Carr's apprentice.

Wilhelm van der Velde’s eyewitness painting of the sinking of the Royal James at the battle of Solebay, a sight narrowly avoided by Carr’s apprentice.

By the following year, Carr had brought in another apprentice, John Shaw, who would grow to become musical instrument maker in ordinary to the royal court. An advertisement from 1675 gives a taste of the concentration of the business. “Sold by John Carr, Musical Instrument-seller, at his Shop in the Temple Gate in Fleet Street. All sorts of Books, and Ruled Paper, Songs, and Aires Vocal and Instrumental ready prickt, Lutes, Viols, Violins, Gittars, Flageletts, Castinets, Strings, and all sorts of Musical Instruments”. However his interests appear to have directed themselves towards high-end instruments and antique instruments. The year after the publication of Thomas Mace’s ‘Musick’s Monument’ which claimed that old viols by Rose could sell for as much as £100 (Samuel Pepys had paid £3 for his in 1661, and a court musician would rarely pay more than £10), in 1677 he published an advert for the following:

“There is also Two Chests of Vials to be sold; one made by Mr. John Ross, who formerly lived in Bridewel, containing Two Trebles, Three Tenors, One Basse; The Chest was made in the Year 1598. The other Chest being made by Mr. Henry Smith, who formerly lived over against Hatton-House in Holbourn, containing Two Trebles, Two Tenors, Two Basses; The Chest was made in the Year 1633. Both these Chests are very Curious Work.”

The apprentice label of John Shaw, "Carved and made by John Shaw and sold by John Carr his master at the Middle Temple Gate in Fleete Street 1673"

The apprentice label of John Shaw, “Carved and made by John Shaw and sold by John Carr his master at the Middle Temple Gate in Fleete Street 1673”

Roger North’s relationship with Carr became increasingly important and is alluded to in North’s various writings on music. After experimenting together with etching, North’s influence led to Carr’s adoption of engraving as a means of publishing polyphonic music with double-stopping and articulation marks that had proven too challenging for ordinary moveable-type. This appeared in experimental form in the early 1670s but when Nicola Matteis arrived from Italy, having ‘travelled thro’ Germany on foot with his violin under a full coat at his back’, the system proved ideal for publishing his ‘Ayrs for Violin’ in 1676 marking a high-point in growing influence of Italian baroque idioms in England.

 

 

Roger North's architectural plans for Middle Temple Gate,

Roger North’s architectural plans for Middle Temple Gate,

The relationship between North and Carr was literally set in stone (or more accurately, in brick) in 1684 when a fire in Middle Temple Lane destroyed Carr’s shop. By this time North as an ambitious barrister was secretary of the Middle Temple and charged with its upkeep, so the opportunity of rebuilding the Middle Temple Gate appealed to his dilettante whimsies. As an amateur architect, the opportunity for ornamenting the Temple with a Neo-Classical façade was too tempting and with Sir Christopher Wren as a friend, he was able to pass his designs through competent hands. The result predates the laying of the first stone of St Paul’s Cathedral by a year. Today the results seem unprepossessing. It stands exactly as it was 325 years ago, but now the neo-classical style that it triumphed has become the norm amongst its neighbours. At the time it was one of the most architecturally significant buildings of its day. With John and Katherine Carr as its sitting tenants, it became England’s oldest-standing and perhaps it’s only purpose-built violin shop.

With such a remarkable line-up of public figures embroiled in the fortunes of Carr’s music shop, it seems inevitable that Henry Purcell should make an appearance. He did following the rebuilding of the Middle Temple Gate, in the preface of ‘Comes Amores: or the Companion of Love’. Published in 1687. There are few more charming descriptions of daily life (or marital harmony) in the music shops of London as this:

 

Henry Purcell's catch in honour of John Carr from 'Comes Amores', 1687.

Henry Purcell’s catch in honour of John Carr from ‘Comes Amores’, 1687.

 

 

outstanding instruments

We continually advise and broker sales of outstanding musical instruments for exceptional musicians and for investment purposes. This is often undertaken in confidence, and these sales are not publicised on our website.

Often we are able to gather instruments on behalf of a prospective client request, and provide an added layer of security in regard of attribution, quality and price. Based in the heart of London, we are able to source appropriate instruments from a wide international field.

In the last twelve months we have provided professional services in respect to instruments including Amati, Lorenzo Storioni, Giovanni Baptista Rogeri, Carlo Tononi, Carlo Ferdinand Landophi, David Tecchler, G.B. Guadagnini and Antonio Stradivari.

If you have an instrument for sale, or wish to assess its current market value, please contact us via email. If you would like to arrange for an informal meeting to explore prospects for purchase please get in touch.

Bela Szepessy

Bela Szepessy trained under Nemessanyi in Hungary, moving to Vienna before settling in London from 1882 to 1916. His work is important to English making because he introduced the very fine standards of Austro-Hungarian making to England with a profound effect on English makers who followed. This violin from 1889 is preserved in immaculate condition, and is made to his large ‘del Gesu’ model. Even after seven years working in London, his styling and varnish remain resolutely Hungarian in conception. The flat and broad modelling of this violin give it a penetrating and powerful tone. His violins have something of a cult following amongst English musicians.

 

Labelled: “Szepessy Bela / London 1889” and numbered 52.

Length of Back: 359mm
Upper Bouts: 167mm
Middle Bouts: 120mm
Lower Bouts: 210mm
Stop Length: 193mm

Andreas Hellinge

In 1998 Yehudi Menuhin consigned the fabled 1742 “Lord Wilton” del Gesu for sale with Hug & Co in Zurich. Whilst it was for sale, the company invited the Swiss maker Andreas Hellinge to produce two ‘bench copies’ of the violin. This is one of those copes and was intended for presentation to Menuhin as a memento of the sale. However, Menuhin died before the violin was finished so that paradoxically as a precise copy of the “Lord Wilton”, it is arguably amongst the most important contemporary violins commissioned for Menuhin, but also one that he neither saw nor knew of. The violin has superb playing qualities, and is both musically and technically one of the best modern del Gesu copies I have come across.

 

Length of Back: 351mm
Upper Bout: 166mm
Middle Bout: 115mm
Lower Bout: 205mm
Stop Length: 194mm

 

Neil Ertz

Amongst connoisseurs of Cremonese violins, Peter Guarneri ‘of Mantua’ is spoken about as the one violin maker who excelled above Stradivari. The only problem is that he was called to the ducal court at Mantua for his skills as a musician in 1685, and was able to make few violins after that point. I’ve had the pleasure of handling several original instruments by this maker, and Neil’s copy, based on a violin of 1704 proves to be a masterly interpretation of the key points of Guarneri’s style. The violin has had a distinguished playing history since it was made and has come to us as the last owner was looking to upgrade. My experience of instruments of this bolder pattern is that they tend to give a slightly more mature sound than a straightforward flat-arched Stradivari or del Gesu copy.

Labelled “Neil Kristof Ertz / 2008”

Length of Back: 355mm
Upper Bouts:166mm
Middle Bouts: 119mm
Lower Bouts: 203mm
Stop Length: 195mm

 

 

Peter Guarneri strad poster

George Wulme Hudson

Giovanni Pallencia, or Giovanni Baptista Pallencia was one of the spurious identities used by George Wulme Hudson in his production of ‘speculative’ violins. Of two examples that we have seem the present label suggests that Pallencia was a pupil of the Gagliano family in Naples who had moved to Milan before making the violin. Another seen recently claimed to be a copy of a Landophi from mid-eighteenth-century Milan made by a Venetian “Giovanni Baptista Pallencia”. In either example, Hudson’s technique of merging two competing Italianate styles leads to instruments that are superficially identifiable as Italian, whilst leaving the viewer guessing as to region in which they were made. In the present example, the soundholes and arching are extremely familiar for the work of Nicolo Gagliano. Meanwhile the rough wood for the back, ribs and scroll superficially resembles Milanese workmanship from the middle of the eighteenth century. The wide and flat edges combine to point closest to certain examples by Giovanni Baptista Guadagnini from his earliest years in Milan (around 1750). The label date of 1869 however is both several generations to young to be taken seriously for any of its claims, whilst predating the actual point of manufacture by a good half-century.

Like the Voller Brothers active around the same time, Wulme Hudson understood the perilous balancing act between being a copyist or a forger. The violin retains it’s “G.C.” (George Caressi, another pseudonym) initials on the label as well as the interior brand. However, Hudson built speculatively, knowing that violins of this kind could sell quickly into the wrong hands, who would remove identifying marks before trying the instruments as Italian.

Hudson’s better violins are much in demand. The faithful reading of Gagliano architecture at the heart of this instrument provides a violin with an appealing loudness and clarity.

 

Labelled: “Giovanni Pallencia / Alumnus Gagliano fecit / Milano 1869”, with the initials “G.C.” on the corner of the label. Stamped internally “Geo WULME HUDSON”

Length of Back: 355mm
Upper Bouts: 164mm
Middle Bouts: 115mm
Lower Bouts: 125mm
Stop Length: 195mm

 

Jack Lott

A fine violin by John “Jack” Lott (2), London circa 1850.
Labelled: “Joseph Guarnerius fecit / Cremone anno 1732”

Length of Back: 356mm
Upper Bouts: 165mm
Middle Bouts:114mm
Lower Bouts: 204mm
Stop length: 194mm

Jack Lott numbers amongst the greatest copyists of the nineteenth century. His legendary reputation in life was reported by Charles Reade in his biography “Jack of All Trades” – a theatre performer who soaped his bow to bluff his way through a musical career, he joined the circus to travel as far a field as New York and Geneva, where he accidentally shot Madam Djeck, an elephant under his care.

Lott’s work is forever variable. An Alessandro Gagliano viola that he transformed into a del Gesu on the instructions of J.B. Vuillaume provides clear evidence that he crossed the line between copyist and faker, producing instruments intended to deceive. In the twentieth century, a number of notable instruments, famously including a violin that belonged to Ida Haendel have been reassessed and up- or down-graded accordingly.

14024jThis violin shows Lott at his most deceptive. The back, ribs and scroll are a powerfully accurate essay as a copyist proving to be a compelling interpretation of del Gesu’s work from the 1732 period indicated by the fake label. The deep red varnish is applied thinly and sparingly in residual areas across the violin, suggesting that it was a very work example. Meanwhile a second set of pins in the back of the instrument implies an intermediate restoration giving credibility to its age and worn appearance. The front seems at odds with the rest of the instrument, with slightly flatter edgework, a lack of red pigments found in the varnish elswhere and instead a deep blackish-brown varnish dominating most of the instrument. The matching purfling, the exposure of the same golden-brown varnish beneath the top coat in the more worn areas of the violin and the fact that this one of a series of violins made by Lott in this manner all prove that the violin belongs together as one. However the superficial appearance of the instrument is of one with a different table. Lott was accustomed to producing composites, finding a rich market for this kind of work, as typified by a Lorenzini of Piacenza transformed into a del Gesu that was exhibited in the 1998 British Violin Exhibition. The present violin appears however to have been a double bluff. By drawing the eye to the obvious inconsistencies, it was possible to fool a nineteenth-century expert to believing they had the better part of a del Gesu. With modern knowledge Lott’s work becomes distinctive and is praised for his extraordinary understanding of Cremonese form, but it was at one point a remarkable and particularly devious fake.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek

businessweek

A $45 Million Viola? The World’s Newest Most-Expensive Instrument

 

The predicted sale of the MacDonald Stradivari viola looked set to be the financial moment of the century for the fine violin market, with a reserve price of $45million. The pricing theory for the viola makes sense to me (even if that kind of sum for an instrument fills me with a kind of horror), not as the price of the viola, but as the opportunity cost of possessing a complete string quartet of Stradviari instruments – something that is otherwise unachievable. Therefore paying the same price as one would for the rest of the quartet conforms to a certain logic. The fault lies in the assumption that someone seeking to create a quartet would wish to build it from Stradivari violins and cellos of the extraordinarily fine condition in which the MacDonald is preserved. It is far more likely, therefore that the viola might sell for three times the median price of a Stradivari, than the world record price.

I was delighted to be interviewed by Vernon Silver at Bloomberg’s Rome office for his coverage of the MacDonald Stradivari, even though it turned out to be the non-event of the decade.

 

Read the article online here: A $45 Million Viola? The World’s Newest Most-Expensive Instrument.

 

Macdonald-Viola1

 

 

 

 

A Brief Guide to Choosing a Bow

tourte

Francois Xavier Tourte invented the modern bow sometime around 1780. His bows are still regarded as the finest ever made, and still inspire modern bowmaking.

The modern bow appeared at the end of the eighteenth-century in the Paris workshops of Francois-Xavier Tourte, and his designs rapidly established themselves as the most versatile for playing all kinds of repertoire, and providing the tools to experiment with violin playing in ways that were unimaginable beforehand. The revolution in composition and playing technique offered by Tourte’s new invention was so radical that G.B. Viotti remarked “Le violon c’est l’archet”, establishing the principle that – more than ever before – it was the way that the bow worked and the technique for playing it that gave a musician their connection to the music they played. Overnight, the huge variety of regional bow designs that had evolved over the eighteenth-century became obsolete. Bausch in Germany, Dodd in England and Niklaus Kittel in Russia all worked under the shadow of Tourte during his lifetime, and the miracle of Tourte’s design – invented when Mozart and Beethoven were active – continues to stand up to the advances in violin technique that evolved through the rise of the Virtuoso from Paganini onwards, and through the increasing demands of every genre of classical music up to the 21st century. Modern bow makers still use Tourte as their inspiration, and the bow has hardly changed since the designs that he settled upon before the dawn of the nineteenth-century.

 

Weight, Balance and Strength

Weights and measurements often provide a good rule of thumb when selecting a bow or instrument. Generally speaking, a ‘good’ weight will be one of the qualities of a great playing bow. However, the art of bow making relies more on creating a good feel and balance. In fact, balance plays such an important role in how a bow works that it can give a completely different sense of weight than the actual mass of the bow.

The ideal weights are:

58-62 grams for Violin

68-72 grams for Viola

78-82 grams for Violoncello

Many bows by Tourte are ‘underweight’ but still perform brilliantly. Meanwhile, Jacquelene du Pre was one of a legion of cellists who opted for the ‘overweight’ bows of Dodd and Louis Panormo because of their favoured properties. In some cases, light bows can be brought up to weight by adding mass to the lapping and fittings, and surreptitious techniques exist for adding weight to the stick, but these techniques normally disturb the balance of the bow, reducing its playing qualities. In the end, the safest approach to considering a bow for purchase is on the basis of its playing qualities, which – of course, is the basis upon which you would buy it anyway.

Strength of the stick is also an important factor. A bow made from very dense Pernambuco wood will generally have the required stiffness at the required weight, but over a century ago bow makers worked out how to build stiffness and weight into a stick made from wood that was less dense, allowing them to produce bows from previously rejected stocks of wood. Some of these thicker sticks can work wonderfully, but sometimes they remain sufficiently soft and flexible that they have too much bend to be durable orchestral bows. You may find that they give a beautiful sound in your living room, but with the playing pressure needed to compete with woodwind and brass, the bow can bend so much that you are simply grinding the stick along the strings. If your hairs keep breaking about six inches from the frog, its because they keep getting crushed between the string and the stick when you play hard. Its a good indication that your stick is too flexible.

It’s always worth experimenting with bows of different weights. From the late nineteenth-century the finest English and German makers produced ‘chamber music’ bows, which are beautifully balanced but significantly underweight by orchestral standards; it is not uncommon to find such a bow alongside a classic Parisian masterpiece in violin cases of a certain generation. For musicians who are less worried about playing concertos or working in a world-class symphony orchestra, a lighter bow can provide exceptional quality with a substantial discount in the price.
 

French, English or German

The great Parisian makers are famous for making bows, and are therefore the most sought after and the most expensive, but very fine old English and German bows can provide compelling value for money. Almost all English bows are made for professional use, with the firm of W.E. Hill & Son dominating production for about a century. These are made to different grades of quality, and early bows from before 1920 are especially prized. The Tubbs family also produced exceptional bows that have a strong following amongst professional musicians. Bows by John Dodd, his family and followers can also be superb, but some of them are unexpectedly short. If you can get used to them you can enjoy fantastic value for money, but if you are caught unawares, you may find the bow disappearing from the strings.

The reputation of German bows suffers because the majority of cheap bows for beginners were made there, and the majority of old German bows have little or no value. However Germany has always produced very high quality bows. Heinrich Knopf was one of the very first to imitate Tourte at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and makers such as Albert Nurnberger, H.R. Pfretzschner, Otto Hoyer, and the early members of the Bausch family are amongst the highly prized German makers.

Contemporary bow making has transformed the scene, as the Paris tradition has spread across the globe, meaning that national boundaries no longer have much relevance to defining the quality of bows being produced. France continues to enjoy an enviable tradition in bow making but some of the finest new bows of the French tradition are now made in such places as the UK, Ireland, and the United States.
 

Gold, Silver or Nickle

Nickle is normally regarded as an inferior and cheaper metal and is associated with inexpensive German or Mirecourt trade bows. However, when it was invented in the 1830s it was regarded as a miracle material and before mass production techniques developed it was more valuable than silver. Bowmakers took to it very quickly because it worked better for making underslides, and it features (often in combination with silver) in some of the finest English and German bows of the 1830s-1840s period.

The majority of bows for professional use are silver mounted, and most makers reserved gold-mounted fittings for their finest work. Fortunately most bow makers worked to these rules, so it is fairly unusual to find gold mounted bows that are below the standard of silver mounted examples by the same maker. However, the choice of mounts tends to be determined by personal standards, as opposed to a universal set of rules so that a silver-mounted bow by a great maker might be significantly better than a gold-mounted bow by a maker of lesser reputation. Sometimes silver-mounted bows can be of ‘gold standard’, such as the tortoiseshell and silver copies of Tourte bows made by Samuel Allen in the 1890s for W.E. Hill & Sons, because the maker was faithfully taking his inspiration from an earlier masterpiece.

Contemporary makers tend to use gold far more than every before, but this is because they increasingly take the view that if a bow isn’t made to ‘gold-standard’ it isn’t worth making, given the threatened nature of Pernambuco wood for bow making, and competition from semi-industrial workshops in making lower grade bows. At this level, the choice of silver or gold tends to be more a question of taste, and the difference in price is a reflection of the cost of materials chosen to make the bow. With cheaper bows however, the choice of material tends to be less disciplined, and a semi-factory may produce bows in gold and silver just to extend the range of products that they sell. In the end, always judge a bow by it’s playing qualities. If the bow is priced fairly by comparison to others with similar properties that play just as well, you are paying the right price.
 

Ivory, Tortoiseshell & other endangered species

Bows can be a minefield where these are concerned, with parts made from threatened or endangered woods or animal products. Pernambuco and certain types of Ebony are used to make bows, meanwhile elephant ivory, whalebone, lizard skin tortoiseshell and certain kinds of mother-of-pearl all appear on different bows. National and international legislation and conventions are constantly changing with regard to these species. If you are planning to cross borders with your bow, beware of the present state of legislation relating the materials that it is made from.
 

Investing in Bows

The investment market for musical instruments is a variable one, with different rates of return depending on the desirability of each class of instrument or bow, and condition of the bow having significant implications on its value. It is always worth seeking specific advice if investment opportunity forms part of your motivation for buying.

The more sought-after the bow, the better the investment opportunity has been with Paris-made bows performing consistently and strongly. Some of these, such as Tourte, Grand Adam or Peccatte perform well because of a combination of scarcity, quality and recognition as masterpieces of French bow making. Meanwhile prolific bow makers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, such as Eugene Sartory or Francois-Nicolas Voirin have done well because they are a known and reliable prospect where it is easy to track an increase in value because of the high number of sales of similar bows over recent years. On one hand, the risks of damage to bows are greater than they are for instruments, but the other side of the coin is that they are cheaper than equivalent instruments. Therefore, if you are confident about storing them safely, they can be an easier way of investing your money.

Generally speaking, examples made in Mirecourt, London or in the major German centers of bow making have tended to perform at more conservative rates, but have consistently increased in value at above-inflation rates. Exceptions always apply.

 

Certificates

Many English and German bows are bought and sold without a certificate. In most cases the workshop methods of the makers are sufficiently routine, that they are relatively easy to identify and it only takes a moderate amount of expertise to identify them. Moreover, with values remaining only a step or two ahead of the prices of fine modern work, there is no commercial justification to forging them, although as prices increase over time, this position will eventually change. French bows are a different matter, as the prices justify mis-attribution to more valuable makers or even outright forgery. With makers such as Eugene Sartory, who died in 1946, his bows can survive in such clean condition, that they can be easily copied and forged. Maker’s stamps are easy to forge so that even an honest copy might eventually end up stamped and resold as genuine. Meanwhile, some of the greatest bow makers from Tourte, through Grand Adam to Peccatte routinely left their bows unstamped, so that it is only through through the judgements of experts that they can be identified. Buying an unstamped bow on the assumption that it is a Tourte would be extremely risky business, without the assurance of a trusted certificate of expertise.

 

Condition Issues

Bows are incredibly fragile objects that can get damaged easily. Since the late nineteenth-century, restorers have employed a multitude of techniques for restoring them. Traditionally, a restored bow has been worth a small fraction of the price it would sell for in undamaged state, following arguments that restorations can affect the playing qualities of the stick, and that once broken there is always the risk that the repair will fail. However, with the rise in prices for fine old bows alongside the development of more reliable restoration techniques, these bows have become an increasingly viable prospect for musicians looking for playability at an affordable price.

It is always important to ask for a condition report when buying a bow. If you are buying a repaired bow, it makes sense to know exactly what affects the price, and how reliable the repairs are. Generally speaking, it is inadvisable to invest in bows with much more than light playing wear, but if they have straightforward issues such as replaced fittings on a fine stick, they can become good opportunities. If you are paying a full price for an investment-quality bow in fine condition it is best to have the reassurance that an expert with more experienced eyes than your own has checked over the bow and can validate it’s worth.

 

For Further Information

SchaffThere are several key reference books that are necessary for developing an expert knowledge in the field, but for musicians we recommend Gabriel Schaff’s “The Essential Guide to Bows of the Violin Family”. For roughly the price of a re-hair the book navigates the world of fine bows with the eye of the author who has the experience of a professional musician and an inside and up-to-date knowledge of the market. It is available from Amazon, and we normally have a few copies for sale. If you are interested in buying a new bow, please get in touch. I’ll be delighted to talk through the options available for you.

 

… and lastly.

This article is intended for general information only, with the hope of giving you a good idea of the opportunities that are out there. Nothing can substitute trying bows and asking for direct and specific advice. I look forward to making this available when you visit my showroom.

George Miller

An interesting early English violin, probably by George Miller, Bishopsgate, circa 1675.

Length of back: 350mm
Upper Bout: 168mm
Middle Bout: 114mm
Lower Bout: 205mm
Stop length: 191mm

Several violins exist by this hand, typified by the double purfling and intricate purfled design in the back of the instrument, and whose other features otherwise distinguish them from either the work of Pamphilon or Urquhart. The geometric matrix of the design suggests that the maker was familiar with viol-making of the same period and the varnish provides a convincing match with labelled English viols by George Miller.

The violin is presented in baroque setup, and is a rare and interesting example from the period. It has undergone significant restoration and is priced accordingly.

HEBB14012 Miller (10)

Daniel Parker

Bearing the spurious label of Bernardo Calcanius.

Length of back: 360mm

Sold with our certificate.

Daniel Parker is noted as the only violin maker working outside of Italy to be directly influenced by Stradivari during Stradivari’s lifetime. This violin is modeled on the full-length ‘long pattern’ adopted by Stradivari for most of his instruments from 1690 to about 1695, but has been combined with a higher arching influenced by earlier Cremonese instruments.

The violin has a distinguished history from the late twentieth century when it was erroneously celebrated as a very fine Mantuan violin by Camillus Camilli, and a favourite instrument of the late Jacques Francais, from whose estate it was sold in 2001.

Buying & Commission Sales

I am constantly searching for fine instruments and bows to add to our stock. I maintain strict standards for authenticity and condition of the instruments that I deal in, and high regard for their tonal potential. However, many instruments come onto the market in need of repair, and I am always happy to consider acquiring examples that need restoration prior to resale.
 
I also act as an agent for specialist auction houses, so even if your instrument is not suitable for my stock, I may be able to assist you in finding the best route to market.
 


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Museums at Night 2014: Somerset House

An out-of-the ordinary opportunity to collaborate with artist-in-residence, Jacob Thompson-Bell in conceptualising a sound performance to celebrate Museum’s at Night at Somerset House. “In Memory” uses J.S. Bach’s first cello suite (in Gmajor) as the foundation of a soundscape bringing musical life throughout the public rooms of the museum. Performed by an ecclectic quartet comprising baroque and modern cellists and violists with electronic reinterpretations of Bach’s masterpiece. Not what we do everyday, but its always fun to get my hands grubby in another sphere of music. Thanks to Emma Alter, Natasha Kraemer, Deborah Chandler and Richard Jones for getting involved in a very different kind of music. Photographs to follow..

TB14001

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CB14002

A fine French silver mounted violoncello bow by Eugene Sartory, stamped “E SARTORY A PARIS”, Paris, circa 1920.

A good and strong example from arguably this maker’s best period.

Round stick with silver lapping and ivory tip. Some minor playing wear and restorations to the stick and frog at the thumb position, but otherwise in very good playing condition.

Length: mm

Weight:  grams.

Sold with our certificate and the certificate of Bernard Millant dated 29 January 2009.

 

Claude Thomassin

A fine silver mounted violin bow by Claude Thomassin, stamped “BELA SZEPESY” for the London trade.

Along with many of the London shops, Bela Szepesy is documented to have bought bows from Paris which he stamped with his own brand. Whilst these are reasonably common for companies such as Hart & Sons and Withers, Thomassin bows with Bela’s stamp are extremely uncommon. This is the only example that we have encountered.

Round stick with silver lapping and ivory tip. Some playing wear including a chip and minor repair to the frog, but otherwise in very good condition.

Length: 743mm

Weight: 59 grams.

Sold with our certificate.

Tourte and Vienna

Why did Beethoven  ignore the technological progress of the French..

 

We were delighted to be invited to speak at the symposium “Le Violon c’est l’archet” – bows from the time of Beethoven and Paganini held at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna in association with Bern University of the Arts. We discussed the complex political undercurrents of the Napoleonic period, and how intertwined musical performance had become with cultural diplomacy, suggesting that it was little surprise to us that the transformations of playing style that took place in Paris fell on such unreceptive ears as Beethoven’s Vienna fell under siege of Napoleon’s army.

James d’aquisto

Guitar Heroes and the holy grail of the American Mandolin..

 

James D’Aquisto was one of the iconic makers of the American archtop guitar. In 1971 he created his own design of mandolin applying the proven aesthetics of the New Yorker archtop with the basic principles developed by the Gibson Company. This example was the first, made in 1971 for Lydia Merryman, but the front was too thin and shortly after construction it cracked. The fittings were scavenged from it and put into a second instrument. D’Aquisto kept the carcass until his death in 1995, since he always had the intention of building more, but was kept busy with high demand for his guitars. The resulting paradox is that of three mandolins that he made, this first example is the fourth. When we discovered the instrument, it had been put back to playing condition with cheap generic fittings. It was acquired by an American institution and was restored by d’Aquisto’s protege, John Monteleone. In 2011 it was one of the centrepieces of the Guitar Heroes exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.