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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Do you REALLY know who made your fiddle?

March 16, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Do you REALLY know who made your violin?

I started thinking about this because violin collector and maker Bill Townsend told me that the T.V. show Treasure Detectives is airing an episode about the authenticity of violins and other art objects this Tuesday. They use some scientific methods to try to determine if something is the real deal, or a high-end forgery.

One can argue that none of us really knows who made our instruments, unless one was sitting in the room with the luthier. But using reasonable logic -- as in, what your dealer told you when you bought the fiddle and what you've learned about it since -- do you believe you know the maker of your violin? And do you think it would it stand up to scientific scrutiny?

For example, I have a Gagliano brothers violin, and that's pretty well documented. But I don't know which brother made it! I knew who made my 20th-century violin; but I've no idea what the deal is with my German factory-made fake Strad.

How about you? Are you pretty sure who made your violin, or are there doubts? If you have more than one violin, answer the vote for your main instrument, and please tell us about your experiences in finding out the truth behind who made your violin.

From marjory lange
Posted on March 16, 2013 at 10:03 PM
One joy of owning a contemporary instrument is you can actually meet its maker and "know" who made your instrument.

My other instrument is totally anonymous, and no one's been willing to do more than guess--I don't care, because it's wonderful, whoever crafted it, whenever that happened; besides, mysteries are also worthy.

From Michael Divino
Posted on March 16, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Met the maker of mine about a month ago!
From Kevin Keating
Posted on March 16, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Honest answer is no. My instrument is a 2008 Capri Maestro CM-1000, "Made in Beijing." After some online researching about China made violins, an exact answer as to its maker is still not there, nor will ever be known.

However, I did learn that almost all China made violins are made in the same factory (Huadon) in the same town outside Beijing (Donggaocun). A possible maker's name is Zheng Quan, however there are other makers there as well. It could possibly be made "according to Zheng Quan's Specs."

Also, "hand crafted" means something very different today than it did 200 years ago. There are often many hands involved in making a single violin. One person may make necks/scrolls, another belly plates, another back plates, still another assembles the parts while yet another may do the fittings and set up.

From Sal Peralta
Posted on March 16, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Some violins I own would not be worth faking. :)
From Christian Linke
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 12:08 AM
There are some cases that really confuse me, specifically that some of the very trusted violin maker dictionaries show two different labels for the same maker, and they both state different spellings for the same town, and also usage of medieval letters in one case that were not used at that time yet ... I am not saying that those dictionaries are wrong, but it is just a very weird thing to me.
From Noriko Okamoto
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Mine doesn't have a label - I sometimes wonder it might have been build as a small viola as its ribs are about the same as 14' viola... I purchased it from a retired violinist, who had it for more than 70 years. Sounding lovely day by day!
From elise stanley
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 3:00 AM
I'm the first owner and play in a quartet with the luthier, so yes I know him :)
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 3:06 AM
I often refer to my violin as my UCWV (unlabelled Chinese Workshop Violin).

When I first bought it we mistakenly thought it was from one source only to find that the tag had been misread by the salesperson and was actually from another source. This did not bother me at all, actually in the long run I came to embrace the extended anonymity of the instrument. But even if it was one of the name brand violins it would have been made somewhere in China by persons unknown.

The shop offered to make me a label, but except for being able to identify the violin if stolen I like that the lack of a label adds to its mystery.

And I am more in love with my UCWV today than on the day I bought it.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 3:10 AM
bought my viola directly from the guy who made it.
From Sinclair Mackenzie
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 11:31 AM
I bought my violin from the maker, it was one of the instruments he made during his time at the Newark school. Never thought I would be able to own an instrument that looks and sounds this good.
From David Sanderson
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 1:40 PM
I got lucky years ago, and ended up with a decent instrument made locally here in western Maine in 1892 by a man named Ivory Bowie (Ivory being an old Maine name). It's not concert quality, but sufficient for my fiddling needs, and nicely made. Ivory was a mystery for many years; then local newspapers from the Lewiston-Auburn area began to be available on line. And suddenly, a year or so ago, we have some details of a man who was in fact a known local character:

Two quotes, from the Lewiston Evening Journal:

From Undo Bowie's Cookstove.
"Do you know the man who has more callers than any man in Auburn?"—remarked a musician to the Journal, yesterday. "The most frequented social center in Auburn, let me tell you, is Ivory Bowie's kitchen—the seat of power of Auburn's celebrated fiddle-builder. Any evening, musicians happen in to swap stories and see the production of the latest fiddle and test its quality when completed. Many's the old barn that's singing in Ivory's fiddles. Would you like a picture of Ivory? Well, he sits on the kitchen stove and once in a while touches off a piece of paper under the stove cover, just to keep up a fair degree of creature-comfort, lights his clay pipe, works it into one corner of his mouth and opens on the brethren. Why, you ought to hear him discourse, with an originality, a quaintness and a power altogether admirable, on a variety of topics, from fiddling to theology! What impresses me especially when I call on Brother Bowie, as I often delight to do, is this--the strong common sense that resides among the plain people—the power to think straight through!"

Lewiston Evening Journal - Feb 10, 1894
That most excellent Auburn violin-maker, Mr. Ivory Bowie, has written the Musical World as follows:
I noticed an item in the Saturday (Feb. 3d) Issue of the Journal devoted to me as a violin maker. Now that the first has told his story, allow me, Mr. Editor, to rise in the class meeting and tell my own experience. I will not inflict idle words as to the difficulties under which old wood is secured at the present time suitable for violin use, as that would take us among the old barns at Durham, which by the way, are fated. Of course it is the purpose of all violin makers to produce instruments that shall far surpass the ordinary in power and quality of tone. What is most perplexing, however, after he has completed an instrument is that he does not really know whether he has attained his object or not, from the fact that it requires years of use to develop a new violin. Therefore his violins may not b© sought for at first but in remote years when the maker has departed, and no more is heard the click of tools nor the harsh tones of a new violin under the testing bow of its author in the workshop kitchen, then his make of instruments may be taken from the attics and eaves where they have escaped the flame and the deluge for a century to be appreciated by the musical world, regardless of person, number or gender."

I am a hopeless sucker for this, and will never be able to sell this instrument. Then, a few years ago, what should appear on Ebay but another Bowie fiddle, same year, but needing a bunch of repairs. I intend to have this second one playable as well, sometime, if only to show off the two instruments from the same year. Sometimes you get indecently lucky.

From Wendy Marberry
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 4:12 PM
One of the reasons I bought my violin was that I knew who made it. When I was shopping around, it made me nervous to shell out several thousands of dollars for something with an undocumented (or possibly sketchy) history. I figured if I was uneasy about it, potential future buyers might be as well. Now, I think it unlikely that I ever would sell it, but I still like knowing the history is there.

From Kevin Keating
Posted on March 17, 2013 at 7:14 PM
Wow, this vote is almost as close a majority in Congress. ;)
From Lawrence Price
Posted on March 18, 2013 at 12:55 AM
On my instrument I have both Hill and Wurlitzer papers and letters from well known connoisseurs from the past and still there are questions being raised by some contemporary experts. Provenance is very complicated these days.
From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 18, 2013 at 1:44 AM
Yes I am verry happy to know my 2 makers! I see them for maintenance appointments and the concerts of one of them. Wonderful people that do wonderful instruments...
From Gene Wie
Posted on March 18, 2013 at 5:41 AM
I'm friends with the maker of my violin on FB. :)

Grateful for his fine work!

From Paul Deck
Posted on March 18, 2013 at 1:49 PM
There was kind of a handsome guy playing the violin nicely in a subway station during my last trip to Washington a few years ago. I told him "look over there!" and when he turned his head is when I swapped his fiddle for an eBay VSO. I jumped the turnstyle onto the Metro and when I got into better light I see that the violin I filched says "Strad.." something or other inside but who knows what that means these days. It looks old, plays okay too.
From Mark Roberts
Posted on March 19, 2013 at 5:48 AM
A long time ago not long after I started playing the violin after an orchestral rehearsal off kensington church street I went into the churchill pub where I was greeted by a very drunk scotsman perched on a bar stool, he new all about it - I just stood there not saying much, then he got very aggressive: I had not corrected him with "fiddle" when he said "violin", ever since I cringe whenever I hear the word "fiddle".
From Kim Vawter
Posted on March 19, 2013 at 10:45 PM
I know who made all the repairs unless that label is a fake!

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