Can someone identify this luthier?

December 28, 2012 at 05:54 PM · On a visit to a friend's place last week, I found this very old and beautiful violin in the attic. Apparently it belonged to his wife's grandmother or something. It was feather-light and in extremely bad shape with cracks on the wood and stuff (thankfully the sound post was intact). I bought it from him for around $20 and took it to a nearby luthier who pronounced it French (though I do have my doubts on how someone could be so sure just by looking at an instrument). Anyway, it should be back with a new fingerboard, tail-piece and everything in about a month I think.

Now the label on it is a mystery to me - I have not been able to figure it out (it's handwritten) and would really appreciate some help.

Replies (20)

December 28, 2012 at 06:47 PM · You should ask your friend what he knows or heard about the violin for clues, if you did not already do so. good luck.

December 28, 2012 at 06:47 PM ·

December 28, 2012 at 08:39 PM · No pictures or date?

Looks like Esheriantz or something :D

December 28, 2012 at 11:01 PM · It might even be a previous owner's name rather than a luthier's! Images of the violin (front, back and sides) would be helpful to those who may be in a position to give a better answer than that.

December 29, 2012 at 05:03 AM · That is a tough one to read. Might be something like I. Eslurvantz but it's hard to say if that's a zee on the end or simply a downturn of a "t" (or other letter).

I know there is a European name Sturdevant that is apparently spelled different ways (i.e., Sturtevant) and sometimes shortened to "Sturdy." It's an English/Norman/French name, I believe. Some of the Sturdevants migrated to New England and from there across the prairies. It would help to know some of the family history.

Wait a minute. It is French. It's L'Estivant or something close to that, I bet.

December 29, 2012 at 05:18 AM · The label might be quite old. It appears to be written with fountain pen (or possibly quill pen, but it's hard to write that quickly with a quill). It also might be a gall ink if the color in the photo is true (a deep brown).

It's rare to see brown ink any more. Blue and black have been typical for decades but brown was traditional (due to the natural composition of the materials) for centuries.

Do you know any lab rats at a local university? If they have a spectroscope, they could perhaps take a sliver of the ink and break down the components which would, in turn, help you date the label.

The paper is important too. Is it handmade? Is it parchment? Is it laid paper (with a distinct grain)? Does it have many impurities. A paleographer would probably enjoy a mystery like this.

I'm looking forward to hearing you tell about how the violin sounds once you get it back.

December 29, 2012 at 09:20 AM · I may have found it.

S. Estevant is listed as a trade name in Mirecourt in 1934. Its on all these pages:

http://www.luthiers-mirecourt.com/marques_de_fabriques_.htm

http://www.luthiers-mirecourt.com/liuteria_seriale.htm

http://www.luthiers-mirecourt.com/colmar1992.htm

My french is not very good but I think this was a name that was used but not actually a luthier - perhaps someone can translate for us.

I found a record of a violin labeled Estevant in a list by Rampal (the Mirecourt expert) that says:

'886 Violon fait dans les ateliers COUESNON à Mirecourt XXème portant étiquette Estevant 1929. Cassure sur la table. 356mm. 700

and another in 2010:

219 Violon fait dans les ateliers COUESNON à Mirecourt en 1927, portant étiquette Estevant. Petite cassure sur la table. 358mm. 1000/1500

'portant étiquette' means 'with label', consistent with the idea that Estevant was not a known person but a trade signature of some kind.

I believe the value at the end is estimated value -I'm guessing in US dollars not francs.

ee

December 29, 2012 at 10:40 AM · By the way, one way to be sure is to send a copy of the signature to Rampal and ask him to ID it.

December 29, 2012 at 01:17 PM · Elise - I suspect Estevant is the maker. As I understand the term "portant etiquette", it means the label of the maker. It appears from the listings you quote that Estevant was probably a luthier in the Couesnon workshop.

December 29, 2012 at 02:23 PM · There's another reference under Violins for Orchestras, under premiere series:

No 139. Violon signé S. Estevant, vernis en vieux jaune brun.

(No 139. Violin signed S. Estevant, old yellow-brown varnish.)

Hard to say whether they mean old-style (traditional) varnish or that it appears to be an old violin (by the varnish). If they are a reseller, then it might have been old at the time it was listed in this catalog.

December 29, 2012 at 02:30 PM · "portant étiquette Estevant"

I believe that would be "porting/carrying/bearing (the) label Estevant".

It appears that whoever included the "Estevant" labeled violins in this catalog didn't know much about them either other than that they had this label and were old (or appeared to have an old-style varnish).

So, perhaps not much is known about the luthier. If the luthier signed only with a name and not a location, then there's not much information passed on to the next generation. It's not a lot to go on, but it's possible the luthier of the violins in this catalog was a 19th century luthier.

Also, keep an open mind about that first letter. The compiler of the catalog interpreted their label as an "S" but there's still a possibility that this one is l'Estevant, a French construction for "the" (note the prominent apostrophe shape between the words). A "d" is used in a similar way, abbreviated to "d'something" (to mean of or from). It might be S or L or F or I or something else, as well, although it doesn't fit the common shapes for S or of that time.

Here's a reference on old French text and letter forms (pages 5 and 6):

https://familyhistory.byu.edu/Downloads/French_Extraction_Guide/French_Extraction_Guide-Chapter_5.pdf

December 30, 2012 at 01:38 PM · Did Ishwar stop reading his own topic? Finding this guy took some effort ....

January 1, 2013 at 01:22 PM · Dear all,

Thanks a lot for your effort towards my request. I apologise for my so late a response here. I have been stuck at a remote place for quite sometime and have only just found your posts.

About the violin, my luthier is yet to update me on its current state. I shall post some pictures of it when I get it back. Might be helpful!

As for the information you have put together, I'll need sometime to go catch up. Can't thank you people enough!!

@Elise I'm sorry for being so late.. :-( thanks again!!

ISHWAR

January 1, 2013 at 02:52 PM · Ishwar - definitely understood, thanks for getting back to us. Love to see if my sleuthing proved to be correct.

ee

January 17, 2013 at 09:22 PM · Greetings!

I'm finally back home and might be picking up the violin from my luthier sometime tomorrow. The moment she gets home, I shall put up a set of images and maybe a bit of the sound as well for you people! 

As for it's maker, I'm still clueless and hope the images might help... After going through all the info you guys have shared, I'm inclined to believe that the maker might have been Estevant. 

However, if the parchment/paper has to be analysed shouldn't it be removed from the inside of the violin? If that would be the case, then I'm afraid I'll have to wait awhile before doing so because I am really not sure of what exactly this luthier of mine is capable of (his earlier restoration of a similar violin that I purchased was not very satisfactory. And he is the best in the city!)

And @Elise, who is this Rampal that can ID the signature? Please tell me more...

Again, you guys have been great! Thank you so much - @J Petersen and @Elise Stanley in particular!! 

Will be back tomorrow with the images and sound hopefully... 

Cheers! 

Ish

January 17, 2013 at 10:23 PM · Most people have heard of Rampal the famous flutist. This Rampal is his son and, as I understand it, has become an (the?) authority on Mirecourt violins. I know of him because he signed the certificate on my Deudonne violin (that I've since exchanged). Here is a web site - I hope its the right one!

http://www.vatelot-rampal.com/vatelot-rampal_eng.php

January 19, 2013 at 06:38 PM · Hey guys!

Got the violin back... I think it sounds good. Will put up the images and sound sample in a few hours (I'm not a very good violinist: just amateur, but you'll atleast get to hear something)

This might be a game changer though - my luthier feels strongly that this is neither French nor German! Anyway, maybe we might get further once the images are up...

Thanks for that link to Mr Rampal. Will check it out!

Cheers

Ish

January 22, 2013 at 06:06 PM · Images of the restored violin:

https://picasaweb.google.com/101974163732039425974/January222013?authkey=Gv1sRgCNm4iO2Uz6v3rgE

January 22, 2013 at 09:44 PM · A few comments, more on the violin's setup than anything else ...

The tailpiece looks out of alignment with the saddle; the tailgut is well over to the treble side as it crosses the saddle. I may be mistaken, but the tailgut also looks as if it is metal wire. See the second photo on the top line.

For me, the action looks a bit on the high side. Too high an action means more work for the left hand.

I would suggest that the add-on tuners be replaced by a tailpiece with integral tuners. You won't regret it and the tone should be improved.

February 14, 2013 at 02:37 PM · Did you find anything more about the violin? For some reason it looks German to me (but thats really just a gut reaction) and its pretty high arched too. Do you have a side shot at right angles to the rib so one can see the extent of arching?

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