Replacement of thumb leather on a reputable maker's bow - influence on value?

Edited: May 25, 2019, 9:35 AM · Dear friends, my latest acquisition is a really beautiful, extraordinary well playing bow made in the 1970ies by one of the most pronounced German bowmakers. As usual with the stuff I fall in love with, I wasn't actively bow shopping, but kind of run into it. It is in collectible, near mint condition and all parts are original. Only the leather is pretty worn on the usual contact point of the thumb, and probably because of that (or because of some pre-owner's special anatomical reasons, who knows) at this spot it seems as if the outer layer of the leather winding was cut away. For me this feels a bit disturbing during playing and I'd like to have the leather replaced, not only for the optics, but also for function.
Retail value for this specific bow will be somewhere between €4-5k, since I had it at an expert to get my insurance papers, and he appraised it with 5,8k. Stupidly I forgot to ask if a replacement of the leather would detoriate the (financial) value of the bow, or if the leather was rather regarded like consumables, similar to the hair. Does anyone know about that?

Replies (20)

May 25, 2019, 9:36 AM · not if the replacement is well done IMHO
May 25, 2019, 9:38 AM · Thank you, Lyndon. For sure I wouldn't do it by myself, but let my luthier do the job, and tell him to use the same type of leather.
May 25, 2019, 9:39 AM · How can one tell anyway whether the leather is original or not?!?
May 25, 2019, 9:44 AM · Thumb leather is totally irrelevant to the value of a bow. It would be like saying a vintage car is worth less because there are new tires on it. Or that a violin is worth less because it has new strings.
Edited: May 25, 2019, 11:32 AM · If this were a Tourte or something, then an original wrap would be extremely important, and you'd protect it or maybe just keep the bow in a box and not play it. In this type of situation, If you continue to play it on a bad thumb grip you will do damage to the stick (with your thumbnail) that will be much more devaluing than a new grip might theoretically accomplish. So really your choice is replace the grip, have the original covered and deal with the discomfort or don't play the bow at all.

And.... there's probably no way to know if it's the original thumb grip or not, anyway.

May 25, 2019, 5:05 PM · What Scott said.

I’ve replaced leathers on all my bows at one time or another.

May 25, 2019, 10:38 PM · Isn't it a consumable just like hair?
May 25, 2019, 11:02 PM · There is a "trick" to prepping the thumb leather edges before installing on the bow - you have to thin the edges to get a proper taper. I'm sure you can look it up - I did years ago before I first attempted it. It takes a leather piece of some thickness (as you can see by looking at the thickness of a pro job.

But for bows of value I pay a pro to do it. It is not very expensive.

May 26, 2019, 9:28 AM · A Tourte with Fritz Kreisler's fingerprints on the frog would be worth even more.
May 26, 2019, 11:18 AM · It depends whose fingerprint is on it!
Zig's violin played by Stern fetched a record price. People believe in all kind of things.
May 26, 2019, 1:27 PM · Cotton Mather would probably just use duct tape.
Edited: May 26, 2019, 1:59 PM · Thumb leathers are like car tires. When they wear out, you change them. This would not have any bearing on the value of the bow unless someone damaged the stick in the process of replacing the thumb leather.

I do have customers who complain that we don't leave any room between the frog and the leather for their thumb. That is when I explain that it is called the thumb leather for a reason. My best Tubbs bow was purchased at auction, and was affordable because about 1/3 of the stick was worn away by a thumb that was placed on the stick for years and years.

May 26, 2019, 4:11 PM · Duane! Great to hear from you, always! The thing about the "thumb leather" is that you very often use the little corner of it to rest your thumb rather than the leather itself. Look at Josh Bell play ... he is using a Guarneri "chin rest." Except 90% of the chin rest goes entirely unused. Only the knob that goes over the tail piece is where he hooks his jawbone onto his instrument and he's used to it that way. So, we all have our little ways that we do things and, yeah, when we have a bow that we've been using for decades quite cheerfully, we want the fittings and leather and such to be the same as we had it. Whether that's "correct" or not.
May 26, 2019, 7:27 PM · I replace my thumb leather perhaps every 2-3 yrs, no different than hairs, it wears hence needs replacement and I would assume has no bearing on the overall value of the bow.
May 27, 2019, 4:58 AM · Lady of the house: But that’s a priceless Steinway!!

Clouseau: Not any more.

May 27, 2019, 10:00 AM · The thumb leather has no effect what so ever on the value of the bow. There is no need to replace with the exact same leather unless you liked how it looked and felt. Chances are the leather has already been replaced unless the bow was never used before you got it. When an appraisal says all original they are specifically talking about the stick, frog, button, and metal parts (ferrule, heel plate, button rings, etc.). Pearl, windings, tip plates, thumb leathers can all be replaced (professionally) and will have zero impact on the value and "originality" (on appraisals and certificates). Even on very, very high end bows it is more about bragging and makes it more desirable to players and collectors. Change the leather, protect the stick, be comfortable, and enjoy the bow!
Edited: May 29, 2019, 4:38 PM · Thanks a lot, especially Duane and Anthony! What you're telling seems very reasonable, but often I'm not so sure about what has impact on value, especially if it is about collectible goods (even if this bow is mainly regarded as a tool by myself, even if a beautiful one...). Now I'm feeling a lot better having it repaired. You're "in the business" and I trust your judgment.

Actually, the more I'm using it, the more uncomfortable do I become with the narrowed down piece of leather. Not especially because of the resulting small overall diameter of the stick (which also feels a bit weird), but because of the edge my tip of the thumb has to find a rest. I don't believe it is really "worn", but rather cut out by intention. My thumb is wandering around on the leather pretty much while playing, so this is especially a nuisance.
I'll have my luthier do it at the next rehair. I guess I'll be able to live with it these few months, the hair definitely isn't brand new... - But hell, this is a nice stick!!

May 29, 2019, 5:01 PM · What if the bow is made by a disreputable bow maker?
May 30, 2019, 12:24 AM · On my collection of bows of unknown origin or in a very moderate price range (which my wife respectfully named as "The Flea Market Foundation"), all repair work like winding, leather, replacing the screw, or bushing - except rehair - was carried out by myself. All of these bows are worth no more or even less than the whole repair job would have cost me if done by a pro, and some of them are hardly worth the cost of a rehair, which is carried out by my luthier anyway. It mostly turned out nicely, except for the first two ones which I decided to redo after a while. So, it's not rocket science and I think I know how to do it, but I would not want to mess it up in this case...
May 30, 2019, 6:43 PM · Thanks for this timely post! I, too, was curious. The leather on my Weichold bow is starting to wear and I was debating getting it redone. Luckily, my luthier and I have a good relationship and he charged me $10 to put a grip on a different bow.

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