Violin labels

Edited: January 24, 2020, 9:56 AM · You've got to be very careful with violin labels. For example, if you have an unblemished inexpensive violin with a smart and clear printed label saying, "Stradivarius Made in Czech Republic 1994" then it was obviously made by Stradivarius's franchise (!) in the Czech Republic, and you know exactly what you're getting ;)

On the other hand, my #1 violin (that has been in my family since 1850) has a very old label that says, and I quote, "Antonius Stradiuarius Cremonensis faciebat Anno 1738", followed by an A.S. logo with a cross. Note that Stradivarius is spelt in my violin in the Latin form “Stradiuarius”, with "u" instead of "v". No indication that the violin is a copy.

Now, I am informed that A.S. died in 1737, so "1738" raised an eyebrow or two. Over the last 20 years I've had the violin serviced on a couple of occasions - one to repair a split extending from the saddle towards the bridge, and the other more recently to replace the bridge, both jobs being done by different luthiers, trained craftsmen who would surely recognize the genuine article when they see it. On both occasions I asked the luthier where and when he thought the violin was made. One answer was that it was a German copy of a Strad, and the other that it was a French copy, confirming my suspicions Both luthiers agreed that it was sometime in the middle or the latter half of the 18th century. Without going to the expense of a professional appraisal and dendrochronology that's about as close to its age that I can reasonably expect. There is varnish wear at the base end of the top table which further indicates it was played regularly for many years before the chin-rest came along (Louis Spohr invented it in 1820).

One further point about this old violin: its slightly uncommon size. It is a 14.25" violin (the standard size being 14"), the sizes of the bouts and the depth of the ribs are in proportion to its 14.25" length, so the internal volume is perhaps 5% larger. The bridge-nut string length is 33cm, as opposed to the standard 32.5cm, which might present a problem for players with very small hands. The tone, not surprisingly, is deeper than that of my 2002 Jay Haide.

P.S. This post has been inspired by a couple of recent threads asking for help in identifying a violin maker.

Replies (9)

January 24, 2020, 8:21 AM · Violin might have been made later than the invention of the chin rest, but owned and played by someone who decided that CRs ruin your tone, or that the instrument wasn't "meant to be" played that way or some other nutty conspiracy theory.
January 24, 2020, 9:19 AM · If you're worried about the label, you can always buy another one. Here's a set on ebay
January 24, 2020, 9:38 AM · Can you really feel the difference in a half centimeter over the string length? What's the increase when you go to a viola?
January 24, 2020, 9:54 AM · Interesting point, Paul, about CRs ruining the tone. On my old violin I have found that a CR, whether central or side-mounted brings out a wolf on the G-string. Remove the CR, and the wolf disappears; but on my Jay Haide the presence or absence of a CR has no effect on what is in any case a barely observable wolf.

For all its larger-than-normal size (14-1/4") my old violin is remarkably light at 385gm without add-ons, which suggests that it may be inherently more susceptible to wolf infestation. In contrast, my Jay Haide, a standard 14", weighs in at 445gm, again without add-ons.

A little more history about my old violin: it was bought in 1850 by my great-great-grandfather from an Irishman in the port of Haverfordwest in West Wales. We know nothing about that vendor but may surmise that he was fleeing the dreadful Irish Famine, and Haverfordwest was an important trading link with Ireland in those days. There the trail ends. However, we may wonder how a good quality violin made in Europe managed to find its way to Ireland in the early 19th century, or possibly late 18th.

Edited: January 24, 2020, 10:33 AM · Paul, in ordinary playing I don't notice that half-centimeter difference in string length, including octave stretches in the first position (my previous life as a cellist has probably helped there), but more that 2 octaves up the fingerboard and things start getting difficult, not being helped by the larger bouts and deeper ribs of that old violin. However, orchestral examples of that region are very few in number – I had one once where the section was expected to play the third G, A and B in the far reaches of the E-string, doubling the piccolo. We had no hesitation in playing that bit of nonsensical score writing an octave lower.

I can't comment about string length on the viola, never having played one, but I suppose fingering problems depend on the size of the instrument, being anything from 15” upwards.

January 24, 2020, 10:59 AM · standard string length is 327-330mm not 325mm
January 25, 2020, 1:24 PM · Many years ago I was working my way thru undergraduate school doing construction work. Many of my coworkers were not of the highest moral character, some even exconvicts. One day a coworker told me about an evening when his friend invited him to a party at the house of some people he didn’t know. After liberal amounts of alcohol were consumed he decided to leave and went to the back room of the house where the guest’s coats were kept (I know you wonder where I’m going with this and how it relates to violin labels). After finding his coat, which was long because it was winter, he noticed a violin on a table. Out of curiosity he picked it up and looked it over. He noticed the label which bore the name Antonio Stradivarius. He remembered hearing that the violins made by that man were quite valuable so he put it under his coat and stole it, just walked out with it under his coat. Some days later he took it to a music store and was very disappointed to hear it was almost worthless, which is good because if it were genuine the proprietor would have known about the theft and had him arrested and charged with grand larceny.
January 25, 2020, 6:51 PM · As I said in my initial post, one of my luthiers reckoned my old violin was a German copy of a Strad, and the other that it was a French copy. In view of this ambivalence I shall split the difference and say it came from Strasbourg. Strasbourg conveniently lies on the border between France and Germany and has been hopping between France and Germany for centuries - surely a quantum effect - but currently is in France.
January 25, 2020, 9:52 PM · If you want a better sense of what it is, go to maestronet.com, and post images following these instructions--
https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/333119-how-to-photograph-an-instrument-for-identifcation-purposes/

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