I just started fiddle last year and am amazed at how much there is to know. I thought it would be great to have a book or two around that can help with identification, and maybe a bit of history. Any suggestions? (or books to avoid?)
I have yet to find any truly credible, truly unimpeachable source for assessing what smiles at you at a pawn shop/garage sale or from a private party on the internet.
From antiquing to phony labeling, fakery seems to be an honored tradition in the fiddle world. The only sources I've found truly trustworthy are dedicated violin/string instrument shops. Places where a sharp-eyed, sharp-eared salesperson can chuck a fiddle under a chin, play it for you, and tell you what it actually might be. Decent 19th Century German factory Strad/Amati copy? Recently made Chinese fiddle from a reputable company? A fine fiddle from a fine maker you might not heard of? Yeah, if there's no store nearby, an established internet presence like Shar Music is probably a fine alternative, but buying local is best.
Well, I'll keep looking.
If you’re looking for identification materials, there are a lot of books, but almost all of them are full of mistakes or fakes. The best resource currently is Tarisio’s Cozio archive, although you have to pay for access and it’s by no means exhaustive. The advantages are professional and high quality photography, a searchable database, and current expertise. Many shops or enthusiasts have their own private archives, but those are not available to the public.
For more inexpensive instruments, the books by Roy Erhardt were quite useful, as they contained facsimiles of original advertisements and price guides. They’re not in print now, but copies show up at auction periodically.
Ultimately, learning to identify violins is a skill that can only be perfected by constantly viewing instruments in person and learning about how to identify them from those who have expertise. The books and pictures are enjoyable reading, but they alone can’t offer a full education.
'5-strings' 20 hrs
'Squeaks and scratches' 2 days
'Pre WW2 Fiddle' 2 days