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Apr 13, 2023 - 2:57:15 PM
5 posts since 4/13/2023

Hi. I'm new to this site and fiddles.
I am interested in finding out anything about this fiddle that I bought very cheap in an antique shop.
It has no name anywhere on it.
I'd appreciate any information.
Thank you in advance for your knowledge and expertise.
Allen.




 

Apr 13, 2023 - 4:54:16 PM

1350 posts since 3/1/2020

Violins like this were mass produced in Germany and sold through catalogs, especially in the US, from the late 1800s into the 1930s or so. You can find old Sears and Roebuck catalogs from that have ads for them.

They tend to sound pretty bad due to all the extra material that’s put into them (glue, shell, glass, etc.), so they have very almost no commercial value. Some fiddlers like to collect them.

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 04/13/2023 16:54:32

Apr 14, 2023 - 3:31:13 AM

5 posts since 4/13/2023

Thank you very much Rich. That's great to know. Much appreciated.
Allen.

Apr 14, 2023 - 3:48:34 AM

DougD

USA

11717 posts since 12/2/2007
Online Now

AllenC - That was one person's opinion. It should be noted that one of the most famous American traditional fiddlers played an instrument of this type and seemed quite happy with it. Just because of that they are prized by some people. Yours looks to be of higher quality than many, just judging from the look of the wood. It also appears to be in very good shape - one small piece of inlay might be missing but the rope binding is intact, and it doesn't appear to have major issues. Also it looks like its been played fairly recently - the strings are intact, and the tailpiece has built in fine tuners. I'm a little puzzled by the chinrest, which seems to be on the "wrong" side for some reason.
It may or may not sound good, but I wouldn't say it has "very almost no commercial value." We have a member who collects these, and wrote a good article about them. He can tell you more if he sees this. Don't give up on it!

Edited by - DougD on 04/14/2023 03:51:58

Apr 14, 2023 - 6:41:01 AM

5 posts since 4/13/2023

Thank you very much DougD for your encouraging words.
It doesn't have a great tone, but I think it's an interesting and attractive fiddle nonetheless.
I thought it was possibly American made, with its ornate style. I wonder if it ever made it as far as the U.S. I bought it here in Ireland.
Allen.

Apr 14, 2023 - 7:07:47 AM

1350 posts since 3/1/2020

I think DougD is referring to Vassar Clements’ violin, which was a decorated violin, but there’s an important difference: that violin was not a German violin, but a French “Duiffoprugcar” made by Honore Derazey. Those violins were better sounding and have a little more collectible value. The German copies of them were more crude and didn’t sound good, so those don’t have much value.

My comment wasn’t just my own opinion. It was a realistic description of the violin market. One personal opinion would never be enough to influence the market; it’s a consistent opinion over the decades that determines that.

If the OP is happy with the violin, he doesn’t need to be disappointed in his purchase unless he’s hoping to flip the violin or find something that will sound spectacular. It will be playable if it’s set up well.

Some fiddlers like to collect the “lion’s head” violins because of the scrolls. Not a lot of people realize just how commercial these were, and I’ve been told that the heads weren’t even carved by hand but cut out by machines. I knew a championship fiddler who collected them in her youth as she went to festivals and met other players. She had about 50 violins, most of them like this. The only violins she managed to sell when she decided to divest herself of the collection were a couple that were nice old Germans.

Apr 14, 2023 - 10:34:16 AM

5 posts since 4/13/2023

Thanks again Rich for your depth of knowledge which is far superior to mine. I take all opinions and comments here as valuable and coming from extensive experience that goes beyond personal.
I would accept that this fiddle is a copy of greater fiddles, but I like it a lot, plus I paid very little for it years back.
Many thanks.
Allen.

Apr 14, 2023 - 11:33:42 AM
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DougD

USA

11717 posts since 12/2/2007
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No Rich, I was thinking of Tommy Jarrell, who played a decorated fiddle with machine heads that he supposedly bought for $10 in 1915. Famously, when given a chance to play a real Strad he said he preferred his own. Here's a link to a recording I made of Tommy playing that instrument in his living room: youtu.be/Egyg5HWFrjE Not the greatest sound perhaps, but that "vinegary" tone suited him and was what he preferred. I never saw him play anything else.
I certainly wouldn't consider Vassar Clements to be a "traditional fiddler," and I don't know why you started talking about "lion's head" violins or other carved pegheads. Allen's instrument, although inlaid, has a traditional carved scroll.
I'm not a dealer, but I'd say the violin market (as for anything) is not monolithic, but varies with time and location. An instrument that might be of little interest in your area might be more attractive around here - for example those trade fiddles stamped "Hopf" or "Stainer" on the back.
Just as an example, some years ago I bought a 1970 Martin guitar from a local music store in SW Virgina. I showed it to a prominent dealer friend of mine from Boston, and when I told him what I paid for it he said "You STOLE that guitar." Yet I just paid their asking price - didn't even haggle.
BTW, Allen, this topic has been discussed here before, and you might be able to find the threads in the archive. Also on some of the other violin sites like Maestronet. Rich is right that most of these are not of very high quality, but they vary, just like the carving on those "lion head" ones.

Apr 14, 2023 - 12:12:05 PM
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Old Scratch

Canada

1222 posts since 6/22/2016

Hey - I bet you didn't know that the Highwoods Stringband did a bang up version of that Old Jimmy Sutton?

Btw, 'vinegary' is a perfect description of TJ's tone, for some reason.

Apr 14, 2023 - 1:03:58 PM
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DougD

USA

11717 posts since 12/2/2007
Online Now

Really? How about that. Those guys "banged up" just about everything they encountered! I don't want to hijack Allen's thread, but I'll just say that that tune, and a lot of other Highwoods tracks, are available on YouTube. Why, I don't know, but that's what happens when your recordings are owned and distributed by a huge congomerate! Also, the idea for that intro came from a 1962 Folkways recording of banjo player Vester Jones.

Apr 14, 2023 - 6:35:24 PM
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1350 posts since 3/1/2020

I just brought up the lion head fiddles as similar examples of mass produced German violins that were made by machine in that period. Tommy Jarrell’s violin is in the collection of the National Museum of American History and as Doug pointed out, it is more like the OP’s violin.

There is a certain amount of regional desirability for certain makers, but there is still a general range of prices for violins. Old Germans tend to be a lot more consistent in price throughout the country. When I was working at the last shop, we supplied lots of them to about 50 shops all over the country and even some outside. There was never any demand for the ornamented violins. The auction houses that take the rejects from shops weren’t interested in the ornamented violins, so we’d just put any that we came across in a box for a fiddler who said he collected them. Unfortunately he never showed up to pick them up in the eight years I was there, so we were stuck with them.

Not all ornamented violins are mediocre, but there is a tendency to cut a lot of corners on the cheap ones, so they aren’t in much demand.

Hopf and Stainer copies sell here too, not just the high end violins. My area has a huge number of players of all kinds, so you come across a pretty broad variety of instruments.

Apr 15, 2023 - 3:55:18 AM
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238 posts since 4/5/2008

For what it's worth, here's an article on "Fancy Trade Catalog Violins" like yours.

drive.google.com/file/d/1T94V0...hare_link


 

Apr 16, 2023 - 7:23:24 AM

559 posts since 9/1/2010

I'm not sure of the origin of Doug Kershaw's fiddle, but the one he played had those ornate inlays and a lion head scroll.

Apr 16, 2023 - 10:52:20 AM

1350 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Mark Ralston

For what it's worth, here's an article on "Fancy Trade Catalog Violins" like yours.

drive.google.com/file/d/1T94V0...hare_link


I like the quote from Saxony's chamber of commerce that mentions there being more demand for good-sounding instruments than for decorated ones!

Apr 16, 2023 - 11:44:12 AM
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Old Scratch

Canada

1222 posts since 6/22/2016

'more demand for good-sounding instruments than for decorated ones!' It does restore your faith in humanity, doesn't it?

Apr 16, 2023 - 7:32:18 PM

85 posts since 11/19/2019

Thank you for posting that Mark. It was a good read.

Apr 17, 2023 - 7:02:02 AM
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5823 posts since 7/1/2007

quote:
Originally posted by AllenC

Hi. I'm new to this site and fiddles.
I am interested in finding out anything about this fiddle that I bought very cheap in an antique shop.
It has no name anywhere on it.
I'd appreciate any information.
Thank you in advance for your knowledge and expertise.
Allen.


FWIW, I just yesterday set a fiddle very much like that one up for one of the most discriminating professional fiddler customers I have. He may very well use it for his everyday show fiddle, 12 shows a week. I'll agree that they aren't generally wonderful violins, and can vary a lot in quality, but I don't think that "fancy" violins should be dismissed out of hand, but should generally be considered with discretion. You never know what you can get out of a trade fiddle until you give it a try, and a competent setup can sometimes produce surprising results. I generally buy ones that look decent for stock, and sell them fairly quickly.

Also, I have a lions head violin by A H Seymour that I expect to fetch around $10K eventually. It's the nicest I've ever seen, by a maker whose violins normally fetch $18K.

Apr 17, 2023 - 7:29:54 AM

5 posts since 4/13/2023

quote:
Originally posted by Mark Ralston

For what it's worth, here's an article on "Fancy Trade Catalog Violins" like yours.

drive.google.com/file/d/1T94V0...hare_link


Thank you kindly for this addition @MarkRalston. Very interesting.

Apr 18, 2023 - 8:49:56 AM

5823 posts since 7/1/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Mark Ralston

For what it's worth, here's an article on "Fancy Trade Catalog Violins" like yours.

drive.google.com/file/d/1T94V0...hare_link


Thanks for taking the time to pull those references together. There are a few conclusions I would take mild exception to, but I can't help but take great exception to that old canard that you repeat there that somehow associates the six-pointed star found on some fancy fiddles with anything to do with Jewish people or the Holocaust. In truth, nothing could be further from reality. The Jewish symbol, Magen David, or Star of David, is two interlocking equilateral triangles, and while a six pointed star has various meanings in Nordic and other symbologies, no six-pointed star other than one made of two interlocking triangles has anything to do with Judaism. If I were you, I'd edit that reference out to avoid embarrassment, and perhaps submit the rest your article to Maestronet for comment on some of the other historical and technical observations that  might be questionable. There are some well informed and generous people there.

Apr 18, 2023 - 9:03:50 AM
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DougD

USA

11717 posts since 12/2/2007
Online Now

I'd agree with that assessment. I haven't really followed it, but I think this notion was being actively promoted by one or more people recently, but has since been thoroughly refuted.
Also, I think a couple of the old photos are really of French factories, which used a very different system of manufacturing organization than the Vogtland, where I believe most of these decorated fiddles came from. Several years ago I saw several photos of the German workshops, but I can't find a lot of those now.
Still, thanks for sharing this Mark. I'm glad you saw this thread.
BTW, Michael, Mark did ask for advice about this project on Maestronet back in 2017, and received a little help. maestronet.com/forum/index.php...orkshops/

Edited by - DougD on 04/18/2023 09:15:37

Apr 18, 2023 - 9:30:39 AM

DougD

USA

11717 posts since 12/2/2007
Online Now

Here's a link to the "Violins of Hope" website that has maybe helped spread this notion, perhaps inadvertantly. His references to the six pointed star motif is ambiguous. violins-of-hope.com/

Apr 18, 2023 - 10:56:55 AM
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1350 posts since 3/1/2020

It’s important to distinguish as well between commercial violins sold to the general public that had a six-pointed star as an ornament from those that had Stars of David put on later, either before the Holocaust or after as a way of marking their significance to the families that owned them.

I also thought it was surprising to see the pictures of the Laberte-Humbert workshop in an article on German trade fiddles, but I figured the author was just using whatever photos he could find of a factory without intending to suggest that any fancy fiddles were made there.

I think it should be noted that by the time the fancy fiddles were being produced, the style of production had changed from the cottage industry of the earlier era to a commercial one where more and more machinery began to be used. A violin made in the 1870s will be different from one made in the 1890s, and with the invention of the milling machine in the early 1900s, the process quickly became more industrial. Factories became gigantic and eclipsed the smaller production model of the pre-industrial era.

I took the article to be aimed at a general audience that wouldn’t necessarily know anything about violins as a brief introduction, not a scholarly or in-depth piece.

Apr 18, 2023 - 1:26:23 PM
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238 posts since 4/5/2008

This is going to be a long comment about Violins of hope.

A few years ago I was contacted by a researcher with the National Institute for Holocaust Documentation, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Wash. DC. about a photo that I had posted of a fiddle with a 6-pointed star.  I sent her some images from old instrument catalogs.  At that time I wasn't aware of the controversy about 6-pointed star versus Star of David. Through the researcher, I was contacted by a journalist for Moment Magazine who asked me about "fancy trade catalog fiddles", and who was fairly negative about Amnon Weinstein and his "Violins of Hope Project". I didn't get it at first, but then I learned that some people think that Weinstein "mis-attributed" the 6-pointed star design as being a religious icon. Clearly, on violins it is a design..... I've seen 5-pointed stars and other designs, so after being exposed to the controversy, I no longer call that design a Star of David.

I helped the journalist to find and buy a German (central European) workshop fiddle with a 6-pointed star. I also went to visit the Violins of Hope exhibit when it was displayed in two locations in Kutztown, PA. I spoke with the woman in the Kutztown Arts Dept. about stringed instruments, and just missed meeting Amnon's son, who was accompanying the display. I understand that the Violins of Hope project has raised some money for projects, which some people object to as commercializing a part of Jewish history. The display was absolutely breathtaking..... the horrors of the concentration camps and the genocide of WWII were made very real, and the glimmer of humanity that rose from the musicians that were interned in the camps was both tragic and inspiring.  Amnon seemed to be very careful to identify violins that had clear provenance to a Jewish, concentration camp survivor versus fiddles with 6-pointed stars, so I didn't perceive that the display misrepresented the issue of music in the camps and violins with 6-pointed stars.

From the perspective of a mostly-lapsed Quaker, historically curious, lover of stringed instruments, I think that the Violins of Hope project is a powerful commemoration of an aspect of WWII and Jewish history. However, I understand that some people who are more meticulous about strict accuracy in religious iconography might have issues with referring to the 6-pointed stars as "Stars of David". I don't think the Violins of Hope exhibit was disrespectful in any way. So it goes.

Amnon read my article and said that he thought it was interesting. I especially enjoyed connecting with the two historians (Wisehart and Weller) who had a lot to say about the central European (or Northern Alps) violin-making traditions. Per their input, I changed part of the article to say that some of the quirks (use of blocks, inlay, shaping tops, finishing, etc.) are NOT indicative of shortcuts, but indicative of that central European tradition. Personally, I think the jury is still out on whether or not some of the workshop fiddles were assembly-line-made...... there are some nice ones, and some clumsy ones. I especially liked the quote from Paul Stoeving identifying three classes of "German" violins......

"Second: The dabbling of cranks who could not resist the temptation of wanting to improve on the Stainer and Italian patterns, and by inoculating their own individuality produced not only deformities, acoustic impossibilities, but helped also to impair the slow-growing reputation at home and abroad of the legitimate maker." (my emphases).

Thanks for the comments on the "Fancy Trade Catalog Violins" article, which was was written from the perspective of a collector and, as noted, a bit light on luthiery nuts and bolts and other aspects. 

For the luthiers, photo is of a violin with rope binding from the display..... the light rope segments are Mother of Pearl.

Article from Moment Magazine "The Stars of David that Aren’t":
https://momentmag.com/violins-stars-of-david/


 

Edited by - Mark Ralston on 04/18/2023 13:32:48

Apr 18, 2023 - 3:08:01 PM

DougD

USA

11717 posts since 12/2/2007
Online Now

Thanks for posting that Mark. Great article.
I took a closer look at the "Violins of Hope" website and the instruments pictured there. There is a "group photo" at the end, but aside from that I think I saw four instruments with six pointed stars - one with a real Star of David nicely inlayed into the back and one inlayed in the tailpiece - the others are just the usual decorations. They are all referred to as Star of David.
Even so, I thought the descriptions were more symbolic to suggest the spirit of the story, rather than specific iconography.

Edited by - DougD on 04/18/2023 15:08:46

Apr 19, 2023 - 7:04:17 AM
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238 posts since 4/5/2008

KCFiddles - tnx for the comments on 6-pointed (hexagonal) star vs. Star of David. Through my discussions with the folks at the Holocaust Museum and Moment Magazine, I learned about the distinction and about sensitivity to confusing the any hexagonal star with the Star of David. I updated my file to change the two references to “Star of David” with “6-pointed star”, a useful suggestion from you.

AllenC - sorry about bumping your thread off-topic. As you now know, I collect “Fancy Trade Catalog Violins”, in large part because I saw Tommy Jarrell play his 6-diamond-backed fiddle, also found a couple of “fancies” at auctions & flea markets. FYI, I’m also a fan of a Pennsylvania fiddle-maker, Sol Roach. He made a few fiddles from scratch, and had a habit of writing a lot of things inside his fiddles. He also “re-graduated” (re-shaped or thinned the tops of) quite a few fiddles. I own one of his “originals” and one “re-graduated” (a semi-fancy, which is identified as a "Lady's Violin" on the back of the scroll). Roach wrote his re-graduation dimensions (in 64ths of an inch) inside one of my fiddles. I also found a fiddle made by one of Sol’s brothers (Charles) and managed to get it back into the hands of one of Charles’ descendants.

Both of my Roach fiddles are excellent instruments. Some of the “fancies” can be improved by re-graduating or other methods (I’m not a luthier, only a fiddle tinkerer, so I’ll leave description of the “improvements” to others). Here’s a link to some info on Roach and "re-graduating" "German workshop" fiddles. solroachviolinhistory.com/ Enjoy your fiddle ……. ! ! !

DougD – I went back and looked at my notes from when I was talking with the researcher & the journalist. The journalist wrote a series of articles on Star of David vs. hex star, and she quoted an experience that I related to her: a guy on the West Coast saw a photo that I had posted of a hex star fiddle, called me, and was very aggressive in telling me that I should sell the fiddle to him, because it was a part of his Jewish culture and “should” be with him. I think the journalist was interested in the fact that a Jew would associate the hex star with the Star of David and Jewish culture, since she was highly sensitive to the issue. I concluded that a relatively small number of people who are a) in-the-know about violin issues or b) expert in religious iconography have issues with Star of David vs. hex star.
 

Edited by - Mark Ralston on 04/19/2023 07:05:12

Apr 19, 2023 - 11:44:53 PM

1350 posts since 3/1/2020

This reminds me of the common tall tale of the “civil war fiddle.” There were a lot of trade fiddles with American patriotic motifs painted on or applied as decals, and those who were mistaken or looking to sell a story would present them as being relics of the Civil War, even though they were made in Germany well after the war ended. It still happens today that someone will show up with one of these insisting the decorations are proof of their part in the war. Showing the catalog pages with them for sale new isn’t even enough to convince some!

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