Cahusac Violin

Posted By on July 14, 2010

violin by Cahusac

Cahusac violin

Violin label

Here is an interesting and inexpensive violin by Cahusac of London, dating from 1786. A label inside says so, but I can’t believe that the label is genuine. It’s not printed, but inscribed Cahusac, Strand, London, 1786, in an antique hand – but whether the handwriting is 18th of early 19th Century I could not say. It has perhaps been reduced in size, being now an oval about the size of a small hen’s egg.

An original printed Cahusac label from 1785 is illustrated in Albert Cooper’s book. Various textbooks state that the labels vary, so I did a quick check through my records of ten other instruments by this maker. Eight had identical labels (apart from the date) to the one in Cooper’s book, one was only slightly different, having the initials W.M. (for William Maurice) inserted in front of Cahusac, and one very similar but with a different address – this last was considered to date from circa 1800. All were printed.

And yet the violin itself is an utterly characteristic product of the Cahusac business. (Various makers, for example C. & S. Thompson, made instruments for Cahusac.) Since violins by this maker are not particularly expensive, and therefore not really worth faking, I assume that a later repairer – perhaps whoever fitted the new neck – recorded this information truthfully.

detail of violin

Staining on violin back

The Cahusac business sold cheap violins, and when this was made it was not at all expensive. It was almost thrown together. The back is in two pieces of absolutely plain wood – it’s probably poplar, not maple. Nitric acid has been used to stain black stripes, in imitation of the figure of glamorous maple. However it has been very crudely done. The brush-strokes are still clear and some stripes continue over the centre-joint. Of course the painted stripes do not have the glorious tiger’s-eye effect when the light falls from another angle, but remain stubbornly black. This style of acid-staining, incidentally, is completely typical of London in the late 18th century. It is often found on the backs of the briefly-fashionable instruments called English Guittars, (incorrectly, though commonly, called citterns). Also the only two cither viols I have seen were similarly decorated, and it is sometimes found on square pianos and other furniture from this period. It seems to be an English trait. There is a famous Gagliano cello which has a little similar decoration, but I have always wondered whether this staining was indeed the work of Gagliano, or if it had been done at a later stage by an Englishman . . .

Grain of table

Back to this Cahusac. The table is in one piece, of very wide grain which is by no means vertical – indeed it is frankly slab-cut, with the lines of grain breaking up in wavy patterns. And of course there is no purfling inlay around the edges of either front or back – simply two black lines painted instead.


Wear to painted purfling

But much the same comments could be made about instruments by the Testore family in Milan. They too used poor wood, indifferent craftsmanship, and didn’t bother with either straight grain or purfling – and they have simply shot up in price. So expensive have they become that later workers have ensured that they are now put together far better than they were when originally made, and the majority now have purfling. Violins by Testore, though, can sound wonderful. I am not aware of a similar claim for a Cahusac. Nontheless, somebody at some stage has put a good new neck on this violin, and made a careful graft, so the original crude head (of beech, by the way) is now joined to a nicely-figured maple neck. And the cracks have been fixed, and a corner replaced and so on. The sound will not stand comparison with that of a good Testore, but it is not at all bad at less than a twentieth of the price.

neck graft

Neck graft

It’s a real survivor, being perfectly usable at modern pitch. Two and a quarter centuries old. Most houses don’t last so long.

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