Death of a Violin

Posted By on March 8, 2010

Somny violin

The old certificate for this violin, which has a fake Joseph Hill label, described it as “Kloz School” without bothering with a date. I suppose it was made in the late 18th Century, and probably in Mittenwald, which indeed does make it of that school. The extended Kloz family produced large numbers of instruments in that place and around that time. However this violin has very thick edges and its soundholes lack the delicacy that I would expect of a proper Kloz. It was never, therefore, worth a very great deal.

It must have been knocked, causing a soundpost crack in the table, sometime during the 19th Century. It has three old (rectangular) studs to repair the crack laid into the thickness of the table from underneath – a very old-fashioned repair, and an inadequate one, as shown by the later repairs consisting of further (square) studs glued over the top of the earlier ones. By the way, soundpost patches, the normal solution, were not in common use for cheap violins until surprisingly recent times, owing to the difficulties of clamping the patch inside a curved surface.


Somny violin

This second restoration was probably necessary because of further impact damage. There is a new piece of wood low down on the treble side at the edge. It’s clear enough from the inside, but very hard to see from the outside.

Somny violin

The repairer either re-inlaid the original purfling, or matched it perfectly. I have no idea who did the 19th Century repairs, but the second repairer signed his work. There is a pencil inscription Repd. by J. M. Somney, London 1914.

Somny violin

Now that’s interesting. Joseph Maurice Somney was born in the cradle of the French violin industry, Mirecourt. He worked for the foremost dealers of the day, W.E. Hill & Sons, from 1888 to 1910, before setting up on his own at 90, George Street, (off Baker Street), London. He was widely recognised as the finest restorer of his time. I remember when the collection of templates of instruments that he had repaired came up for auction in 1979. There were about a hundred and fifty of them, the majority being inscribed with the names of famous instruments by Stradivari, Guarneri and so on. And yet he worked on this comparatively insignificant violin too. He died in 1931.

So why have I now got this violin open again? Because it has suffered a third, and this time utterly catastrophic, fall. Somney’s repairs held firm, but the rest of it, particularly the bass side, has been smashed again. The neck-block has been wrenched out of position, crashing the fingerboard onto the table and causing huge cracks on both sides. The soundpost has cracked the back too, which is a shame, as it was a nice, honest, old Bavarian back. It’s had it. It would cost far, far, more to restore than it could ever be worth, so the reluctant decision was taken to throw this 18th Century instrument away. However the owner let me keep the bits, and I’m very grateful, as you never know what you’ll find when you open an old instrument, and because the head and pegbox are fine, and will join my collection of such bits and pieces.

Somny violin Somny violin

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