Posted By on February 8, 2011

I’ve just come back from Budapest. There’s an exhibition called Opera and Nation there at the Museum of Music History, which is part of the Institute for Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. It has lots of stringed instruments in it, and it runs until the end of August 2011. Very often presentations of this type display fake instruments. I suppose the owners who lend violins sincerely believe that they really do have authentic things . . . and normally the curator has no idea otherwise. Also, sometimes, permanent displays have really disgraceful fakes on display. One of England’s regional museums has a violin behind glass which is captioned as the work of Nicolo Amati – and it’s the usual worthless late 19th Century German copy. Oh, and there are collections of fakes in opera houses in South America and in churches in Italy . . . here, one assumes, unscrupulous hands have swapped worthless things for treasures, for very few civic authorities can recognise their own violins. Particularly if they have been taken away for restoration. Such things probably happened a long time ago.

So it was an unexpected pleasure to see exactly what I’d hoped for – excellent examples of local violin-making. The instruments were displayed simply, on their backs, and behind glass, so there was no opportunity to have a good look – and yet one couldn’t question the authenticity of any of them, for they were all old, in wonderful condition and having far more care in their edges and soundholes than factory productions. The Viennese ones were easy to spot, being almost black and seemingly having thin tables; an illusion given by their very undercut soundholes. There were lots of them. Amongst others I saw were violins by Mathias Thir, (two examples, from 1764 and 1782), another by his brother Johann Georg, dated 1754, one by Johann Christoph Leidolff made in 1748, an excellent viola by Johann Joseph Stadlmann, 1761 and another by his son, Michael Ignatius, dated 1774.

Budapest museum violins

Taken with a mobile phone, not a camera, and through glass. You really can’t see anything worthwhile in this picture, but there was plenty to see.

Other places were represented by the first Johann Georg Leeb of Bratislava – two violins, dated 1777 and 1781, and a beautiful violin by somebody called Bernhard Viedenhoffer, made in Pest (that is, I have learnt, the left bank of the Danube at Budapest) in 1799. Oh, and there was a wonderful Italian violin captioned as by Francesco Galtenari, Turin, 1703. Now this is weird. I’ve never heard of this maker, but it was exactly as I’d expect an early Italian violin to be, and it was in the company of lots of other instruments of undoubted authenticity. You learn something every day.

Violas in Budapest museum

Two violas. The dark one is by Michael Ignatius Stadlmann, 1774. The other is just a 19th century Maggini copy – and that’s how it was labelled. There were no silly claims made for it. Whoever curated the exhibition did a good job.


cello scroll



Oh yes! A cello by Aloys Engleder of Budapest of 1868. This last was marvellous. The maker gets a terrible write-up in Henley’s ridiculous dictionary, but this was a work of art. It’s difficult to see the skill of the maker in these images, which were taken with a mobile phone and from behind glass – but look at that exaggerated pegbox, with two distinct pairs of pegs, like a Neapolitan instrument.


baryton table



Budapest has much more to offer. The Hungarian National Museum has the fabulous and famous baryton which was played by Prince Esterhazy. It was also made by Johann Joseph Stadlmann of Vienna, in 1750. It’s a breathtaking instrument of unsurpassed importance. Haydn composed 175 works for it – I don’t mean for any old baryton, I mean for this one. It is made of the choicest materials and pierced by perfect double-flame soundholes and an intricately carved wooden – not parchment – rose. Ivory flames are inset in the heel of the neck. It excels in inlay, having scrolling foliage decoration on the unfretted portion of the neck, line purfling and chevron stringing to the edges of the body, neck and pegbox, and matching marquetry in the back, ribs and behind the pegbox; also carving, a finely made man’s head, complete with a Hungarian shako hat, providing a finial for the extravagent pegbox. The latter has no fewer than seventeen pegs. The plucked strings, for the Prince’s left thumb, terminate in raised blocks set in a diagonal line on the table, running from the base underneath the tailpiece but extending upwards under the widely-splayed feet of the bridge. The Prince took good care of it too, for it is in perfect condition. The survival of the original heavy tailored wooden case, bound in red leather and reinforced with golden studs, can only have helped.

Folk cello
A folk cello



The same museum has another almost forgotten member of the viol family – a viola d’amore – and noteworthy examples of the woodwind, brasswind and keyboard families. And Mozart’s clavichord. Another museum, the Ethnographic, provided an example of the fall from the sublime to the ridiculous with an example of a folk cello, which apparently, is sounded by hitting it with a stick. Elsewhere in the city was . . . the festival of the Mangalica. The mangalica is a wonderful animal. It’s an extremely hairy pig. I was enchanted.

Mangalica pig
A Mangalica pig in Budapest

Concerts coming up this summer

Posted By on January 7, 2011

This is the time of year when our concerts get organised. As explained in an earlier blog, I am forbidden to advertise specific events outside membership of the “Rode Chamber Music Club” and therefore I cannot give the dates here. I am allowed, though, to advertise the benefits of joining the club, and so I can reveal who is playing what. Contact me and join the club (which is quite free, of course) if you are interested.

There are five concerts planned – probably six – making it our busiest summer ever.

So, then, in no particular order, we’re having a very welcome return visit by the Szymanowski Quartet, that is, Andrey Bielow, Grzegorz Kotow, Vladimir Mykitka and Marcin Sieniawski. The programme is not fixed yet, but it is likely to include Haydn’s Op. 77 No 1, Szymanowski’s Op. 56 No. 2 and Beethoven’s Op 18 No 2.

The Osbon Ensemble, who gave a brilliant performance of the rarely-heard Schubert octet here last year, return losing only one player to perform the Beethoven septet, Op. 20. All eight players will be present, though, as the first half, which will consist of various pieces for wind and strings, demands two violinists.

The Epomeo Ensemble have a new leading violin – Caroline Chin – and she joins David Yang and Kenneth Woods to play Strauss: Variations on “das Deandl is harb auf Mi”, Gal: String Trio, Op. 104, Kile Smith- Two New England Hymns and Beethoven’s String Trio in G, Op 9 no. 1. Do not be alarmed if you are unfamiliar with the work of Gal or Kile Smith – these are accessible pieces that have been very well received elsewhere.

The Kopelman Quartet. Misha Kopelman returns with, in the view of many, the world’s finest string quartet. He is joined by professor Boris Kuschnir, who plays his Stradivari, (courtesy of the Austrian National Bank), Igor Sulyga and Mikhail Milman. You will never hear a finer performance of Borodin’s Quartet No. 1, Prokoviev’s Quartet No. 2 and the Shostakovich Quartet No. 4.

The Eberle Quartet‘s programme has yet to be finalised. However Daphne Moody, Jennifer Knights, Moira Alabaster and Muriel Daniels will include Haydn Op. 33 No.2 “The Joke” and Mendelssohn Op. 44 No. 1 in their concert.

Probable, though not finalised, will be a return of the wonderful Vale Quartet. Nick Whiting, Emilie Godden, Carl Hill & Carolyn Hewitt are regular performers and old friends, and would be sadly missed unless we can find a free date – so I am pretty much certain that we will fix it.

The Entire New and Compleat Tutor for the Violin

Posted By on December 2, 2010

violin tutor

This lovely thing, published by John Preston, was found inside an 18th Century violin case containing a violin labelled Preston and two baroque bows, neither of which was stamped and both of which were broken. That excellent book The British Violin notes that John Barton made instruments for Preston, and indeed the violin was inscribed underneath the table with Barton’s name. All the violin textbooks refer to a music business run by James Preston – it is known that his initial was “J” – but it should be John. The scholarly Langwill Index mentions only John Preston (and his son Thomas) at the address given on the title page. All the Preston stringed instruments I have seen have been labelled Preston, Maker, No. 97, Strand, London, which is the same address as the one in this tutor.

violin tutor

Of course Preston, like Cahusac, was involved in the retail of wind instruments as well, and boxwood flutes stamped Preston, London are not uncommon. Also he was one of the principal dealers of the charming but obsolete instrument called, correctly, the English Guittar, commonly and incorrectly called the cittern. Again, survivors of these seem to outnumber violins – Sotheby’s once had three in the same sale (March 1980).

Germiniani’s original work, The Art of Playing on the Violin was published in London in 1740. There were numerous imitations and partial reprints afterwards, so I suppose there was very little in the way of a workable copyright law. This one must date from between 1778 and 1787, because that’s when Preston was at this address. Furthermore, the knowledgeable Van Der Straeten, in his The Romance of the Fiddle (pub. 1911) dates this particular edition as “about 1780”, and notes that the text is absolutely identical with another plagiarist’s work, Prelleur’s The Art of Playing on the Violin. Furthermore it didn’t stop there, as next Longman & Broderip, and then Cahusac, both produced copies without bothering to change a single syllable.

Despite the large numbers published, survivors are rare because of their use by children. This primer is tatty but complete (or perhaps compleat).

It is thirty pages long, and starts with a few pages of music theory, and how to hold the violin.

18th century violin tutor

Then there is a fold-out page with life size fingerboard diagrams,

18th century violin tutor

then an explanation of time signatures, then bowing and finally key signatures.

18th century violin tutor

That’s all in the first twelve pages, then sixteen pages of music of increasing complexity, starting with God Save the King (which meant George III) and ending with Lost, lost is my quiet. One of the pieces is Mozart’s Waltz. Mozart had lived in London between 23rd April 1764 (aged eight) and 30th July 1765, performing regularly. Plenty of time to become famous. He should’ve stayed in London . . .

18th century violin tutor

18th century violin tutor

18th century violin tutor


Posted By on November 4, 2010

One of the violins in my stock has a certificate of authenticity from a previous dealer. “We certify . . .” it begins (note the royal we) that the violin sold by us (there’s that plural again) on the Third day of December, Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Nine . . .” and so it continues. It’s a wonder the author didn’t go the extra mile and say “in the year of Our Lord” as well. A more perfect example of pomposity would be hard to find. It has photographs attached and is embossed with the dealer’s stamp and so on, and comes in an extra-thick card envelope, which is tied up with a little ribbon. Impressive enough to sell the violin. It states, without any possibility of doubt, that the violin was made by Giacomo Gavelli of Perugia in 1737.

Now, I’ve never heard of this luthier. He probably existed, but he has never been famous, and he cannot have been a prolific maker. So how on earth can anybody recognise an instrument by him? Nobody on the planet can have seen more than a handful, and most, like me, have seen none at all.

I had a professional dendrochronological examination done on this violin; hard science, and it gave a good positive date for the wood: the 1790’s. The instrument, therefore, must date from sometime afterwards. So much for the impressive certificate.

This kind of thing is astonishingly common. There was an authority in America who did this all the time, and very often the results would appear at auction. Here are a few more ludicrous examples from auction catalogues – if anybody wants I will supply the Lot numbers and sale dates . . . and the name of the certificate-writer.

An Italian Violin by Antonio Mirone Gemmellaro, Nicolosi, 1924“. Certificate dated 20th July 1987.

An Italian Violin by Eugenio Capriola, San Giovanni in Porta, last quarter of the 19th Century“,(this was unlabelled) Certificate dated 28th June 1988.

An Italian Violoncello by Francesco de Muzio, Chieti, 1870“, Certificate dated 3rd Feb 1988.

The hugely-respected writer of the certificates, now deceased, can have known as little about these luthiers as you do. The point is, if nobody knew about these makers, how could anybody question the certificates? The same authority often stated that other instruments were by well-known makers, but here, we could recognise the work – and almost as often found that his attributions were just plain wrong. These were seldom, if ever, included in the catalogues – the cause of much argument between us and the certificate-writer.

Perhaps I have been unjust, for there are many authorities who churn out certificates with dubious accuracy. So why am I now mentioning the subject? Because I have been asked – pestered, even – to write certificates, and since my book was published these requests have become more insistent.

And I think I will, too. If I’ve sold an instrument then my certificate will have no more significance than my receipt, which anyway guarantees the instrument. I think I’ll include my reasons for coming to my conclusions – my arguments, if you like. That’ll be unusual, but far more helpful than simply saying, in effect, “It’s genuine; take my word for it.” I’ll be very careful to include the words “in my opinion” . . . in the words of the late Jacob Bronowski, “Think it possible . . . that you have made a mistake . . . ”

Sleeve Notes

Posted By on September 26, 2010

I recently purchased a Chandos CD – the Gerald Finzi violin and cello concertos. It’s a fine coupling of two works by the same composer recorded at different times.

The more recent recording, made in 1999, is of Tasmin Little playing the violin concerto. It’s been highly reviewed elsewhere, but I was interested, of course, in the violin. The sleeve notes give a potted biography of the player, and mention that she plays her 1757 Guadagnini. This was the last year Guadagnini was working in Milan. Opinions may differ, but to me these late Milanese Guadagnini violins are the most perfect he made. During my time at Sotheby’s we auctioned eight violins by this maker from his Milan period, including an almost perfect example from 1757 way back in July 1985. But of course we saw several times as much stuff as finally appeared in the auction catalogues. I remember, for example, the late David Bartov showing me another 1757 violin – this must have been in the late 1980’s.

The earlier recording, the cello concerto, was made in 1986 and is played by Raphael Wallfisch. It is refreshingly honest in that it does not amplify the solo instrument too artificially. Most recordings of the Dvorak or Elgar concertos, for example, lead the listener to believe that a single cello can, if necessary, overpower an entire orchestra. And there is a Heifitz recording in which the soloist is always louder than the orchestra. The culture of celebrity distorts the truth, as always. Inexperienced concert-goers, unused to live performances, are often shocked by how quiet the soloist is. After all, how can just one cello (or violin) be expected to compete with perhaps forty or so other string players, not to mention the combined woodwind and brasswind sections? True, solo instruments tend to be powerful – perhaps very powerful – they might even be twice as loud as an ordinary violin; but nowhere remotely near as loud as an orchestra.

Nonetheless the cello rings out clear and true. It’s a marvellous solo instrument. But, look as hard as you will, the sleeve notes don’t mention it. Now isn’t that curious? The reason, I suppose, is snobbery, because the cello concerned was new, made by Colin Irving, and not nearly as expensive as something by an old-master Italian.

There’s nothing wrong with new instruments. Stradivari never made an old one.

The Irving cello works just as well or better, and indeed the recording reminds me of another example of much the same thing, for the orchestra, the Liverpool Philharmonic, was led by Malcolm Stewart. Another time Malcolm made a wonderful live recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto, and he was kind enough to send me a copy. He had various expensive violins, of course, but the instrument used on that occasion was made by Charles Buthod – now they are fairly common and very cheap indeed, compared with old Italian stuff. When I asked why he chose the Buthod he explained that, as it was a recording, and nobody could see it, well . . . he simply wanted the best-sounding violin.

Anciaume le Jeune

Posted By on August 7, 2010

Violin by Anciaume

This violin is branded in two places, at the top of the back and inside, and both brands are as new-looking as the rest of it: Anciaume le Jeune.

Violin by Anciaume

The neck (and indeed the fingerboard) are original. It’s a transitional-period instrument, the neck being less angled than that of a modern violin and very short – around 7mm less than than most players are used to.

Violin by Anciaume
It is in quite astonishingly fresh condition, looking, well, almost new.

It has survived in this condition, I suspect, because it was a little open in the centre-join of the back, rendering it quite unplayable. Somebody just put it away, and only now has it re-surfaced and been fixed. It must have happened shortly after it was made, for there is very little wear on the wedge-shaped fingerboard, and even the varnish under the chin is only slightly compromised. There are no chinrest marks at all. This has never had a chinrest fitted. The edges are complete and undamaged. The pegholes have never been re-bushed.

Who was Anciaume le Jeune? The Reverend H.R. Haweis, in 1905, recorded him in his dictionary of violin makers, but only to remark “existence doubtful”. However, Haweis was often wrong. The more recent Henley dictionary suggests that he was probably the younger brother of somebody called Bernard Anciaume. Apparently the elder was working a bit earlier – 1770-1790, and the younger around 1780-1800. The younger is reckoned the better of the two, with rather clean workmanship.

Violin by Anciaume
“Rather clean workmanship”

Well, yes, I suppose so, but it’s no great beauty. It reminds me very strongly of a maker called Chappuy, who was a little older, but still working in Mirecourt around the same time as Anciaume. It has a broad patch of darker varnish across the centre bouts of both the front and back, just like Chappuy. Also the soundholes and arching are very similar to Chappuy’s. I think they must have been associated in some way. However, a difference is the peculiar scalloped gouge marks in the lower wings of the soundholes – I don’t remember seeing that on anything by Chappuy, who was a prolific maker, whereas this is the first Anciaume I’ve come across.

Violin by Anciaume
Did I mention the condition?

Despite my aesthetic judgement about the appearance, violins like this can sound well. François Habeneck, the teacher of Alard, played on a Chappuy nearly all his life . . . but there is also a Stradivari called the Habeneck, so perhaps there is more to this story.

Violin by Anciaume

Calling all gut-string players! A two hundred and twenty year old nearly new violin! One careful owner; very low milage. Plays well at 415Hz. I defy you to find anything as old in such perfect original condition.

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.

Strings on Screen

Posted By on June 9, 2010

I was once involved in a television advertisement for some kind of beer. I had to handle a genuine Stradivari and a fake – the advertising strapline was “For those that can tell the difference.” I didn’t have to say anything at all. I just had to swirl the violins around in a safe-but-yet-with-bravado sort of way. Other specialists in ceramics and so on had to do similar things. Thankfully the beer brand disappeared without trace, and I didn’t care as I was very well paid and well fed for my morning’s work. However, I was impressed at the money involved – these advertising people lived, by my standards, very lavishly indeed. And they paid heavily to hire a genuine Strad, too. So much attention to detail.

But sometimes adverts, for all the money showered on them, demonstrate a carelessness that is simply astonishing. A few years ago there was a successful billboard campaign showing a thoughtful yet negligently-dressed woman playing the cello, with the spike still within the instrument and her hands in the wrong places. Surely, I thought, someone among the advertising production team would know how to hold a cello?

Why mention it now? Because, last night, a stylish film based on Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan was shown on television. It was set vaguely before the war, with period costume and a beautiful biplane and so on. And a little dance band, entirely spoilt by having an unplugged electric guitar – with a solid body – in it. Surely, someone would know that’s wrong?

Attention, all advertisers and film producers! I am available to act as your consultant in such matters. I’m very cheap.


Posted By on April 15, 2010

Shortly after we moved into the old church we were approached with a request to host a Bach harpsichord recital here. The acoustics are excellent and we have plenty of space. The event was attended by sixty-one people, and on the whole was a success. Immediately afterwards a local choir asked to do a concert here – this was attended by seventy. I thought to check with the local Council – did I need any special licences or anything? They asked me how many events I would be having each year, and how many people might attend. I answered a maximum of four concerts, and I optimistically supposed a hundred in the audience. The Council said I could go ahead without formality. I never thought to ask for written confirmation.

the Hermitage Trio

Boris Garlitsky, Alexander Zemtsov and Leonid Gorokhov – the Hermitage Trio

The concerts quickly grew in number, scope and popularity. From the original two per year we now have four every summer. Many wonderful ensembles have performed here – the Kopelman and the Szymanowski Quartets, the Hermitage Trio and the Vale Quartet. The space is terrific for solo recitals too, and the complete Bach Sonatas for unaccompanied cello, performed in candlelight by Leonid Gorokhov, went down a storm. These days the concerts invariably sell out – and that means more than the hundred I forsaw.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of our first concert, meaning we’ve had twenty-seven concerts so far. But it all nearly went wrong because of a change in attitude by the council.

The Kopelman Quartet

Mikhail Kopelman, Boris Kuschnir, Igor Sulyga and Mikhail Milman – the Kopelman Quartet

Six days before the Kopelman Quartet were due to perform their second concert here (in 2005) I received a phone call from the Council’s new “licensing enforcement officer”, informing me that I was guilty of hosting illegal raves. He told me that he would not prosecute on this occasion, but that I must immediately apply for a Public Entertainment Licence before the next event. It’s not expensive – £100 per year – but one of the conditions demanded was a recent electrical inspection safety certificate. They sent their approved contractor round, and the conversation went something like this:

“Well, where is it?”
“Where’s what?”
“The equipment. The amplifiers and loudspeakers.”

Of course I explained that the concerts were unamplified, but he told me that he was unable to provide a certificate for equipment that didn’t exist. So I phoned the licensing enforcement officer and explained. He flatly refused to believe that there was no electrical apparatus. “How can you possibly have a music event without loudspeakers?” he said, and that’s an exact quote. He demanded the certificate and threatened me with a police injunction unless I provided it.

What to do? I couldn’t possibly cancel the quartet – it had sold out, of course. Mikhail Kopelman, Boris Kuschnir, Igor Sulyga and Mikhail Milman are internationally famous, plus they are friends, plus I couldn’t let the audience down. I asked the contractor, and he suggested buying the minimum equipment, so he could then certify that it was safe. Several hundred pounds later, I had special contact-breaker power points installed – they have never been used, of course.

These days I run a private music club, thus avoiding the necessity for a public entertainment licence. I am strictly forbidden to advertise the events, but I have more than enough club members who are informed beforehand to ensure that the concerts are always full. Anybody who wants to attend wonderful chamber music concerts must let me know that they wish to be a member of The Rode Chamber Music Club. You won’t see the concerts advertised anywhere, but I’ll let you know at the beginning of the season what’s on.

the Szymanowski Quartet
Andrey Bielow, Grzegorz Kotow, Vladimir Mykitka and Marcin Sieniawski – the Szymanowski Quartet

Lockey Hill Violin

Posted By on March 24, 2010

Lockey Hill violin


Lockey Hill violin

I have a violin with an indistinct brand, Longman & something or other, and I thought to have a closer look at it. It actually reads Longman, Lukey & Co., No. 26, Cheapside, London. Its unusual feature is the peculiar chevron stringing around the edges, in place of the conventional purfling. Longman instruments – woodwind and keyboard as well as stringed instruments – often have a little extra flamboyance. Their square pianos, for example, have the company’s name on a beautiful oval white ceramic plaque, instead of merely being painted onto the faciaboard like everybody else’s.

James Longman started his business in 1767, and took Charles Lukey as a partner two years later, in 1769. Between 1769 and 1773 the brand reads as my one does, but it changes in 1773, when Francis Fane Broderip joined the business. Thereafter the stamp includes the name Broderip. So my violin dates from 1769 to 1773. But who made it?

Henry Jay, who supplied Longman, was working from around 1740 until his death in 1776. He can be discounted. His work is generally rather poor, and he seldom purfled his instruments, let alone made the elaborate decoration of this example. John Carter, another outworker, is unlikely, as he started work around 1772. The work is not like that of Benjamin Banks. Banks supplied Longman & Broderip, but it is unclear when he started this practice. Albert Cooper considers this to be around 1770, so again, it is unlikely that he is early enough. David Furber (1725-1787) probably supplied Longman & Co. (that is, 1767-1769) but I cannot find any record that he worked for Longman after this date.

Lockey Hill, though, is a bullseye. He was baptised on 1st February 1756. Thanks to a brilliant article in The Strad, published in August 2010, we now know he was hanged (for horse theft) in 1796. Most of his instruments were indeed made for Longman, starting from around 1767 (probably aged fourteen, but possibly a little older) when Longman was by himself, and continuing until the firm’s bankruptcy in 1798. The excellent book, The British Violin states that most of his instruments are thinly varnished and have painted purfling, but that “Exceptionally he did use a deeper golden varnish . . . and some violins made for Longman & Broderip even have a rather gaudy guitar-type ebony and maple banding in place of conventional purfling.” Also my violin is of the same narrow-waisted Stainer model, and of exactly the same dimensions as the example by Lockey Hill illustrated in the book. The British Violin taught me many things I did not know before its publication, among which was the fact that instruments made for Longman generally have two small, curious gouged channels on the inner edge of the back. They are on the treble side of the neck root and the bass side of the end-pin, and their function is unknown. They are usually filled with a sliver of maple. Bingo. Here’s my attempt at a close-up photo.

Lockey Hill violin
 Channel in the back of the violin
Lockey Hill violin