Ben Hebbert

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    Violin dealer and researcher based in central London. Visit my website, or email to arrange a visit. My stock ranges from fine contemporary makers to outstanding classic Italian instruments.

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  1. Bravo! Someone reads my articles then ??? I hadn’t expected I would actually find some of his work...
  2. That’s pretty cool dendro, but what we should understand is that there is a certain bias in the database towards Italian sources, because those are most of what has been measured, so most things that are nebulous tend to seem to swing towards Italy. Well, it’s still a sexy violin... I ain’t got no more opinions than that, but I would cherish seeing it again
  3. I can genuinely say nope - but the carver did date his daughter...! True fact! My thoughts are that it was the norm for carved heads in the seventeenth century to be carved by professional carvers, rather than instrument makers in London. Not for any guild rules, but simply because it was quicker and more effective. When you think of all the churches being rebuilt after the fire of London, carvers were easy to find, pretty much on any street corner
  4. I'd be very curious to see what the outcome of a dendrochronological analysis would be. It looks like good wood and should produce an excellent result. With that in mind, the cross-matches that come from it could be highly informative. I wouldn't be sceptical of it in the least. I agree with the general sentiments here. One thing I would say is that 345mm (or thereabouts) is a regular measurement found in English violins of the seventeenth century. The problem with them is that I know of about ten famous 17th century English makers through documents for whom no work whatsoever is known. Furthermore, I think in this early period, you can often see traits that cross over a variety of countries. Christopher Wise's work is remarkably similar to both Tielke in Hamburg and that in turn seems quite similar to Groblicz and Dankwart in Poland and Lithuania. I keep telling people that "I don't know" can mean two different things, it can mean exactly that, or that I know exactly which city, decade and pub the maker drank in, just not which of them. Enjoy!
  5. Amazingly, I think that "violoncello da spalla" is an entirely invented term of the last 20 years, and I would be very interested to be stood corrected about any historical precedent for that term. Viola da spalla would seem to be the historical term, but at the risk of being a dirty ol' cynic, it's not so marketable for the cello suites. By all means, these intermediary instruments existed. The 24 violins du roi had small, intermediate and large violas, the biggest being called quints (which is pronounced unfortunately) which would seem to be much the same as these. As of my own big-boy which is a Barak Norman, well the English court copied the French court so it is probably what appears in 17th century documents as a "low tenor". This corresponds in size with the big tenore Cremonese violas, but simply have cello-scaled ribs. I am not sure what to say about strings either. Mine has a perfectly preserved pegbox for only four strings. The Bachology really comes from the fact that there is a JC Hofmans one of these things, and he knew Bach. I think they are a marvellous thing, but I don't feel that the historicity of them really meets anything more than a worn hypothesis. One thing, the folds on the back of my Norman seem to do acoustically limit the back so that it doesn't have the hollow sound that normally comes from very large violas. I think there is something to learn from that. Here's a project we did on this, given a different set of links... .enjoy!
  6. I thought I'd post this picture of a scroll that I've been working with for an article in the British Violin Making Association's newsletter. It's a subtle hint to say that if you're reading this, you should probably think about joining. membership is worldwide, it's kind of the opposite to Britain of everything that Brexit stands for... enjoy!
  7. I think you need to understand that almost all Markneukirchen violin trade centred on America, whilst the Mirecourt trade found its market in France and Britain. As a result, you almost never see a Roth or a Heberlein in England, and if it appears in auction, it's probably been consigned from the States. By comparison the better French violins, such as Colin Mezin - the obvious comparison are as common in England as Roths are to America.
  8. There is a group of French makers in the 1650-1670 period that habitually used what I assume to be silver wire in purfling and inlays, including rather prettily twisting it into braids. Dumensil is one of the makers in mind, and they in turn sold pochettes to Joachim Tielke in Hamburg, so there is a bit of an extended relationship there. Metal inlays of this sort exist in quite a lot of decorative furniture of the period - Augsburg makers typically combined metal inlays with ebony for small cabinets and similar things, so it is no surprise to see it emerge here and there in instrument making. I think Bruce Carlson pointed out a Rugeri with pewter a while back.
  9. Thanks Mr C As to the best old makers, I firmly put my money between Daniel Parker and Jack Lott. At Lott's best, is very capricious experimenting around a theme of Del Gesu, which has it's own integrity to it. He wasn't a copyist in the way that Nemessanyi or Vuillaume could be described as, and the capriciousness is one of the things that makes him as dangerous as he is exciting. The best Daniel Parkers have the paradox of being remarkably similar to late-period Stradivaris, although they are made - probably - ever so slightly earlier. I think we should also remember that however Italian Vincenzo Panormo may have been, he doesn't behave like an Italian, and the way he works between models is very much an English characteristic. He was led by his market. We have had a lot of conversations on Maestronet and elsewhere about the state of living makers, and I think that it really is a case for the majority of makers, whether British or from elsewhere, that they fall into categories, to the point that I am not particularly bothered about whether we will be able to confirm "who" made the majority of violins by them in the future. I think what will be overridingly important is a kind of grade system for instruments identified as made in our current period of time. There are brilliant makers who are an exception to the rule, and will be considered differently "in the same league as the Voller brothers" - or something like that. I've had quite a say in the market of violins made by a dear friend who passed away a few years ago. I always felt that he underpriced his violins when he was alive, and now I am happy to see his instruments go for the same price as the equivalent violins made by his friends and colleagues who work at a generally similar level. But as far as I see it, once instruments that were sold "under" market price have been "corrected", there is no further need to think about price in that way. When he passed, there was quite a scramble of people wanting to get high prices. I can think of very few instances where prices will increase above the standard market price for instruments of equivalent quality (including age). Overall, that is good news for buyers of sensibly priced instruments. One simply has to ask if the price of the instrument can be justified. I really don't know what will happen with the new generation of super-expensive violins, but one also has to understand that if something is well ahead of the market, it is implicitly a greater risk.
  10. I would want to uphold some of your views on "English Sound" especially within the period of recorded music. We only have to look at things like the Boosey & Hawkes 1010 model Clarinet, or the Tertis model viola to get a glimpse of the way that an idea of distinct national identity arose not only in Britain but elsewhere too, and wind players are acutely aware of the importance that this lends in performance practice. I think, however, that the "British Sound" for stringed instruments is probably more measurable in the choices of strings than the kinds of instruments. Tertis model excepted, professional orchestras used as many French and Italian instruments as they do today... but I do wonder if certain characteristics of Voller, Hudson, Manchester Chanots and other instruments of the early 20th century were developed out of an experience of what worked best with the prevailing choices of string, just as Collin Mezins were worked out to get the best from early metal strings. Within that, and with some appreciation of Elgar, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and the likes, and perhaps performing Finzi and feeling that I use my bow differently to absorb my sound into that of the clarinet, I should say that there is something to be said for the concept. Edward Elgar's bow, a James Tubbs of 1878 has an enormous head, and it sinks into the notes wonderfully in a way that one always tries to achieve when playing Elgar. Albert Sammons owned it, and you can hear the formulation of the notes in his recordings. It makes it natural. Tubbs bows are variable, because he had various ideas that he put into them, but these ones particularly seem to speak of a philosophy of playing particular to English taste. There is nothing absurd about the idea of British Sound in the early 20th century, but it is abstract and to an extent intangible especially now that strings, setup, preferences have all moved on.
  11. Martin, I think you are exposing the fact that different violin dealers take different philosophical approaches towards finding the kinds of instruments that they feel comfortable putting to market. I am certainly not going to take issue with the way that you engage with violins, but the market is such that there are certainly different approaches that have the same validity, so I am certainly not attacking or undermining your approach. However, it seems to me that you approach a violin with it's fabled potential, and thus find some examples underwhelming for one reason or another, and in English instruments that really can be an issue. I think I've seen ten Parker violins that stand shoulder to shoulder with Kreisler's, and about fifty that are quite different for one reason or another, but they are no means weaker violins, any more than an early Amati is weaker than a Grand Pattern Nicolo. A Kennedy cello at £35k is a wonderful cello at £35k that stands comparison to say, a similarly priced contemporary instrument, and it is irrelevant that you can pay nearly £100k more for a tonally and visually sublime example. Hesketh can make violins that equal the golden period of 20th Century Northern Italian making, but he seems to have pulled out the stops only rarely. Others - the majority - tend to be a slightly stiffer more diffident model, but at a price that is one or two steps above a contemporary violin, those things are fabulous in the market. The superb work ends up weighted down by the ball-and-chain of cheaper prices for lesser works by the same maker, so it is almost impossible to get the price that "they are worth" and you have to price them to sell them, which offers musicians a degree of fairness that is not necessarily there with sexier nationalities of violin. To me, I genuinely see this as a field of violins where players can find the opportunity to buy instruments that punch above their weight tonally because of the way that I think about pricing. If, on the other hand you are going to index them in the way that applies to heavily consistent French making, for example, then it is possible to bring a negative perspective to them. That's fine, there is nothing set in stone about this business, and we should all deal with the things we are confident in.
  12. One of the big rules for English makers is that they were very flexible in their ideas of quality - largely because they were working towards a locality of clientele, rather than to a specific price point. Their versatility was good for their businesses, but it does make it rather harder for us, now that they are dead. A genuine Kennedy cello, for example, can be anything from £25,000 to £125,000 depending upon a number of factors of quality. When you can put one against the other, it is perfectly easy to justify the difference in value, but it puts the cat amongst the pigeons with many musicians, and it does mean that sometimes people can have an underwhelming experience of a particular maker by comparison to their reputation in the marketplace. It's all too easy for dealers to overprice something because they have a mediocre example and they are asking the price associated with an exceptional example. At the same time, musicians can be unwilling to pay the price needed for a superb example, because they see too many price points too far below the asking price. It makes it a more specialist area, but there are comparables elsewhere - we have no problem with some Strads being 10 times the value of others, and makers such as Grancino and Testore can have a very parallel diversity of quality. Beyond this, we also have the fact that they were a great deal broader in the scope of instruments that they made. Forster cellos, for example, come in Stainer, Amati and Stradivari models, and each command a very different price in the market, both for the general model, and their size with corresponding differences in sound and taste. As a result it is rather unsatisfactory when you hear that "some don't sound as good as others" - or words to that effect, without knowing what the facts of the matter are. Vincenzo Panormo is an incredibly fluid maker, producing things to all kinds of models, which is also the case for the later English copyists. A Testore copy by Wulme Hudson will be profoundly different from one based on a Bisiach, and one has to be mindful to assess each of these carefully by their own merits within a slightly more complex matrix of "comparables" than one would see for say, Collin Mezins or Klotzes. Hence, I have never played a Parker that I have not liked, but only the broader model ones match up to the reputation that they had with Kreisler and look like late-period Strads: If you have a high-arched long-pattern it will obviously offer different qualities, and will in my experience excel at them. I see quite a bit of curmudgeonly negativity in some of the responses to this post. The key is to consider how things play and the price they are able to fetch. A Thomas Earle Hesketh can be a fabulous instrument and the better ones punch well above their weight - but only so long as they are fairly priced, which they generally are. It's the kind of instrument I'd really like to see conservatoire students making the best of. Onwards and upwards, but to the original question, I would rather it was phrased "is there an English violin that stands above the rest?" It's absolutely an exciting terrain to explore!
  13. That claim is a little bit too peaky for my liking. The theory of auctions for private buyers is that if you 'beat the dealer' you are paying a little more than they are willing to go for, and accordingly make a saving against retail price, but you need to know that you really are 'beating the dealer' for even if you are in the room and you know who the dealer is, you don't know if they are bidding for their stock, or on behalf of a private client. Furthermore, auction can be used to test or to prove the price of an instrument. If the vendor (owner) wants too much for it, it may be put into auction with a spunky estimate so that the real value can be negotiated afterwards. With an increasingly competitive market for good value goods, auctioneers can play this game. The result can be buyers inadvertently paying retail-plus prices. There is no argument that you can win at auction against the dealers, but that comes to knowing your game, and doing proper research before you buy - essentially doing the things that dealers train over years to do. After that, there are all kinds of issues. Do you simply want a Vuillaume for $250,000 because you want a Vuillaume for your investment portfolio, or are you looking for a classy Vuillaume on a par with Hilary Hahn's... as much as anything there are astute reasons why one Vuillaume could be "as little as" $250,000 - or less, and another one could be closer to the $700,000 mark (if it's a cello). These reasons would also be reflected in a dealer's offerings. Those are comments for excellent condition, playable instruments with water-tight provenance. Anything less than that, and there is a whole world of questions to be engaged with. Caveat Emptor - buyer beware, or as it is often put "I told you so!"
  14. The scroll of that one looks surprisingly close to the clean work of Jack Lott. Just sayin'....
  15. Reading this with interest... in a past life I spent three years as an apprentice at Stanley Gibbons (and another three years working there part time through college), so although that was more stamps and historic memorabilia, there are many similar issues. What I have difficulty with is that whether the customs of baseball card collecting establish that it is unethical to restore cards or not, that really has very little to do with the law. Where the problem arises is how they are sent to the assessor. Although it's pushing close to the line, if I was to restore a card, and press the expertiser to give it an AAA listing, then I think there would be a kind of fraud going on. However, if I simply submit it for them to make a judgement without prejudging it myself, then I don't think that I have done anything wrong. It seems as a result that as prices go up, the expertisers should evolve with the market - i.e. bringing better technology to bear on higher value cards, and equally by reconsidering how restored cards are viewed on the market. The fact of the matter is that a convincing restoration is a very difficult thing to achieve and hide easily, and will only be an issue on a tiny number of very high value cards. In the end it feels unlikely to me that there is any criminal case that can be brought, unless the expertisers could be shown to be working in league with the restorers to defraud the sellers. It's frankly more important with todays printing to look out for reproductions. There are questions that extend to our own market, about the representation of goods. It seems that the Voller brothers simply put instruments in auction to let experts decide if they were Testores, Gaglianos or not. That is entirely "fair", whilst coercing Puttick and Simpson to fraudulently describe them as "by" would have been a criminal act. These things are very real for us, especially when we are being lent on by customers who want to believe we can sell an instrument on their behalf with the same attribution that they have concluded for themselves, or that they once bought it with. It is a good lesson to all of us in the discipline of impartiality that has to be a vital part of expertise.