old unmarked mystery violin ID help

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Hello, I am new to the forum and have really enjoyed all the information so far. I am wondering if anyone could help shed some light on a violin I have

The only information provided to me is conflicting.

Originally I saw the violin in a generic music shop and was told it was American made from the late 19th c. It was on consignment for a while and then it was returned to the consignee. I asked for the consignee's contact information and purchased it directly from her. The information she provided is that she believes her great grandfather made it in Germany around 1871. His name was Buchner but that is all she knows about him. Her grandfather’s (the supposed maker’s son) name was Arthur Buchner.

There are absolutely no labels or anything inside the violin, I have inserted a light and looked around in detail. All I can find is some glue marks and very dark aged wood and tons of dust bunnies. The only mark at all on the entire violin is a crude, light carving reading “ADA” on the base of the neck and below that on the base of the violin it reads “1871.”

I also noticed there has been some sort of neck work done, possibly re-positioning? (sorry if my terminology is incorrect) If you look closely there is a neck root shim that has been inserted, and where the fingerboard touches the top of the violin is extremely low/thin and the tiny piece of wood between there has been graphed in. I assume these are repairs done at some point after the original construction. Since the repairs are located right where the markings are, could that indicate that the “ADA” and“1871” possibly refer to the luthier who made the repairs?

I would love to know the possible country of origin, possible maker/style and date. I am an art historian and archaeologist and it is driving me nuts not to know any history behind my own violin! Any information or even opinions or guesses from anyone would be greatly appreciated. I am just looking for information to satisfy my own curiosity, and have no plans on ever selling it.

Here is a link to a photo album of pictures I just took, I will only add a couple files to my post. If any other photos or measurements are needed please ask. Thank you so much in advance!

More pictures: mystery violin







Edited by Alicia3
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Dear Alicia,

There was a “dynasty” of violin makers in Vienna in the 19th C with the name Buchner. The first, Johann Buchner, who came from Hammerschwang (near Füssen) worked for Staufer until 1816 and after that worked for himself at various addresses in Mariahilf, which was then “Vorstadt” (i.e. outside the city walls) but is now the 7th Bezirk (suburb) of Vienna. His son, Ignaz Johann B. sen. succeeded him around 1849 and the grandson Ignaz Johann jun. from 1883. This shop was eventually in the Mondscheingasse in 7th Bezirk and as I first moved to Vienna in 1985, I, by coincidence lived next door. The shop was then owned by a (very old) Mr. Nowy, who spent nearly all of the day standing in the entrance making sure that none of “these criminals” came in, although I succeeded several times. After his death the shop closed, and became an electrical goods shop.

The first Buchner is recorded as a Guitar maker, which is hardly surprising, since he had worked for Staufer, although this entire group also made violins. The son and grandson are both recorded as violin makers. Many of the makers in the 19th. C. Viennese “Vorstadt” made, what I would call “pastiches” i.e. instruments that weren’t really a copy of anything particular, but could be, with a little luck, mistaken for an “Italian”. They mostly had no label, or one of the Markneukirchen wholesale labels (Ruggeri for instance, or something else). The only chance to identify them is, should you have cause to open the instrument, that they sometimes have pencil inscriptions, at a place not visible from outside, e.g. “Leopold Feilenreither in Penzing” or one of the others. It is absolutely futile to want to tell these makers apart, since they were making individual fantasy “Italians” and were all pretty good.

I can’t honestly tell if your fiddle is one of these or not, although some things make it seem plausible. The f holes, for instance are quite rustical, although, when looking at the scroll you can see that the maker was capable of much better etc.

The scratched in ADA on the button is certainly the initials of some wretched ex-owner, since the button seems to be a later replacement anyway. I don’t consider it improbable that the violin is a good hand made one from the 19th, C. and with the “oral History” (as discussed in another thread!) that is was made by a Buchner, I think that Vorstadt Vienna 19th C., “Buchner(?)” is not such a ridiculous hypothesis, until such time as you might possibly find a better one.



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I have almost zero knowledge of American violin making pre 1900 or so, but I would cast a heavy vote in favour of Austria or Bohemia. The scroll carving seems quite unlike any American violin I've seen, quintessentially Germanic (Jacob please forgive the loose terminology). The corners and edges are also entirely consistent with early 19th century German work (not so familiar with Austrian makers) although I accept that it may also be typical of American north-east makers.

The slightly quilted maple does look American but it's by no means unusual for a nicer South German or even Italian instrument.

I like Brad Dorsey's theory but the table just looks German to me. On the other hand the neck has been modified in two senses, with a button shim and a fingerboard shim - that adds weight to the notion that the violin is a composite. Just not sure which bits belong with which ....

Scratched dates and initials are generally a schoolboy's work, and in this case I'd be happy to agree that the violin was made before 1871.

Alicia, I'd be interested to know why you pursued this violin so enthusiastically - was it the sound or the feel of it?

Martin Swan Violins

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below that on the base of the violin it reads “1871.” (quoted)

I have a violin it reads " 1781" ( I believe it was made in 1900 or later) One time the shop owner would use some sort of inventory number or ID number. (meaningless in term of time)

Imagine a violin shop has hundred of violins for sale, how to keep track of them, a number system is a good choice.

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We have quite a few good violin shops here in Seattle, and one of us could probably help you.

The carved letters on the button aren't really helpful, since they could have been placed long after the violin was made.

From the pictures, I can't say that it looks American to me.

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Wow, thank you guys so much. All of this info is very interesting!

Jacob- thank you for the info about the Buchner family. I tried researching the name and mainly came up with only the mid 20th c maker of the same name. Thanks!

It is interesting to think that it might be a composite, I never thought of that but it may make sense why people have told me differing stories.

Martin- I picked up the violin when I was only 14 and obviously didn't know much about violins at all (I still don't). I loved the sound, even to my horribly untrained ear it stood out greatly from every other violin I tested which was quite a few. It has a very sort of smooth, earthy, mellow, but very sweet sound...it can almost sound reminiscent of an oboe or something not string related. My mom says that it sounds a little "eerie" or "mysterious" whatever that means. I also know some of the violin teachers who taught at the music shop often chose to play it because they too loved the sound. The other main reason is that even at a young age I was interested in history and anything old and I loved the idea of owning something with some history of its own. I also absolutely fell in love with the way it looks. I know that isn't a very valid reason, but at age 14 it seemed to matter!

Thank you guys a lot for your insight :)


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I agree with Jacob, and although Brad's theory was an elegant explanation of why Americans thought the violin was American, I thought it all looked German (or Viennese if I were capable of recognizing a Viennese violin), and that the back maple looked more like the Molitor than anything else! Since Michael Darnton has dismissed the notion that the wood must be American, then I would say that's the matter settled.

I think it's great that you went after this violin - I had the same experience with a violin in an Edinburgh shop, kept coming back to it, got sad when it went out on trial, and lost it for a while to someone else. But it popped up a couple of years later and I bought it ... it was impossible to identify, no-one even knew what country it came from ("Spanish", "Scottish", "Mittenwald" to name a few). It had the strangest quality of sound, not particularly powerful, quite mellow, but it was audible in any situation, and every violin you played after it sounded cheap and nasty.

Of course now that I'm a dealer I'm not so sentimental, and I sold it a couple of years ago ....! A really good player came to the house and played everything but still wasn't satisfied - in desperation I let him play that violin and he loved it straight away. I hear him playing from time to time now and I keep trying to buy it back off him!

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