Edward Hoffman - Philadelphia Violin Maker


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I was digging through my music (now that my kids are studying) and came across a photocopy of a newspaper clipping that my teacher gave to me thirty years ago (oh, how time flies).  He knew the maker personally and was thrilled that I got one of his violas.  I have not found much of anything online about this maker and I feel compelled make sure he isn't forgotten.  Additionally, I would love any suggestions, comments or thoughts on further research.

 

00040533.pdf

 

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What is the date of this article?  Hoffman was supposedly born in 1863 which would make him 35 in around 1898, but this looks more recent.  It's an interesting article in that it has all the cliches found in classic newspaper stories about the "local Stradivari." (I'm not casting dispersions on the maker, just the "journalist." )

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What is the date of this article?  Hoffman was supposedly born in 1863 which would make him 35 in around 1898, but this looks more recent.  It's an interesting article in that it has all the cliches found in classic newspaper stories about the "local Stradivari." (I'm not casting dispersions on the maker, just the "journalist." )

Thanks for the info. Unfortunately, the date was cut off and remains a mystery. My guess is later too, say around 1920, looking at fashion and that my viola label says it was made in 1950, with the 5 written over a printed 2. The Ledger got the photo credit, so one of these days I will make a trip to the library to search through the microfilm.

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According to my Dilworth:

 

b. 1863, d.c. 1962

Philadelphia, Pa.

Self-taught amateur maker.  Good work on classical Cremonese models with fine red-brown oil varnish.

Edward Hoffman/Phila. Fecit Anno 19..

 

(Sourced to Cyril Woodcock, Dictionary of Contemporary Violin and Bow Makers [brighton: Amati Publilshing, 1965])

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  • 4 years later...

I know that this is a couple of years late, but I just got a new viola and I was researching E. Hoffman because that’s who my viola was reconstructed by. This is the first site that I found information on him. 

On the sticker inside my viola it says: reconstructed by E. Hoffman violin maker. Then there is a street name scratched out in blue pen next to St. , Phila. Anno. 1964. Then it has some number scrawled onto it with blue pen. 

If possible I’d like to know more about him. Thanks!

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  • 1 year later...

This is regards to inquiries about Ed Hoffman, the violin maker from Philadelphia, PA. My husband, Stephen S. Wilber was an eye witness and close friend of Ed's from 1956 - 1962,  close to the year when Ed died.  Ed was approximately 60-61 years old at that time when they began their relationship.  My husband was 19-20 years old. Ed had a violin shop at S 11th Street in Philadelphia. It was also his home where he and his wife Irene lived. (They called her Rene and dropped the I)  The shop was in the front of the building and his kitchen, bath etc. in the back with bedrooms upstairs.  Many violinist from different orchestras and symphonies would come and visit Ed at the shop. There was a real fellowship of violinist that held Ed in high esteem. They all agreed that no one could do what Ed could do for a violin. My husband was called 'the kid' because he was so much younger than Ed and all the other men who frequented the shop. Ed and his wife took a particular interest in my husband. They never had any children. Ed spoke of relatives in Philadelphia but Steve never met them. Ed spoke of a female cousin. Ed and Irene would invite Steve to come back into their living quarters to eat. Ed had what they called a 'nervous' stomach so they ate mostly boiled food. Steve never asked Ed his age but figured that he was 60-62 by their conversations. My husband played the violin of course and loved hanging out with these older men who also loved the violin.

Ed was born in SE Philadelphia.  He told Steve how he was born among German tradesmen who took him under wing and apprenticed him in many trades. At a young age Ed could build a house and everything in it from plumbing, electrical and everything else. Steve says that Ed was the only true genius he ever fellowshiped. Steve himself has a genius IQ so it is believable. Ed was a hard worker and made a lot of money so during the great depression he was able to buy up 10-20 dilapidated houses at a low price. He remodeled each of them himself and sold them for 10 fold of what he paid for them. Steve mentioned one home Ed  purchased for $500. and sold it for $5000.

Steve wanted Ed to make him a violin. Steve was very strong and athletic so Ed told him he needed an instrument that had power that could match his strength. Steve, being an artist himself, did not want a conventional F hole put in the violin Ed was making for him.  Ed was against it but finally caved to my husbands wishes.  

Ed was very frugal. He was making violins in 1928 and he had a bunch of labels made to put in his instruments. Steve would watch Ed take a pen and cross out the '2' and put a '5" for 1958 instead of 1928. Also the label maker spelled his last name with two 'n's but Ed  just used them like that.  He wouldn't buy new labels. No one was sure how many violins Ed made but he and the group of men determined it was about 125 in addition to the many violins he reconstructed and worked on. Steve knows of one viola he made.  Ed was a legend in Philadelphia. The men who frequented his shop looked up to Ed with such admiration and respect for the marvelous instruments that he created. They believed there was no one equal to him and said that Ed had a magic touch with wood in making beautiful sound. In approximately 1956 or 1957 the Philadelphia Enquirer ran an article about Ed in the Magazine section of the Sunday paper. There was a full page photo of Ed along with the article. Walter Annenberg was the owner of that publication. 

My husband loved the violin that Ed made for him more than any other material thing in this world. The men in the shop used to joke with him that he had one of the best instruments in the world and he was one of the worst players.  My husband never did excel with the violin but it was always his treasure. His life took another avenue (he became a preacher).  Ed himself always held a special place in Steve's heart. Steve is now 82 years old and has stage 4 cancer. He is bedridden and requested that I get a friend of ours who is a professional violinist to come and play Ed's violin for him. She came last week. My husband wept. He said that he felt like Ed had come to visit him. He dearly loved Ed and considered him a wonderful man. Our violinist friend looked up Ed on the internet which is something we never did. She repeated the short blurb she got on the web that he was an amateur violin maker. Steve exclaimed, "amateur'!!, he was better than any professional. He wanted me to respond to this conversation. Maybe the people who inquired about him in this format years ago are no long interested or maybe not even among us.  But there is still one man living who loved and knew Ed as a friend, a genius, and a highly gifted violin maker and he wanted you all to know that he was a  great man. 

Roberta for Steve Wilber

 

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  • 7 months later...

I met Steve Wilber in the late 70's and had the opportunity to see up close, the Hoffman violin that was made for him . The F holes were reminiscent of Guarnieri as I remember and had a very nice flowing pattern. 

Back then I had the opportunity to see Steve playing the Hoffman violin at a large convention hall with an approximately 30' ceiling. The room was full of people as I remember and the instrument was heard clearly from where I was seated in the audience.

Steve Wilber became a true friend of many years and the Hoffman was often in our conversations. It was an important instrument.

-Ed Ferry -Violinmaker

 

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