The process of buying a fine bow


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Hi all,

 

Long time reader but first time poster.  I am getting ready to purchase a violin bow, which will be the first big instrument purchase that I've ever made on my own.  Right now I'm deciding between a Charles Bazin and a Nurnberger, but before I spend my thousands, I could really use some guidance on how the buying process should go to make sure I am covering all my bases.

 

 

I have a few pretty basic questions below.  I also tried searching the forums for answers and couldn't find anything consolidated in a thread, but please feel free to link to prior threads if you know of any.

 

1.  How do I know that the bow is truly what they say it is, e.g. actually made by the maker, all the parts are original, etc.?  Should the bow come with some sort of certificate of authenticity, or will it only come with an appraisal?

 

2.  Is it normal to take the bow to an unbiased third party who can also verify the authenticity and condition of the bow before the purchase is made, or is this frowned upon?

 

3.  Typically, how negotiable are the prices of bows?

 

Thanks for your help!

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I'd say buy it from someone you know to be trustworthy. I see nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion, although it can be very awkward to question a colleagues offerings, and many are slow to do it.

 

If I had a few thousand euro to spend, I'd think seriously about ordering a new bow from one of the great makers we have today. First class individual work in pristine condition at the price of a good old workshop bow. Mind you, you might have to wait for a little while longer.

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HI,

I think this deserves a longer answer than I'm able to give right now, but in brief ...

There are a lot of different types of "Nurnberger" and a lot of different types of "Charles Bazin", all of which can be legitimately sold as such. These all have their distinguishing features which an expert can identify, but it's not possible for a lay person to know if they are looking at a top level bow made by Charles Bazin or a Bazin workshop bow, a superb Albert Nurnberger from 1900 or a Karl Albert Nurnberger workshop bow worth rather less etc. etc.

1. 

The first solution to this problem is to go to a dealer who has a very good reputation.

Secondly, you could restrict your search to bows with certificates - by this I mean certificates from bow experts such as Raffin or Hans Karl Schmidt. Typically you'll pay a little more for such a certificate, since it will have cost the owner E3-500 to obtain it in the first place.

2.

Unbiased third parties :)

Chance would be a fine thing! I'm afraid most dealers will find something to object to if they think you're buying a bow from someone else. 

You could try taking it to someone knowledgeable (bearing in mind that many dealers don't have an intimate knowledge of different grades of Nurnberger) and telling them you were left it in a legacy, or you could pay a certified appraiser to look at it. But "I'm thinking of buying this bow" is likely to induce a fit of clucking, sighing, head-shaking and other expressions of deep sorrow. Suddenly small blemishes in the finish will become major "issues for resale". "Not sure if the fittings are original" is another favourite phrase in this context ....

3.

Can't answer that one. I think that's bound to be different from item to item, and it won't have anything to do with whether it's a bow or a violin. It's rude to offer significantly less than the fair market price, but I think most dealers (myself included) like to sell things, and a definite sale today is better than the possibility of a slightly better price some time in the future ...!

 

For a given budget I would favour a good Nurnberger over a Charles Bazin.

 

I see Conor's commented - very good advice. GIlles Chancereul produces wonderful bows at very affordable prices, there are hundreds of others.

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1. it should come with some serious backup, appraisal by an acknowledged expert would be fine, certificate better.

2. it is normal to ask for advice. Beware of hidden interests, as Martin points out, although I still remain optimistic (naieve?) enough to think you can easily get unbiased advice...

3.On a bow for a few thousand you could try to knock off a few hundred. If you can get a lot more off something is fishy anyway.....

 

Florian

 

PS Conors comment about modern makers is valid, I think.

Martins advice on Nurnberger vs Charles Bazin should have an empasis on 'good' and Charles (and also which Nurnberger)

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As to negotiating a price, do it the same way you'd buy a house. If you really want the piece make a reasonable offer, and give the seller a chance to counter. The seller quite naturally wants to realize the highest price possible, and it's easier for him to set a high price and negotiate down.

From the buyer's point, it's easier to start on the low side and go up.

Sorta' like orchestra negotiations!

EDIT: As to modern makers, I couldn't agree more with the above advice. I have a bow from Brazil I much prefer over my (expensive, spongy) Marcel Fetique!

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Prices are always negotiable.  But often players are desperate for a better bow or instrument.  That puts the seller in the driver's seat.  Ideally—like not going grocery shopping until after you have eaten—buying these tools of the trade ought to be done when things are in YOUR favor, and with as much objectivity as possible.

 

As a buyer you have a right to ask the seller to satisfy your doubts.  The seller ought to already have appropriate certifications and appraisals, or be willing to get them.  It's always sticky dealing with people;  they get offended that you wouldn't trust THEM.  Well, a lot of junk has been bought by trusting people who may be crooks or simply may not know very much.  I'm always suspicious of sellers who have not made the effort to get these things in order;  that ought not be put on your shoulders.

 

Sellers, when they don't really know, are more likely to over-price their items.  Martin's point about the variation in quality of bows of the same name is very important.

 

A good rule of thumb is that it is almost always harder to sell something than to buy it.  If something bothers you, it will bother a buyer when you go to sell it. 

 

Always look at the authenticity first, because it is the maker which is the primary factor in the price;  then condition; then playing qualities.  You want all three to be right.  Then, if there is some provenance to the bow, that would be nice, too. 

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1-Deal with someone who you can trust. Trust is difficult, and there are less than flattering stories floating around about even the most trusted dealers. Ask for a certificate, which is different from a appraisal.

 

2-Good Luck with that one. I have seen trial agreements that forbid a customer from showing the item on trial to another dealer. When a customer comes in with something that they have on trial from another shop, I'll look at it, perhaps point out anything glaring that I see-condition wise-but I never give a price. If they give me a price that is being asked for the item, the most I'll say is, "That's a reasonable/fair price". Even going that far might open one to potential problems.

 

3. I disagree with Will. Not all prices are negotiable. Some items have room, some don't. If the owner wants too much, in my opinion..., I usually won't consign the item unless I really, really like it and believe in the item. 

 

I agree, mostly, with Martin. I'd take most of the Nurnbergers I've seen over most of the Bazins I've played.

 

I have a close friend who purchased a Bazin in Paris from Mr. Milliant in the late 60's. When I asked about a certificate, he replied, "It's a Bazin! Who needs a certificate!"...

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I have a close friend who purchased a Bazin in Paris from Mr. Milliant in the late 60's. When I asked about a certificate, he replied, "It's a Bazin! Who needs a certificate!"...

Thanks for that wonderful story, sounds like Mr. Millant, doesn't it?  Once at the VSA he went through a line of guys with arms-full of bows with such authority that it was beautiful to watch.  

 

I would buy the bow from him with complete assurance it was a Bazin, but if I said the same thing when I go to sell it, I wouldn't have the same impact.  I'd need to offer a certificate from a known expert.

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I wonder if an agreement like this would be allowed in european countries. I for certain would not want to deal under these circumstances...

Chicago...Almost Europe.

 

I am guessing that if you didn't agree that they might not let you take a instrument.

 

I enjoyed a lunch with Mr. Milliant a couple of summers ago here in Seattle. He was visiting with a friend, and I was attempting to make a bow, a friend teaching me, and Mr. Milliant showed up for lunch. That was an afternoon to remember!

 

He told me to do everything that my friend told me to do, and I would make a good bow. He told my friend not to sell me any wood!

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1.  How do I know that the bow is truly what they say it is, e.g. actually made by the maker, all the parts are original, etc.?  Should the bow come with some sort of certificate of authenticity, or will it only come with an appraisal?

 

2.  Is it normal to take the bow to an unbiased third party who can also verify the authenticity and condition of the bow before the purchase is made, or is this frowned upon?

 

3.  Typically, how negotiable are the prices of bows?

 

 

1) All professionally produced certificates and appraisals should (and do) include the words "in my opinion", with the exception of one written by the maker, or by someone who watched the maker make it or part of it.  In a retail transaction, buying from a reputable, reliable and solvent seller/dealer who knows the work of the maker involved is probably the best assurance you can get... and no matter if there is a second party certificate, the dealer is responsible for backing up the opinion and value in the end.  That's who your transaction is with.  

 

Many dealers will automatically seek a second party certificate for workshop bows as well as fine ones, and this has created a support market for experts like Raffin, who now write certificates for bows in categories in which this rarely occurred 20 years ago.  Personally, I agree with the Millant quote mentioned earlier in this thread, but I understand the desire/perceived need.  To me, however, it's rather important that the person or shop representing the piece is capable of forming their own opinion of origin in the first place (that reputable dealer that Nathan is referring to).  Otherwise, I feel they are selling paper, not a bow... nor do they really have an understanding of the relative quality of the piece (or relative lack of quality).  It's all too easy to qualify an item as "the best one I've ever seen" if you've only seen one.   :)

 

Personally, unless a certificate is requested, I'd supply only an appraisal with a bow like a Bazin or Nurnberger... but my appraisals clearly include my opinion of the maker, a full description, and most usually photos of the piece (unfortunately not the industry norm, yet) no matter if I sold the piece or not.  If I'm selling something like an Ouchard or  Sartory, a certificate, though possibly redundant, is added...  and/or If one already exists, it's included.

 

Nathan's, and other's, advise concerning considering contemporary bows in this general price range is excellent, but with the understanding that some clients may simply prefer an older bow to a newer one in the end.

 

2) It's not unusual, and is very common when dealing with someone the buyer does't know well or have an established relationship with. I think it's polite to inform the seller you plan to do this, but often that isn't done.  Often, with new clients, I'll suggest a couple/few colleagues I feel are qualified to give an accurate assessment should they wish one, and/or supply the name of the bow restorer (I us very few) who worked on the bow and supplied notes for me while the bow was "open" (without hair), but the potential purchaser may or may not take my advice, and I realize that.

 

3) Depends on the piece and the dealer.  Florian's advice is reasonable, I think.

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The OP didn't say whether the bow is coming from a private party or a dealer.  I don't know why I assumed it was a private party.  Maybe because he is asking about certificates and appraisals, which any dealer ought to have already told him would be provided.

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Wow, thank you all for your input, this is all incredibly helpful and is much appreciated!

So it sounds like the best idea is to just go to a reputable and trusted dealer. So I guess the next logical question would be... How do I determine whether a shop is "reputable" or not? Is this just based on feedback from others in the area, or for example should I be looking to see if anyone is a member of the Appraisers Association, etc.? Incidentally, I live in the SF Bay Area and am familiar with many shops here, but I have only had real personal experience with one large and reputable dealer (Ifshin), and am unsure of many of the smaller dealers, so any advice from locals is welcome.

As it turns out, I visited a smaller shop today and found a C. Thomassin bow that I liked more than the Bazin and Nurnberger. It is, however, quite a bit cheaper than any other Thomassin I've seen (~$7500), which has me a bit skeptical... The shop's explanation was that it was nickel mounted, which cut the price by thousands. It doesn't come with a certificate, but they will provide an appraisal if purchased of course. The shop is well known in the area, but does most of its business in student violins, so they only had a handful of fine bows. Are there big red flags here?

For all the comments about modern bows, I agree that there are some really great new bows out there and it would be nice to sidestep the whole authenticity part of this process. I've had a chance to play on a number of Andersen, Morrow, Fuchs, Kanestrom, etc. bows during this search, and while they are very nice bows, unfortunately none of them have stood up to the older bows in blind sound tests. I did try a Klaus Grunke bow though that I am growing quite fond of, but it still doesn't quite measure up to the Thomassin. I'm going to keep searching in the meantime, and definitely will not rule out modern makers.

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Thomassins also come in all shapes and sizes, but a good silver-mounted Thomassin in nice condition with a Thomassin stamp would sell for $15,000 and up nowadays. Really good early examples (for instance made for Gand&Bernardel) might fetch more. Thomassin went very tradey later in his career and made large numbers of bows for just about everyone - you might pay about $10,000 for a Thomassin with an unpopular brand and a slightly lumpy stick!

A nickel-mounted example wouldn't be hugely less unless it was also a significantly inferior bow (poor wood or workmanship). So $7500 sounds fair if the model is OK.

If it plays beautifully, who cares if it's silver or nickel?

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Wow, thank you all for your input, this is all incredibly helpful and is much appreciated!

So it sounds like the best idea is to just go to a reputable and trusted dealer. So I guess the next logical question would be... How do I determine whether a shop is "reputable" or not? Is this just based on feedback from others in the area, or for example should I be looking to see if anyone is a member of the Appraisers Association, etc.? Incidentally, I live in the SF Bay Area

You might check out if Roland Feller in SF has anything, very trustworthy guy but I honestly don't know about his bow expertise, just his violin knowledge.  Sometimes Vance at Stevens Violins in SJ has some nice bows, he tends to focus on them.   jeff

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You might check out if Roland Feller in SF has anything, very trustworthy guy but I honestly don't know about his bow expertise, just his violin knowledge.

Second Feller. Patronized by many professionals, a whiz at repair and tonal adjustment. Good luck finding a parking space! (Pro'ly call ahead; if he doesn't have anything he can surely lead you to the appropriate shops.)

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Love Roland.  He offered me a job many, many years ago when I was finishing school.  Ended up moving here to work with David and very glad I did, but I'm sure I'd have had a wonderful time with Roland if the cards had fallen that way.

 

Jay Ifshin usually has a very nice selection of bows.

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