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A Method, How to Date 18th & 19th C. English Bows


jacobsaunders
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Years ago, upon the demise of my father, I was landed with the task (amongst enough others) of sorting out some old English bows. After plenty of head scratching, I worked out a sort of ready - reckoner, where I identified 42 different features, or even quirks of these bows, and at what period said features/quirks were to be found, so that anybody should be able to work out from the chart the period when an old English bow was made, or, should bits be missing, what any replacement part should look like, if it is intended to look authentic.

The Strad have published it on their website, so I see little advantage of spending ages posting it here again, since it can be read (without any pay wall or similar) here

see below

 
To get to the ready – reckoner chart, you have to click either on the PDF link in the article or here;

see below

Although there is a “Comment” function in the “Strad” online edition, I see no reason to not have a discussion here

 

The Strad have changed their Home Page, so the links no longer work. The new URL for the article is now

https://www.thestrad.com/the-british-bow-a-rough-guide-to-dating-and-development/5357.article

and the Chart:

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While this topic is fresh, could anyone who has an ordinary old bow, the sort that might have come with an ordinary trade fiddle, post pictures. We see so many 18th and 19th century cheaply built fiddles, and so few bows. 

 

I have a cello bow branded Forster that fits the bill. I'll take a few photos tomorrow.

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While this topic is fresh, could anyone who has an ordinary old bow, the sort that might have come with an ordinary trade fiddle, post pictures. We see so many 18th and 19th century cheaply built fiddles, and so few bows. 

 

I have a cello bow branded Forster that fits the bill. I'll take a few photos tomorrow.

I think if you go back to my essay Conor, and read/look up “Bow B”, that matches your request exactly. Forster supplied (made?) different price ranges of violin, right down to moderately shoddy ones with painted purfling, so it would surely make sense if they also had a cheap line of bows.

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I saw that Jacob. I think that bows like that are really interesting, maybe because so few seem to have survived.

 

Here's my cello bow. It works really well, even though it's as crude as hell.

 

The remains of the top hat are still there to be seen, probably because the slots come right out to the sides of the head, so much so that the edge has broken down a bit on one side. The ribbon of hair is almost the same width as the head as a result, something that I've seen in other old bows.

 

I don't know what the wood is, but it's strong. it has a fairly flat camber.

 

The screw thread is beautiful. I think that thread styles and threading methods are something that may have changed over time too, and could possibly be helpful in dating these old bows.

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I saw that Jacob. I think that bows like that are really interesting, maybe because so few seem to have survived.

 

Here's my cello bow. It works really well, even though it's as crude as hell.

 

The remains of the top hat are still there to be seen, probably because the slots come right out to the sides of the head, so much so that the edge has broken down a bit on one side. The ribbon of hair is almost the same width as the head as a result, something that I've seen in other old bows.

 

I don't know what the wood is, but it's strong. it has a fairly flat camber.

 

The screw thread is beautiful. I think that thread styles and threading methods are something that may have changed over time too, and could possibly be helpful in dating these old bows.

Yes Conor, we have similar tastes.

If you subscribe to my ready- reckoner chart, and we run it through the mill, we seem to qualify in the following categories:

No face plate, continued on cheap bows until c.1830

Nose on tip of head

Top hat mortice

little camber

Brand on Frog

Round turned ivory button

Frog narrower than stick

slightly concave ivory frog without slide

I can't judge where the stick mortice finishes from your pictures, but you can tell us.

Now we have to look for a period on the long axis, where there is a blue line, for all of those categories. Whereas before, you were obliged to guess some date off the top of your head and get a crinkly mouth if any customer had the temerity to ask how you come to that conclusion, now you at least have something to argue with.

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Here's another cello bow, similar to Conor's, I think.  One thing not shown clearly in these photos is the mortise location -- stopping 3/4 inches from the button.  Total length 27.5 inches (including button), weight about 80 grams.  You can't see it here, but there is very little camber.  You might not think to look at it, but the bow plays very well.

 

As a cross check for your matrix, Jacob, a couple experts in baroque bows have shared their opinions with me that is old English (one person indicating Dodd family) and dates to either "around 1800" or "around 1810-15."  One feature that was pointed out to me as suggestive of Dodd is the wide nipple (photo 5).  I also have wondered about the extra notch within the 3-faced slide (last photo).  Have you noticed those features elsewhere?  

 

Let me echo my thanks for the work you put into this schematic.  I find it very helpful.

 

Richard

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Jacob, I'd like to add my appreciation of this great piece of work.

Are The Strad planning to publish it in the print edition, or do they prefer to keep the space for an article where 3 violin experts give confilcting and/or overlapping advice about how to change a broken string?

 

I would be very interested to know anyone's thoughts on the strange dearth of makers in later 19th century Britain which Jacob refers to. Apart from the Tubbs family, we seem to be struggling to come up with any names. I found myself in a bidding war with Derek Wilson recently for a James Wison circa 1900 which was clearly by a Jas. Tubbs apprentice - Derek said he'd only ever seen one example of this maker before.

 

And yet with Hills suddenly the land was swarming with excellent makers ...

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Here's another cello bow, similar to Conor's, I think.  One thing not shown clearly in these photos is the mortise location -- stopping 3/4 inches from the button.  Total length 27.5 inches (including button), weight about 80 grams.  You can't see it here, but there is very little camber.  You might not think to look at it, but the bow plays very well.

 

As a cross check for your matrix, Jacob, a couple experts in baroque bows have shared their opinions with me that is old English (one person indicating Dodd family) and dates to either "around 1800" or "around 1810-15."  One feature that was pointed out to me as suggestive of Dodd is the wide nipple (photo 5).  I also have wondered about the extra notch within the 3-faced slide (last photo).  Have you noticed those features elsewhere?  

 

Let me echo my thanks for the work you put into this schematic.  I find it very helpful.

 

Richard

Dear Richard,

I agree, your Cello bow is in many ways similar to Conor's, you also have a similar list of features, to find a spot on the horizontal axis which corresponds with blue lines on all of your features (I have resolved not to do this for anybody, I think you should try yourself). The differences would be the flat sided frog, which I think would make yours a bit older. Does it have a stamp on the frog?

My “Cello bow A” in the Strad article also has a big nipple! I missed that when I was dreaming up the 42 different “Eigenschaften” (features/idiosyncrasies) for my chart. I suppose “big nipples” should have been idiosyncrasy #43.

From your photos, I can't make out what wood your bow stick is made of, can you comment on that?

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If I may ask, what is the definition of "camber." I thought it was essentially the same as "curve," but Richard, for example, describes his bow as having very little camber. But you can see from the two end photographs that it certainly has a curve. So, again, what does camber mean when referring to bows?

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There are no name stamps on the stick or the frog.  Maybe of interest, however, there is a matching "X" on both, so maybe we can conclude that even in that day makers had enough bows in progress that they needed a system to keep sticks and frogs together.  I believe the wood is pernambuco, but I will defer to anyone who believes otherwise.

 

Jacob, I think a very safe conclusion based on your chart would be "1740 to 1840" although a preponderance of clues does indeed cluster earlier, say "1740 to 1800."  "1800-ish" had been the conclusion of experts who saw the bow.

 

Flat sided ivory frog, 1740-1765

Very little camber, 1770-1800 (on assumption camber wasn't lost from long-term storage at tension)

No face plate, 1740-1780

Round pernambuco stick, 1770-1800 (assuming the wood is pernambuco)

Stick mortice too long toward adjuster, 1765-1785 (assuming "3/4 inches" is close)

Tophat mortice, 1740-1840

 

As you and others have pointed out many times for violin identification, it is surely dangerous to focus on individual characteristics alone.  That's why it's so useful that you have listed so many features.  And, of course, it's always best to have the opinion of someone with extensive hands-on experience, who can recognize similarities with pieces of clear provenance.  I think you should be very pleased that several of those hands-on guys came up w/ dates close to ones I could get on my own from your summary.

 

Conor, thanks for the compliment.  I could easily believe that mine came off the same bench as yours.  For those interested, I believe that Tarisio will shortly be publishing a 2-volume collection of all the baroque bows shown in their London exhibit last fall.

 

Richard

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If I may ask, what is the definition of "camber." I thought it was essentially the same as "curve," but Richard, for example, describes his bow as having very little camber. But you can see from the two end photographs that it certainly has a curve. So, again, what does camber mean when referring to bows?

I agree, the degree to which it is bent is surely the definition of camber ie. “the curve”. If something is very bent, medium bent, or less bent can surely only be something subjective, that one could easily have bitter arguments about on this forum. I suppose a road has a “camber” too, so that the raindrops drain off.

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Jacob, maybe you could help clarify.  Here's an old photo without hair.  I called this "very little camber."  The bow is so stiff that even under tension it still looks pretty much like this.  Compared w/ my other bows, I thought this was definitely less than modern.  How would you describe this camber?

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Jacob - two other features I notice on English bows of the period  are 1.  There are often very very obvious tool marks on the back of the frogs, such as on Richf's bow  and 2.  The fact that the screw hole often comes out of the back of the adjuster but not always.  Do these have any significance in dating a bow?

 

I'm interested to see how you include the extended stick mortice as a useful feature.  I've noticed in on a lot of bows but always thought that some repair person must have extended it.

 

  I'm working on photographs of some of my old bows.

 

Ed

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