A. C. Fairbanks

Maintain tortoise frog

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Hello,

My favorite bow is a W.D. Watson with a tortoise frog. I've had it about thirty years.

Over time, the frog gets a dull gray look. (Hmmm, I'm also getting that look, but that issue is probably best explored on another forum.)

Violin shops have brought it back to "life" for me, but I assume that I might be able clean it up on my own if I knew the appropriate method. Obviously, I don't want to place it at risk.

Thanks for any assistance on this,

A.C.

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Are the delamination problems blaming mineral oil????  The problem is usually caused more from drying out /low humidity as far as i know. A block of tortoiseshell for a frog is made using several laminations (depending on the shell plate thickness) and joined by heat and pressure alone as shell acts as a thermoplastic material(no glue ).

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Hi again,

I am not trying to lend authenticity to the pieces I read. (As we know, now-a-days anyone who owns a keyboard qualifies as an expert.)

But yes, I have read that the baby oil can cause delamination.

I don't want to test that possibility on a bow that I love, so would want to feel confident in advance.

Thanks for any further thoughts,

A.C.

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53 minutes ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

Your best course of action is to have a replacement frog made in ebony and put the tortoise in a safe place.

before you get accosted and accused of tortoise murder...

any non solvent based oil that does not go rancid should help, a light mineral oil for butcher blocks is ok, no solvent, does not go rancid. Mineral oil is the main ingredient in baby oil, but it has fragrance, one that many find displeasing...

rottenstone may be mixed with a dash of mineral oil so as the rag is saturated with the oil and is basically black from the rottenstone, just a dash, not caked, work the rottenstone into the rag/oil then use this to polish the tortise , then let dry, {may be a light haze}then wipe with oil, let dry, repeat, should be done....then maintenance oil every two months or so....USE VERY LITTLE OIL, VERY LITTLE ROTTENSTONE

the problem with oil causing deterioration/delamination comes from if the shell has already dried out, then if excessive oil is used, it can seep into fissures and start to delaminate, so if its in good shape, a light coat of oil, that has no solvent, that does not go rancid should keep the shell intact and at the same time help resist acids that are present on the surface of our skin. 

If the frog was oiled AFTER it has begun to delaminate  or become "crusty" it can make it very difficult if not impossible to fix either through reheating or epoxy infusion as the oil prevents anything from sticking 

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Long time, no hear, A.C. :)

I'd second Jerry's recommendation of having a substitute frog made. As much as I love the appearance of tortoiseshell frogs, they are not very durable, and a Bill Watson bow is probably worth doing this for to keep the original frog in good condition.

If you haven't heard already, William Watson just passed away at the age of 88.

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

 

If you haven't heard already, William Watson just passed away at the age of 88.

David, This is very distressing news. He was a wonderful person to the point of being a living legend.

Are you aware of any plans to memorialize his life and achievements?

Glenn

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40 minutes ago, GlennYorkPA said:

David, This is very distressing news. He was a wonderful person to the point of being a living legend.

Are you aware of any plans to memorialize his life and achievements?

Glenn

Not yet. In the meantime, there's this:

https://theviolinchannel.com/violin-bow-maker-william-watson-died-passed-away-british/

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What a very wonderful man.  I met him in a pub, which is so apropos since he looked like everybody's ideal of what a barman should look like. He was fun,  supremely intellegent with absolutely no artifice, despite his position in the history of his craft.  I just realy liked the guy.  I asked him if they wore gloves when they put nitric acid on the boxwood at Hills. He looked at me with a smirk and said " are you kidding, I can tell you one thing, we didn't have much in the way of fingerprints, I can tell you."  The best part was that he seemed like a happy man.

 

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Hello all,

First, to David, I thank you for the welcome back... Indeed, it's been a while, and I certainly hope that you are doing well.

The "have a new frog made" suggestion that you and Jerry have made is certainly appreciated, and has stimulated these thoughts:

I bought the bow about thirty years ago (shortly after I purchased a fiddle made by some American fellow from the Mid West, umm, Burdess, or something) and  to this day, when I open the case, before starting to play, I find myself in the joy of simply looking at these remarkably beautiful objects.

I've been incredibly lucky in this regard - and have some extraordinary instruments:

A while back, ragtime guitar virtuoso Ric Schoenberg gave me a call. He asked if he and a colleague might come to my home to "measure up" my 1926 000-45 Martin guitar. I was fascinated as I watched the process. Then, as they prepared to leave, Ric said something like "Remember, you don't actually own this thing. It's more like a stewardship." I smiled, but, truth be told, thought the comment a little odd...

Now, I'm about thirty years older, and perhaps, in some ways, slightly less dense...

But, back to the bow:

If only temporarily, I am its owner. The frog has not deteriorated in any way that I can see, other than the slight gray look I have described. So, were I to focus exclusively on issues of stewardship, all of my instruments would spend their days in a cabinet, resting unplayed. Or, I suppose, I could play 'em as they came from their makers' hands with loving caution, and providing them any work they might need to keep 'em healthy for the generations yet to come.

Right now, with regard to the bow, I tend in the direction of enjoying the bow as Bill Watson made it. Somehow, that feels like a tribute to his gifts as I learn of his passing.

But, I am open to all views on these matters.

All the best,

A.C.

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1 hour ago, A. C. Fairbanks said:

 

But, back to the bow:

If only temporarily, I am its owner. The frog has not deteriorated in any way that I can see, other than the slight gray look I have described. So, were I to focus exclusively on issues of stewardship, all of my instruments would spend their days in a cabinet, resting unplayed. Or, I suppose, I could play 'em as they came from their makers' hands with loving caution, and providing them any work they might need to keep 'em healthy for the generations yet to come.

Right now, with regard to the bow, I tend in the direction of enjoying the bow as Bill Watson made it. Somehow, that feels like a tribute to his gifts as I learn of his passing.

But, I am open to all views on these matters.

All the best,

A.C.

As a collector of anything made of TS I will advise against oils and abrasive powders in favor of leaving the material exactly as described. Unlike its many synthetic copies, genuine TS is unique in developing that gray surface you describe along with contour lines (like a relief map) seen at a glancing angle. These are diagnostic for the genuine article and much prized by collectors like myself. We don't share in the passion for adding a billiard ball shine to our antiques. 

It's OK to use a substitute frog and retain the original but please don't destroy the natural surface that 30 years of affection have bestowed on it. 

Glenn

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Hi Glenn,

I thank you for your comments.

I'm intrigued by the fact that I was not thinking of the situation as you 

26 minutes ago, GlennYorkPA said:

As a collector of anything made of TS I will advise against oils and abrasive powders in favor of leaving the material exactly as described. Unlike its many synthetic copies, genuine TS is unique in developing that gray surface you describe along with contour lines (like a relief map) seen at a glancing angle. These are diagnostic for the genuine article and much prized by collectors like myself. We don't share in the passion for adding a billiard ball shine to our antiques. 

 

 

Hi Glenn,

I thank you for your comment, and am intrigued by the fact that I had not thought of the matter as you have described.

I would not dream of polishing some old, patinated, brass stuff I have so it might look like it was ready for sale at Walmart, but somehow, I thought of the frog in a different way.

All the best,

A.C. 

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4 hours ago, A. C. Fairbanks said:

I find myself in the joy of simply looking at these remarkably beautiful objects.

Agreed! Too many of my colleagues think of their instruments as merely tools. I think of my cello as a functioning work of art. During rests in a performance I will constantly look at the profile of my frog or marvel at the beauty of the varnish( Despite caveats, I still think it is gorgeous) 

That’s one reason among many that I detest carbon fiber. It is impossible for it to be “beautiful”

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3 hours ago, A. C. Fairbanks said:

Hi Glenn,

I thank you for your comments.

I'm intrigued by the fact that I was not thinking of the situation as you 

 

Hi Glenn,

I thank you for your comment, and am intrigued by the fact that I had not thought of the matter as you have described.

I would not dream of polishing some old, patinated, brass stuff I have so it might look like it was ready for sale at Walmart, but somehow, I thought of the frog in a different way.

All the best,

A.C. 

Here's a quick quiz.

Which of these pictures shows genuine tortoise shell and which is celluloid?

Glenn

 

TS.jpg

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On a visit to Japan, I encountered a fellow that has an amazing collection of hair ornaments formerly used by geisha and ladies of the court. Many of these are made of tortoiseshell, and he told me that he keeps them in good shape by very occasionally treating them with almond oil. A very small amount on a scrap of lint-free cloth is all that it takes. As Michael Appleman notes above, this is also a common practice in the fiddle biz. 

I would like to add to the chorus of suggesting you store the original and have a substitute frog made in a more durable material. I can understand why you wouldn't want to, but all the same. 

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3 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

On a visit to Japan, I encountered a fellow that has an amazing collection of hair ornaments formerly used by geisha and ladies of the court. Many of these are made of tortoiseshell, and he told me that he keeps them in good shape by very occasionally treating them with almond oil. A very small amount on a scrap of lint-free cloth is all that it takes. As Michael Appleman notes above, this is also a common practice in the fiddle biz. 

I would like to add to the chorus of suggesting you store the original and have a substitute frog made in a more durable material. I can understand why you wouldn't want to, but all the same. 

 

I personally use extra virgin olive oil but I'm sure almond oil is just as good and more fragrant. :)  

These oils are excellent for maintenance but the restoration of an aged and patinated surface is a different matter. There is no single correct answer; some favor returning the old surface to its original appearance and some don't. Where value and money are involved, it is best to take a conservative approach but when these considerations are secondary to aesthetics, the individual can do whatever best pleases him leaving it to others and future generations to disparage or applaud his actions.

Glenn

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I think the question comes down to preservation, it is my understanding that the "grey" is a form of deterioration / oxidation caused from moisture, water,oil,acids from our hands and that tortoise objects that are not handled all the time do not have propensity to "grey out" as thosel that are handled more regularly. 

It is also my understanding that if an object turns grey that this is not "patina" does not enhance the visual look at all, if anything detracts from it, and is the early indicator that the material, being somewhat hydroscopic, has absorbed an amount of fluids that are reacting with uv light just under the surface, and that by applying a non solvent based oil that does not go rancid {pure almond oil will not go rancid, it is however usually sold with a carrier oil that will, olive oil will go rancid over time and should not be used imo}  the oil will penetrate into the top surface and help displace or replace "hand sweat", remoisturize the surface and with the addition of a fine powder abrasive helps push it in and remove the grey color

So, imo, based on what I know about tortoise shell, is that if it is continuously used after the graying has started with no oiling, that it will continue to get worse which can lead to chipping, crusting, cracks and delaminating

It has always been my understanding that tortoise that is to be handled often must be regularly oiled to keep a protective layer, barrier from our sweat.

My father had a prized pair of antique tortoise shell glasses that were fitted with new lenses, the area around the bridge of the nose would need to be oiled weekly lest they started to show signs of sweat absorption.

It seems Mr. Fairbanks has had his frog polished before and liked the results as if done right it does fade the grey, so my suggestions are based on him being able to do it himself as requested

but to each his own

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3 hours ago, jezzupe said:

I think the question comes down to preservation, .........

 

No, the question wasn't about preservation.

It was about the possibility of restoration i.e. reversing the the effects of time. Very different from conservation which is always the ideal to strive for but if fate has dealt us possession of an old item which has already suffered the effects of chemicals, oxidation, uv or other radiation, insects, humidity and physical abuse, alternative strategies need to be considered. 

Glenn

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38 minutes ago, GlennYorkPA said:

No, the question wasn't about preservation.

It was about the possibility of restoration i.e. reversing the the effects of time. Very different from conservation which is always the ideal to strive for but if fate has dealt us possession of an old item which has already suffered the effects of chemicals, oxidation, uv or other radiation, insects, humidity and physical abuse, alternative strategies need to be considered. 

Glenn

"Violin shops have brought it back to "life" for me, but I assume that I might be able clean it up on my own if I knew the appropriate method. Obviously, I don't want to place it at risk."

this is what prompted my response...it's up to him to with it as he pleases. 

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16 minutes ago, jezzupe said:

"Violin shops have brought it back to "life" for me, but I assume that I might be able clean it up on my own if I knew the appropriate method. Obviously, I don't want to place it at risk."

this is what prompted my response...it's up to him to with it as he pleases. 

 

Hello, OP here,

Indeed, it is ultimately up to me, that is, we won't be putting this question up for a vote. But I remain interested in the perspectives of others with far deeper understanding of these matters than I. When a shop cleaned it for me a while ago, I assumed that their representative had that understanding. But then, after viewing my Burgess fiddle, (at the time, played every day for about twenty years) and describing it as "pristine" they "cleaned and polished" it for me without my knowledge, or permission, and that raised some questions.

So, even on these seemingly simple matters, there are some subtleties, and interesting things for me to learn.

All the best, and, as before, sincere thanks for your thoughts,

A.C.

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On 2/9/2019 at 6:34 PM, GlennYorkPA said:

Here's a quick quiz.

Which of these pictures shows genuine tortoise shell and which is celluloid?

Glenn

 

TS.jpg

Trick question. The correct answer is that both are genuine TS.  I could restore the grey one on the right to look like the one on the left but I choose not to. Whereas synthetic plastics can produce a very convincing simulation of the genuine article, I have never seen anything come close to the effect on the right which resembles Damascus steel. It's all in the eye of the beholder but I think both are beautiful in their own ways.

Glenn

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