hannaz

Resources for learning to identify violins

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Are there any resources for someone that would like to learn to identify violins? For example pictures pointing out differences in scrolls, rib joints etc. 

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The only ”resource” that is any good, is to spend a few decades, starting young, in a violin shop. Even then, one needs a sort of born aptitude. I have had assistants, who I could explain two different violins too, that would get them mixed up within a half hour, despite being keen and interested. On the other hand I have ex-employees who accurately quote me to my face decades later, which can also be a pest.

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3 hours ago, hannaz said:

Are there any resources for someone that would like to learn to identify violins? For example pictures pointing out differences in scrolls, rib joints etc. 

The only readily available ones are online.  There are a few articles and blogs to be found which explain differences between the Cremonese styles.  There's a lot of MN posts by jacobsaunders detailing the differences between the Germanic schools, and a few by other people giving some hints on how to identify two French schools (vieux Paris, and Mirecourt).  There's Terrier's site which is a gold mine of French data (https://www.luthiers-mirecourt.com/e_documentation.htm ).  Unfortunately, there's not a lot else that's explanatory unless you want to invest in expensive professional books.  The most useful reference collections to look at online are violin shop inventories, auction catalogs/archives, and museum collections.  And, sorry, I don't have a couple hundred links sitting handy to stick up here.  :)

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5 hours ago, hannaz said:

Are there any resources for someone that would like to learn to identify violins? For example pictures pointing out differences in scrolls, rib joints etc. 

I would suggest Cozio.com as the best photo archive right now. The only problem is that the photos are limited to straight-on shots, which are the shots used for certificates. There are all kinds of details that can help identify an instrument, but those don’t all show up in standard photos. As Jacob Saunders said, real knowledge in identification comes with a long time spent handling the actual instruments and learning directly from experts.

I wouldn’t trust many of the old identification books anymore. There are just too many mistakes or false attributions to make them reliable. There are some written descriptions about identification, such as posts on Maestronet and lectures given by experts which can help, but it’s hard to make use of the information without seeing things in person. 

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3 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

The only ”resource” that is any good, is to spend a few decades, starting young, in a violin shop. Even then, one needs a sort of born aptitude. I have had assistants, who I could explain two different violins too, that would get them mixed up within a half hour, despite being keen and interested. On the other hand I have ex-employees who accurately quote me to my face decades later, which can also be a pest.

That type of learning was also relayed to me, when I asked a similar question of a Master restorer. Handling thousands of violins, over a few decades, learning from real Masters.

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I appreciate these answers, but I disagree with them.  It is a question of learning, and although it takes expert to identify precise details, it does not take an expert to identify the difference between this school or that school. The famous “quiz“ that Jacob has been kind enough to share is a perfect example. That’s just a question of memorization of details.

Memorization of details, such as, “this characteristic indicates, but does not guarantee, this school” Is followed by the ability to recognize those characteristics, and from there the ability to distinguish minute differences that eliminate possibilities. The ability to recognize is where the talent comes in, but knowledge is just knowledge and doesn’t require any arcane skills.

I would also like to have a book that details basic characteristics of basic eras and locales.

And it shouldn’t be too hard to write. If the quiz was easy to compile, and was compiled by an expert on Markneukirchen fiddles, Why couldn’t one be done on Italian Violins? Or Dutch? Or French?

A flow chart that begins with, “is it a violin? Yes/no?” And goes from there

I understand that a little knowledge is a terrible thing, but the problem is that too many people with a little knowledge give themselves credit for a lot of knowledge. Avoid that trap and all is well.

Edited by PhilipKT

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7 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

I appreciate these answers, but I disagree with them. 

Please yourself. I’m looking forward to your learned appraisals!;)
Bear in mind, if someone wants to play cello well, he/she takes regular lessons from an infant age

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11 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

I appreciate these answers, but I disagree with them.  It is a question of learning, and although it takes expert to identify precise details, it does not take an expert to identify the difference between this school or that school. The famous quote quiz“ that Jacob has been kind enough to share is a perfect example. That’s just a question of memorization of details.

Memorization of details, such as, “this characteristic indicates, but does not guarantee, this school” Is followed by the ability to recognize those characteristics. The ability to recognize is where the talent comes in, but the knowledge is just knowledge and doesn’t require any arcane skills.

I would also like to have a book that details basic characteristics of basic eras and locales.

And it shouldn’t be too hard to write. If the quiz was easy to compile, and was compiled by an expert on Markneukirchen fiddles,

Why couldn’t one be done on Italian Violins? Or Dutch? Or French?

I understand that a little knowledge is a terrible thing, but the problem is that too many people with a little knowledge give themselves credit for a lot of knowledge. Avoid that trap and all is well.

I suppose there is limited truth in this if all you are trying to do is narrow down some basic probabilities.

But even Jacob's quiz will only help you to distinguish between MK and Mittenwald of a particular period, on the assumption that a violin is indeed one or the other.

Any kind of silver bullet "taxonomic guide" is going to lead to major errors - maybe not a big deal if you're an armchair enthusiast, but if there's money at stake and you wish to conduct yourself responsibly, you need to look at thousands and thousands of fiddles. And even then you will always need to consult with experts in a small geographical area once you think you've got it narrowed down.

You might as well buy a book on "How To Identify A Leonardo".

 

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Just now, jacobsaunders said:

Please yourself. I’m looking forward to your learned appraisals!;)
Bear in mind, if someone wants to play cello well, he/she takes regular lessons from an infant age

Jakob, don’t be sarcastic. I am not pretending to have any kind of expertise, I’m not expecting to open a shop or offer evaluations via FaceTime, and I didn’t insinuate that I was. I am only saying that there should be a reasonable and structured way to gain this information. Every teacher of string instruments should be as knowledgeable as possible about the equipment we use.

For instance, when you see a violin with a scroll fluting that stops at 6 o’clock, as opposed to a scroll it is fluted,”to the bitter end” That means something. If it did not mean anything, you would not have put it in your quiz. That’s knowledge, and it is something that can be learned without serving a 20 year apprenticeship.

I specifically said that knowing things like that does not make someone an expert, and I freely admitted that to be an expert takes talent, which is different from knowledge.

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1 minute ago, PhilipKT said:

 

For instance, when you see a violin with a scroll fluting that stops at 6 o’clock, as opposed to a scroll it is fluted,”to the bitter end” That means something.

A perfect example. 

It's only useful as a way of excluding Mittenwald from your checklist of possible German attributes - you will find fluting stopping at 6 o'clock all over the place, not just Scheonbach ...

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1 minute ago, martin swan said:

I suppose there is limited truth in this if all you are trying to do is narrow down some basic probabilities.

But even Jacob's quiz will only help you to distinguish between MK and Mittenwald of a particular period, on the assumption that a violin is indeed one or the other.

Any kind of silver bullet "taxonomic guide" is going to lead to major errors - maybe not a big deal if you're an armchair enthusiast, but if here's money at stake and you wish to conduct yourself responsibly, you need to look at thousands and thousands of fiddles. And even then you will always need to consult with experts in a small geographical area once you think you've got it narrowed down.

You might as well buy a book on "How To Identify a Leonardo".

 

That’s valid, and I said that in my comment. I have a tremendous amount of Respect for the skill that you and others have. I remember the first time I showed a nice old French cello to Peter Horner. He opened the case and looked at it for 10 seconds and said, “hmmm, 1880s French… No, 1870s French.” He didn’t even bother taking it out of the case, I asked him, “how did you do that, “ And he smiled and said, “it’s not hard.”

And the Moennig(?) papers said, “1870s French” so Peter was exactly right, and after literally about 10 seconds.

So yes, with a little bit of information, you may not be able to say that it is a Leonardo, but you might be able to confidently say that it is not a Leonardo, and you might be able to confidently say, “this Violin should be seen by someone who knows something about Violins.” As opposed to, “this is firewood”

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3 minutes ago, martin swan said:

A perfect example. 

It's only useful as a way of excluding Mittenwald from your checklist of possible German attributes - you will find fluting stopping at 6 o'clock all over the place, not just Scheonbach ...

Yes I know, by itself it means something, but not very much. But when you combine it with other characteristics on the violin that is when you begin to narrow down the possibilities. And learning those possibilities is why we have Addie’s quiz in the first place. Otherwise there would be no reason for it.

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48 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

I am only saying that there should be a reasonable and structured way to gain this information.

What would you propose?

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46 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

 He didn’t even bother taking it out of the case, I asked him, “how did you do that, “ And he smiled and said, “it’s not hard.”

 

Taking it out of the case costs extra:)

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49 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

 

And the Moennig(?) papers said, “1870s French” so Peter was exactly right, and after literally about 10 seconds.

 

In order to sell something with a clear conscience you need to get a bit further than 1870s French. An early JTL or a Miremont? A difference in value of a factor of 20 ...

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23 minutes ago, martin swan said:

In order to sell something with a clear conscience you need to get a bit further than 1870s French. An early JTL or a Miremont? A difference in value of a factor of 20 ...

That’s all he said, and the instrument wasn’t mine, I was showing it on behalf of a friend who owns it. It’s her own instrument, and she has no interest in selling anyway. I shared the anecdote just as an example of the kind of skill Peter and you guys have. I wasn’t insinuating anything else.

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I understand your frustration at the fact that there are no easy routes to this knowledge.

It's a very small field - far smaller than fine art - and pretty much everyone who becomes expert is also involved in trading. So we don't wish to make it easy, and we want to stand well apart from those who make big claims on the basis of poor knowledge.

Nowadays there is an entire dark economy over on Facebook where people sell mutton dressed as lamb, and where armchair experts pronounce their ludicrous opinions with great authority. The entire world is now in thrall to popular opinion as expressed through social media likes, and facts are established by advertising spend. 

 

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One so qualified could likely design an artificial intelligence system that could use pattern recognition to assign probabilities to different attributions. The biggest challenge would be getting a large enough data set for the algorithym to learn the patterns, and then determining the data needed to make accurate probability assignments.

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11 minutes ago, martin swan said:

I understand your frustration at the fact that there are no easy routes to this knowledge.

It's a very small field - far smaller than fine art - and pretty much everyone who becomes expert is also involved in trading. So we don't wish to make it easy, and we want to stand well apart from those who make big claims on the basis of poor knowledge.

Nowadays there is an entire dark economy over on Facebook where people sell mutton dressed as lamb, and where armchair experts pronounce their ludicrous opinions with great authority. The entire world is now in thrall to popular opinion as expressed through social media likes, and facts are established by advertising spend. 

 

I’ve shared before, I think, the story of how Jay tried to teach me to re-hair bows. In brief, the result was that I have exactly zero skill with wood. But I have quite a lot of skill with cellos, and anybody who knows me knows the story of how my famous cello teacher betrayed me with a wormy cello, so I want to help my kids learn and be aware and made intelligent choices about instruments.

I do my best to be very careful about making any assumption about anything, and the best advice I give my kids is to play everything you can, and go to every shop you can go to, talk to everybody you can talk to.

I’m not some pompous ignoramus who is granting to himself all possible knowledge of the subject. I just want to learn, and as complicated as the subject is, it is possible to learn valid information about it.

I learned in my education classes is that there is nothing so complicated that it cannot be taught in an intellectually honest way at any level.

No matter how much someone knows now, they didn’t know it at birth. They had to learn it.

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2 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

 

I learned in my education classes is that there is nothing so complicated that it cannot be taught in an intellectually honest way at any level.

No matter how much someone knows now, they didn’t know it at birth. They had to learn it.

Absolutely, we all start somewhere, and many members on this forum are much more advanced along the path than I am.

But I also believe that the only way to gain useful knowledge is to have meaningful hands-on contact with thousands and thousands of examples. I don't think there's any other way, and all the handy guides I know of are worse than useless.

Jacob suggests that the easiest path to this knowledge is a combination of exposure from an early age (through working in a shop for example) and some unusual innate ability. Working in an auction house can also give an opportunity to see vast numbers of instruments.

Being a maker gives you an eye for details (toolmarks, subtle aspects of arching or carving) that non-makers would miss ...

But these all imply a high degree of specialist training.

If you want to help your students, you could do worse than to teach them how to distinguish an honest dealer from a dishonest one. And, as you say, to recognize condition issues so that they are less likely to be hoodwinked.

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

If you want to help your students, you could do worse than to teach them how to distinguish an honest dealer from a dishonest one. 

Excellent advice, Martin.  One should hone their ability to judge character-  it can serve one well in many ways.  For instance, when shopping for a used vehicle, I tend not to look at the vehicle so much (except for outwardly visible and obvious things), but rather, my judgement of the seller, figures heavily in my decision whether or not to purchase.

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Jacob makes the point about the importance of starting young. I've had VSOs of some description protruding from my neck for (it feels like) most of my life, but only started really looking at them and trying to conceptualise their differences a few years ago. I've already accepted that I'll never develop the "eye" the real experts have, but I'll keep trying. 

In classical music, on the other hand, I do have an "ear" and an appreciation that I believe unlucky late starters are never likely to share

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The OP did not ask the question of "how do I become a  - " world renowned expert"  - at identifying violins.  He asked about finding resources to identify violins.

My first port of call would be "Maestronet Pegbox " which he appears to have already found.

The next requirement is to be passionate and learn to love violins to an obsessive degree [ holds his hand up ] and have the available time to read the forum every day including the threads on how to make and restore violins.

Sign up to all the auction houses and spend hours viewing all the highly detailed photos of violins that  they so generously share for free.  And don't forget Youtube which often has close up videos of fine violins. Attend auction house viewings and take a torch to look inside at construction details  ignoring labels.

Italian violins are a very expert field and can involve very large sums of money, so do not expect to find much information about these.

The vast number of violins you will see will be German, so learn to identify these and whatever is left is  French - English  - or whatever.

If you can't identify a new Chinese violin with a fake label and antiqued fresh varnish at first sight give up and learn origami. :lol:

 

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17 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

One so qualified could likely design an artificial intelligence system that could use pattern recognition to assign probabilities to different attributions. The biggest challenge would be getting a large enough data set for the algorithym to learn the patterns, and then determining the data needed to make accurate probability assignments.

A Swiss dealer attempted an identification recognition data base going on a couple of decades ago. He gave a talk about the attempt at a VSA convention... The effort was not fruitful.  I was not surprised.  

A person can learn quite a bit concerning pattern and some details of workmanship by studying many of the rather decent photos of various maker's work available these days... though one should be careful to note the source of the images (reliability of the expertise)... and by visiting good shops, attending exhibitions & conventions, taking detailed notes, following the trail of specific schools, checking available archival information, and trying to understand the methods and influences important to each maker(s) and/or school(s) in question. Through making this effort, I would expect an intelligent person would quickly come to understand how much they didn't, and/or may never, know.

When I see a query for a "guide" or "resource", I tend to assume that what is being asked for is an easy way out of making the effort described above...  A bullet... preferably silver.  :) 

I would guess the OP was hoping for a source of a very general type of knowledge... but her desire for more complete knowledge is showing through the curtain.

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1 hour ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I would guess the OP was hoping for a source of a very general type of knowledge... but her desire for more complete knowledge is showing through the curtain.

That is an accurate summary. From a perspective of someone that knows very little about the construction process, I figured it would be beneficial to be able to tell apart different methods of joining pieces together.

I also have no intention of becoming a world class expert, and having  a completely unrelated to music carrier I don’t have possibility to inspect closely hundreds or thousands of instruments. That being said, I really hope that this doesn’t mean I have no chance of learning at least a little bit.

And I’m a woman, by the way

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