Silver vs. nickel (German Silver, Maillechort) mounts for bows: Quality or Economics?


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Regarding examples from the great bowmakers of the past, were there any general principles regarding a decision to use nickel vs. silver as materials for bows?

Did the maker get near the end of the process and decide that the bow was not of sufficient quality worthy of silver mounts or was the decision more a matter of economics in that more folks could afford a nickel mounted bow so it would be an easier sell as it was less expensive?

 

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When it comes to hand made bows by great makers, I have a hard time imagining that the value of silver had much impact on price. Throughout much of history coins were made of silver and a 19th century dollar coin probably has enough silver for 10 bows. 

Still, a lot of good French bows have nickel mounts. 

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We know officially from a survey by the Chamber of Commerce (Gewerbekammer) in Plauern (Saxony) from the year 1872, that the bow production in Markneukirchen and the surrounding area was 36,000 Dozen (432,000) per annum. Of these 1,500 dozen (18,000) were pernambuco bows (i.e. the good ones). They cite the price ranges of these pernambuco bows with 12 to 50 Thallern for Gold bows, 2 to 50 Thallern for silver bows, and 1,25 to 4 Thallern for nickel mounted bows. So beware of anyone telling you that the nickel ones are just as expensive, they are trying to sell you something!
BTW. In English, one speaks of “nickel mounted” (German “Neusilber”) bows, in reality they are of a copper/nickel/zink alloy.

No modern “Meister” bow maker, to my knowledge, makes “nickel" mounted bows today.
 

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As far as I know, there are bows that are mounted in nickel, as can been seen by the greenish tarnish it acquires. 
The so-called ‘German silver’ (maillechort, neusilber, etc) is typically an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc. 
Then there is cupronickel, an alloy of copper and nickel. 
The latter two alloys do not readily tarnish, hence their use in musical instruments and coinage. The current US dime, for example, is cupronickel. 

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4 hours ago, deans said:

When it comes to hand made bows by great makers, I have a hard time imagining that the value of silver had much impact on price. Throughout much of history coins were made of silver and a 19th century dollar coin probably has enough silver for 10 bows. 

Still, a lot of good French bows have nickel mounts. 

With respect, I think this is a bit of a misunderstanding of how different materials are/were used in bow-making.

The quality of the stick and the intended price point determine what mounts are used. Apart from a very brief period around 1830, when "maillechort" was invented, all later bows have used silver, gold, ivory, tortoiseshell, chased gold etc etc, to denote the quality of the bow, both in terms of wood choice and in terms of care of workmanship.

As with everything in violin-making, the cost of the materials is pretty irrelevant to the sale price since you are primarily paying for time, effort and competence.

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8 hours ago, martin swan said:

With respect, I think this is a bit of a misunderstanding of how different materials are/were used in bow-making.

The quality of the stick and the intended price point determine what mounts are used. Apart from a very brief period around 1830, when "maillechort" was invented, all later bows have used silver, gold, ivory, tortoiseshell, chased gold etc etc, to denote the quality of the bow, both in terms of wood choice and in terms of care of workmanship.

As with everything in violin-making, the cost of the materials is pretty irrelevant to the sale price since you are primarily paying for time, effort and competence.

So a nickel mounted bow is inherently of lower quality than one with silver mounts by the same maker? Are nickel mounted bows a signal to the public that they are offering a lower-grade product?

Because everyone has to get started in the business somehow, is it possible the master maker in their beginning years might produce more affordable examples of a superior quality product with less expensive metal parts while the playing characteristics remain more or less equivalent between nickel and silver examples? Or do silver (and above) mounted bows generally play and sound better than nickel ones?

 

 

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23 minutes ago, Just Sayin’ said:

do silver (and above) mounted bows generally play and sound better than nickel ones?

 

 

Not necessarily; One comes across “nickel” mounted bows that functionally seem every bit as good as some silver bows. They were, however originally cheaper, as the statistic I reproduced above shows. “Neusilber” was developed in the 1820’s primarily as a cheaper (6x cheaper) alternative for silver for cutlery and other table “silver” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_silver

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22 minutes ago, Just Sayin’ said:

So a nickel mounted bow is inherently of lower quality than one with silver mounts by the same maker? Are nickel mounted bows a signal to the public that they are offering a lower-grade product?

It depends on the time period and country you are talking about. There was a time when new alloys were being introduced (from China in this case), and were considered wonder metals at the time. Nickel was one of these.
I doubt in the early years that it was cheap to obtain, but later due to mass manufacturing it became much cheaper than silver, available in sheets, and was easily worked.

 

22 minutes ago, Just Sayin’ said:

Because everyone has to get started in the business somehow, is it possible the master maker in their beginning years might produce more affordable examples of a superior quality product with less expensive metal parts while the playing characteristics remain more or less equivalent between nickel and silver examples? Or do silver (and above) mounted bows generally play and sound better than nickel ones?

A "Master Maker" (whatever that is) started out as a 10 year old boy, roughing out sticks and frogs for someone else.

I don't think you can assume that a nickel bow will necessarily be a worse bow than a silver one. Plenty of bows which were originally nickel, have been remounted in silver for example.
What one person agrees is a good playing bow, another will not, so playability is all over the map anyway with bows, regardless of how they are mounted.

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 It seems to me that the quality range of the bow, and the silver vs NIckel trims, were more solid in German bows than French.  I"ve always thought what Jacob said for years, and just recently I am thinking a little different.  It seems I'm running into a decent amount of older French bows that are nickel, and quite nice. Morizot's, Cuniot, Lott etc. I'm wondering what Martin and FC think about the "trim being a differential" on older french bows.  If so, do you find that the German bows are more following this example?  Do you guys "devalue" for the silver vs nickel trimmings?

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I wonder if standards have changed? 

Maybe older silver mounted bows were just "better". Better wood, better craftsmanship, better balance. 

But...if those are rare (and becoming rarer), maybe the next level down isn't "worse" enough to be considered worse these days. Maybe that wood is still inherently better quality than newer wood because supply wasn't affected back then. Maybe the 2nd tier craftsmanship wasn't really worse - maybe what we expect has changed? Or maybe those craftsmen were better than more recent craftsmen?

Or...maybe some of those "better" bows weren't necessarily better, but just made with better materials be someone with seniority? Etc.

...early morning ramblings...

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For me there are very few cases where a nickel bow might be classed as equivalent to a silver bow, and that would be in the first 10 years or so that it was used. An early nickel Pajeot for example would not be devalued, because at that time nickel was the next big thing, very hard, and apparently better. Within 10 years everyone could see that it didn't wear nicely and it became an indicator of the lower quality of bow.

I'm sure this is the same in German making as in French.

However, it doesn't follow that nickel bows were necessarily made with less care - some makers were incapable of producing a bad bow, others incapable of producing a good one! I would say that the decision started with the wood. As I understand it, all of the busy makers and shops had a pile of roughed out sticks ... they would grab the next stick to hand, make a quick determination about its density and its visual appeal, and then decide wither it was a nickel bow, a silver bow, a gold bow, a gold and tortoiseshell bow etc.

Nickel bows, apart from the very few examples such as early 1830s Pajeots, are worth significantly less than the ostensibly identical bow in silver. The proportion will vary with the maker but generally a half to two thirds ...

When it comes to playability, the materials used for the mounts are generally not relevant, though some makers used nickel for softer sticks.

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I see good/bad  nickel/maillechort  and good/ bad silver mounted bows all the time .I think it depends who the maker is ,a good maker wouldnt change their working methods because of what mounts are going on it.  A bit rough and ready and messy chamfers etc... don`t mean they play bad.

Yes they may keep exceptional sticks for gold / silver mounts but most makers have their own opinions of which are the best sticks. Doesnt necessarily equate to lucchi readings ,which didnt exist back then anyway.

Silver is seen as some sort of precious metal along the lines of gold but for hundreds of years it been valued at 1 /15 or much less of the gold price. Especially since the gold standard was established in around 1870. The Germans were a bit more stubborn with their silver prices  despite the French and British adopting the gold standard.

Gold mounted Pajeots were often made with copper underslides  which are probably worse for the purpose than nickel silver.

Also depended on how hard up the makers were ,which was quite common amongst them. Often working for other people to be paid in wood,silver etc...

Nice photo of some of the stock left over after Bazin shop shut down. Ive seen photos of other shops where their pernanbuco stick dwarved this picture. There was never a shortage of quality wood amongst the bigger shops .

Baguettes-darchets-atelier-de-Charles-Bazin-Mirecourt-1982.jpg

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