Thoughts on American(?) cello, possibly circa 1800?


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This curious old cello came in for minor repairs and setup.  The owner is trying to verify its age and origin.  If the repair labels inside are to be believed, it could be from 1781 or thereabouts.

Here are the photos:  https://www.smugmug.com/gallery/n-8LLvcw

I'd love to hear any opinions or observations, especially if any details of this look familiar.  Some comments  on the construction.  There is no purfling and no corner or neck blocks.  (You can see the neck joint in one of the photos, thru the endpin hole).  There is no overstand, the end of the neck is level with the top.  The scroll has a somewhat primitive looking "tread" pattern on the back.   It also has 2 small pairs of plugged holes, whose purpose I wonder about.

I'm not sure what the highly figured wood of the ribs is. 

The oldest label, after an unreadable name says "Keene, NH.  Repaired 1881" and "known to be 100 years old" or something to that effect.  Another reads "Repaired by Geo H. Hall, March 1911", with a separate one saying "This cello is known to be 130 years old. Repaired March 1911.  W.W. Sturdevant."  (Maybe Sturdevant was the owner, who had Hall do the repair.  The Hall label is not easily visible.)   Lastly, one more label reads "Repaired by Lars Henricksen, Keene NH, 1913."  He's the only one I've been able to find anything about, and that was just that he was a carpenter in Keene.

It's a bit small, LOB 723mm.

Thanks for any thoughts.

Edited by t benson
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On 11/15/2020 at 9:03 PM, t benson said:

...one more label reads "Repaired by Lars Henricksen, Keene NH, 1913."  He's the only one I've been able to find anything about, and that was just that he was a carpenter in Keene...

I have seen two violins made by Henricksen -- 1914 and 1922.  He's the only maker from Keene on my list of NH makers.

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On 11/18/2020 at 7:38 AM, t benson said:

Thanks to everyone for the ideas.  Craig, yours does indeed have a lot in common with this one.  I can easily believe the "this cello is known to be 100 years old" really means "GrandDad brought this over with him in 1820, so it's got to be at least that old".

Sure. If the note written in 1911 says that it is known to be 130 years old that would date it to 1781. Ish.

From what I have gathered, the use of beech instead of maple for the back and ribs (in my case, the entire thing is made of beech except for the top) and the lack of purfling is an indicator that it was a less expensive instrument. Perhaps yours was shipped over her for resale in the American market like mine.

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On 11/19/2020 at 10:26 PM, t benson said:

Thanks Brad and Michael for the info and link.  Craig, did the neck joint in yours look like the one I posted, did you notice?  FWIW, dimensions of this one are pretty much identical to yours.

Not quite. I couldn't get a picture because of the angle. The block comes in and tapers but is wider at the bottom than here. It doesn't have the supporting blocks to either side either.

I would hazard a guess that its origin is similar to mine, perhaps a bit older. I'm interested in the back of the scroll with the punch mark design. I wonder if that could help in determining the origin of the instrument? Or,  was it probably a less expensive instrument and didn't have the carving go all the way to the back, and someone over here added that for effect? Interesting.

My cello has a wonderfully rich, sweet sound, and despite its detractors who have not heard it played, is a gem that bears the marks of successive owners, as this one does also. My cello is not a museum piece. It is worn but completely playable and is a treasure. I'm sure this one is also. To my mind the history of an instrument and the wear that it shows are testaments to the love bestowed upon it. Instruments that are 200+ years old are not going to be pristine. For them to be pristine would also mean that they were not loved. I will take a well loved and well used instrument over a pristine one every day and twice on Sunday.  I hope the customer enjoys this gem! I hope that you will rebush the peg holes so you can keep the pegs.

 

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On 11/22/2020 at 11:17 PM, Craig Cowing said:

I hope the customer enjoys this gem! I hope that you will rebush the peg holes so you can keep the pegs.

I believe he has enjoyed having it and learning about it, but he's not actually a cello player. I've done all I'm going to do to it, having made it playable.  I think he's interested in selling it, if anyone wants to add a very old and interesting cello to their collection.  Contact me and I'll put you in touch with him.  I think he's looking for about $1500 for it.

BTW Craig, I agree with your philosophy about "well-loved" old instruments.  Those are my favorites as well. 

Edited by t benson
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