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Albert Deblaye violin with major mudcracks in varnish. When to stop?


Michael Richwine
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I've got an Albert Deblaye violin that's physically in great shape except that it has mudcracks in the varnish about 1 cm apart down the length of the back, about 1/2 mm wide, and right down to the ground. Similar cracks on the front, but not quite as many nor as wide. It was so disfigured that in my naivete I figured I might as well see what I could do, and it turned out to be a lot of work, as the varnish cracks were long, wide and deep, and the yellow ground showed through a lot lighter than the surrounding light brown varnish.

There ensued a lot of tediously running crack-fill varnish into  the cracks, leaving it for days and days for it to dry and shrink. Building it some more, waiting more. Let harden and shrink. Scrape level once it's hard enough to scrape.  FP some coats of spirit varnish to build up a base and try to start leveling surface, wet sanding with micro-mesh & hard block. As the crack-fill ages, it shrinks, allowing me room to lay in some color to match the surrounding varnish, topcoat with coats of French polish, and level back. This may not be "the way" to do it, but that seemed to be the way that presented itself to fill and level the cracks without overbuilding or cutting through the original varnish. Always eager to hear a better way.

It's now at the point where you have to look to find the old cracks. I'm pretty sure the crack fills are going to continue to shrink as they age, over the coming months and years. I own the violin so I'm in no hurry to get it ready for a customer, but it's not doing me any good hanging on my work rack. This is an area I haven't been to before. Any recommendations as to how far to take it? In another 6 months or more, I'm guessing the fills will be pretty stable. Should I point out the repairs to potential customers?  The violin sounds and plays great! I haven't tracked my time on this, chalking much of it off to education. I think I'll be OK on it, considering how sporadically I've been at it, but OTOH it has taken quite a bit of time.

One other question: this violin has a "Japanned" fingerboard, as many of Deblayes I have seen seem to do. You dealers who are familar with the maker: Would you restore the japanning (I can, and it's not in bad shape), or just replace the fingerboard?

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26 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

What is a "Japanned" fingerboard?

Presumably, it has a coating of black lacquer?

The term 'Japanned' comes from the black (dark) lacquer used on Japanese furniture that was imitated by European craftsmen, using their own materials and techniques, and popular around C17th -18th.

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It's an exaggerated, accidental craquelure with a crack pattern that looks like drying mud, with big "islands" and wide cracks. Usually from not letting the base coats cure enough before topcoating with a faster-drying varnish. The rule of thumb in faux finishing to produce craquelure is "hard over soft". I've never seen such a pattern on a violin, though. In this case, it's mostly long, parallel cracks about 1cm apart.

And yes, Japanned is a term for black lacquer. I spent a lot of years restoring antiques, and I make the mistake of presuming everyone knows the same terms.

 

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It's hardwood, presumably maple or similar. I was a bit grossed out by it until I googled around and found a couple of Deblaye violins for sale with obviously japanned fingerboards for fairly healthy price tags. This one had held up pretty well for almost 100 years, and I hadn't run into it before, so before I tear into it, I thought I'd try to benefit from the experience of someone with broader knowledge.

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I have seen painted fingerboards, but never lacquered (or maybe I did not know better). I have heard that there was an ebony shortage in Europe around and after WWI, and that is why even some better European violins have ebony-veneered fruitwood fingerboards.

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2 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Who told you that?

A luthier friend. Seemed reasonable that ebony imports into Europe (and Germany, in particular) would have waned during that period. 

I was hoping that you might know better, one way or the other.

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1 hour ago, GeorgeH said:

A luthier friend. Seemed reasonable that ebony imports into Europe (and Germany, in particular) would have waned during that period. 

I was hoping that you might know better, one way or the other.

Early 19th.C., In the area Vienna/Pest/Prague Original fingerboards were often pine, veneered with pear wood that was painted black I illustrated the original one on my Engleder Cello here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/346698-alois-engleder-budae-1847/&do=findComment&comment=902043 or veneered with Ebony, like the Fischer Vienna viola I illustrated here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/346509-joseph-fischer-regensburhttps://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/344031- as did the Weber Prag I illustrated here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/344031-baron-l%C3%BCtgendorff-violin-lexica-eduard-emanuel-homolka-and-caspar-strnad/&do=findComment&comment=863805 Mittenwald used stained pear wood on cheaper violins, and the Salzkammergut makers used Maple painted black. I have never noticed an ebony veneered fruit wood fingerboard, and would find it nonsensical, or an invention of an American aircraft engineer

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In the modern era, at least with guitars, it was/is not uncommon to "japanify" ebony that has less than desirable coloration that is not all black.

It seems as pickens' got slim, that ebony that was not pure black and would have been rejected in the past was suddenly being used and then dyed.

This "ebony" thing was real environmental nightmare and thank gosh Bob Taylor "convinced" guitar players to see the beauty in "not solid black" ebony fingerboards , as  much of that material that was waste before is now being used.

That being said I would keep the instrument original. Unless the fingerboard is not usable because it's dished out , same with the varnish

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On 8/31/2021 at 9:23 AM, Michael Richwine said:

It's an exaggerated, accidental craquelure with a crack pattern that looks like drying mud, with big "islands" and wide cracks.

Might these be "signature features" of one maker or another, which should not be totally obliterated?

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5 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Might these be "signature features" of one maker or another, which should not be totally obliterated?

They are now!  :)

For what it's worth (it's not like I've seen a ton of them, but at least a dozen or so many years ago), I don't recall seeing anything like what's being described on any of the Deblaye instruments I ever came across... nor have I seen a blackened fingerboard on one.  What I did see was pretty straight forward Mirecourt work and finish, very evenly (almost sprayed maybe?) laid on. If it's one of those, I expect some environmental cause (heat maybe) caused the craquelure.

I suppose it's possible the shop produced, or sold, some cheaper models?  If so, I haven't seen one.

 

 

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4 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Michael, perhaps some pictures would help if possible? I mean it's not like we're asking for pics of your grannies Strad or anything :lol: {that's an inside joke} 

Hell you could see Granny's knicker's if she hadn't been dead so long... The cracks on the back weren't deliberate;DeblayeLabel.jpg.430ea0f2b9958df8adb31b5963745dcb.jpgDeblayefront.thumb.jpg.2ed114e6c48504f92d0190ac66675759.jpg I have no doubt of that. I measured, and some of them were as much as 0.8mm wide and the full length of the back, averaging about 1cm apart.  There were a LOT of them, but many are getting hard to find by now ( which is my objective). There's still a lot of work to do, and I'm thinking ahead to 5 or 20 years down the line. These cracks were all the way through the varnish and the base coats were shining through, pretty bright yellow.

I'm debating how much more time to put into the top, since the cracks don't look anywhere near as bad there.

I tested the "paint" on the fingerboard, and a little alcohol on cotton brings up color, typical japanning for 1925. It only shows a little wear, so I can pretty easily bring that back to "as new" condition. The question is, which course makes more sense? 

BTW, I can light these with a harder light if that will help. It might pick out the cracks better. I used umbrellas on these shots because that's what I had set up.

Deblayeback.jpg

Deblayeside.jpg

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yes, unfortunately it looks like someone went out of their way to recreate a sorta accurate representation.

That being said nice fiddle, I'd just clean it with Jacobs Camphor cleaning solution and call it done, but well now maybe there's bigger issues  

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Had me fooled!  Thanks, Jeffrey! Fortunately, I don't have any cash in it; it was worthless when I started.  I took it on as a learning project and "in-between" job, the sort of thing you pick up for half an hour here and there,  to discover what I could do with it and sort of fell down a rat hole.  I did string it up and play it to see whether it was worth taking any further. It sounds decent with a preliminary setup..

That sure answered my question, though!

I suppose the best thing would be to soak or scrape the label out?  I don't bother on trade violins, but this seems like a good enough fake to fool somebody. Never ran into this before. I can sell it for what it is with no label as a fiddle and make out fine. I wouldn't feel so good if I ever saw that label come around again.

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Why in the world would anyone fake a Deblaye? What's to be gained? They're all over the bottom end, price-wise, from $300 to a couple thousand on Tarisio, and even bottom-end JTL are bringing that kind of money, so I didn't even spend much energy checking this one out. I googled a bit, checked some examples and some labels and quit worrying about it while I proceded to see what I could do with it. I'm not so sure whether I've gained or lost anything by taking out the label. Any way you cut it, it's a so-so Mirecourt fiddle.

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40 minutes ago, Michael Richwine said:

Why in the world would anyone fake a Deblaye? What's to be gained? They're all over the bottom end, price-wise, from $300 to a couple thousand on Tarisio, and even bottom-end JTL are bringing that kind of money, so I didn't even spend much energy checking this one out. I googled a bit, checked some examples and some labels and quit worrying about it while I proceded to see what I could do with it. I'm not so sure whether I've gained or lost anything by taking out the label. Any way you cut it, it's a so-so Mirecourt fiddle.

Same reason they fake Invicta and low budget Seiko watches, cause you can get more for it and there's a real good chance no one will question "lower" level makers , say things like "who would fake so and so" , like you just did :) kinda a bummer, but It's always good to let Sherlock take a look at it, and well , shoot, you'll definitely get something for it, anyways good to see you here, haven't seen you in awhile.

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