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1902 Ladislaw Kaplan back in service after a long rest


Gary M
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A while back I posted some pictures of a very well played, and more than a little beat up, violin I was given "to work on, if I wanted it."  It turned out to be made by Ladislaw Kaplan in New York and was dated 1902 on the label. This was before he started the Kaplan String Company in Norwalk Connecticut in 1906. Yes, that Kaplan string. See the Kaplan thread on this site for more info about him. (the link is not showing here, sorry)

So this was way above my pay grade. I cleaned it up a little, took it to a couple of local luthiers and got some feedback. The one that seemed the most enthusiastic about this instrument was Rob Wilson at Wilson's Fine Violins in Birmingham Michigan. We settled on a set of "fixes" which included planing the very worn fingerboard, replacing the nut since it was just missing, peg bushings and re-gluing a couple of seams, oh and Kaplan strings of course and I left it with Rob.

I got it back today and I can't be more pleased with the results. Now understand, I am currently playing a Howard Core E10, their lowest priced model, so almost anything would be a upgrade. Don't get me wrong the E10 was the perfect instrument for me to get restarted on after almost 50 years of not playing. There was no guarantee I was going to go forward but I found a good teacher in Dr. Rebekah Brown at the School for Strings in Port Huron MI and and making some progress. I plan to continue.

Now because I am a budding maker with a couple of Mountain Dulcimers and Ukuleles behind me and a violin kit in my Amazon shopping cart I very much wanted to contribute to this endeavor in some way and since the Kaplan's chin rest was in rough shape I decided to make a new chin rest. Thanks to those here who helped with that.

(the link is not showing here, sorry)

Most importantly It sounds wonderful! I am not able to articulate specific characteristics since my experience is limited but if I am able to get some independent feedback I'll pass that on too. Rob was pleased too. The other big surprise, it is so light compared to my E10.

I love it when a beautiful old instrument is put back in service. A big thanks to Rebekah Brown and Rob Wilson for this one.

So here are some pictures of the final product.20211109_174050.thumb.jpg.15b8f31a836e61a6144a5b8433d572a4.jpg20211109_174050.thumb.jpg.15b8f31a836e61a6144a5b8433d572a4.jpg20211109_174731.thumb.jpg.1d7b67c5656cdbbc924272759fdc0150.jpg

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Edited by Gary M
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Thanks for sharing pictures of your violin. Good job on rescuing it!

It is wonderful that you have found an instrument that you are so enthusiastic about. I think a violin should delight the owner each time they open the case, and it sounds like this one does that for you. 

For future reference, would you please post a picture of the label?

The chin rest looks large and heavy, so you may want to consider trying a commercial chin rest for comparison and/or altering the one you made. 

 

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47 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

For future reference, would you please post a picture of the label?

The chin rest looks large and heavy, so you may want to consider trying a commercial chin rest for comparison and/or altering the one you made. 

 

GeorgeH Thanks for the comments. I agree with what you said including the comments about the chin rest. My plan was always to play it a while to see what other, if any, adjustments are needed then slim it down a little. My playing preference leans toward beefier models my aesthetic preference leans lighter. Hopefully I can come up with a good compromise.  

Kaplan label top.jpg

Kaplan label bottom.jpg

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  • 2 weeks later...

Gary M.!!!!


I haven't visited here in years, but so glad to see this! I am the proud owner of a Kaplan Violin (with a repaired f-hole crack - the only repair it really needed when I got it).


I don't know if I can find my photos of the instrument but if I do I'll post them. Meantime, just want to say that, if you put a mirror through your f-hole and check the block that supports the base of the neck on the inside, you might (hopefully) find a number there, which will tell you just which number, among Kaplan's handmade works it was. Mine is number 49. It has the same (or looks to be same) quality label, and was made in 1909, so you must have an earlier version. The sonorous quality of my instrument is nothing to shout about. However, the historic value of such things is minor legend, as I am sure you know.

I got my Kaplan fiddle from a friend who inherited it and asked me to see about getting it fixed. I sent it to my uncle (nobody of note) who lived close to a luthier/stringed instrument repairer.  Then my friend asked what it was worth, and I asked my uncle, who replied; "$160 - cost of repair". My friend did not want it then. He was hoping it would be a lost Strad! He wanted to sell it for thousands. So I asked if I could have it just for the repairs cost and he said yes.


Later, I believe someone from here messaged me to say they believed the instrument might be worth up to 5K given the historic vlaue and relative condition. So I contacted my friend to see if he wanted it back, because it was worth more than we'd known. But he said no, that was not near enough money to be worth the return. I have kept it ever since, with no intention to sell.

However, since my uncle, Charles Orlando, has passed away, I have considered auctioning it, so that I could use the money to pay his widow (my aunt) for a Scottish instrument that he bought on eBay (early 2000s) - the tone of which I love much, MUCH more than the Kaplan fiddle. There is a possibility that I might inherit it outright. But because of my love for my uncle, AND MY AUNT (an amazing person and excellent role model - much more accessible than my uncle) and their family, I imagine that showing the monetary value to "not be an object for me" would say much more about how much better my life has been because of them. Because I am a cheap-ass bitch. So I hope to be able and ready to buy it outright from the family, and in that case would be prepared to sell my Kaplan Fiddle, #49 of his handmades - from the NY shop in which he honed his craft.

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wee.jpg

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8 minutes ago, Lundberg said:


I don't know if I can find my photos of the instrument but if I do I'll post them. Meantime, just want to say that, if you put a mirror through your f-hole and check the block that supports the base of the neck on the inside, you might (hopefully) find a number there, which will tell you just which number, among Kaplan's handmade works it was. Mine is number 49. It has the same (or looks to be same) quality label, and was made in 1909, so you must have an earlier version. The sonorous quality of my instrument is nothing to shout about. However, the historic value of such things is minor legend, as I am sure you know.I

 

Lundberg: Thanks for your post. What a great story. I looked on the inside of mine and it is marked 10. Since it is dated 1902 and yours 1909 that would make sense. In 1906 he started the Kaplan string Company and presumably that took his attentions away from making instruments until he retired in 1946 when he is supposed to have begun making instruments again. I saw one estimate that said he made about 150 in his lifetime.

He was a fascinating guy. Inventor of one of the first machines to make wound strings in production. Holder of several patents for devices for measuring thickness. In his later career one of the first to use an oscilloscope to analyze the sound coming from the instruments and the use of "dial" calipers. Don't think he gets the credit he deserves.

Love my instrument. Sounds beautiful and "dark" with those Kaplan AMO strings. Not a Strad but still well above my pay grade.

Would like to see a picture if you can find one. Is it on the "smaller" side compared to other instruments?

 

 

Ladislav Kaplan obituary.pdf

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10 hours ago, Strad O Various Jr. said:

Looks like another Markneukirchen production violin finished in America

He came from Czechoslovakia, so it would come as no surprise if he made instruments in America using the same techniques used in his native country. It appears that he had quite an accomplished life.

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22 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

He came from Czechoslovakia, so it would come as no surprise if he made instruments in America using the same techniques used in his native country. It appears that he had quite an accomplished life.

Who on earth would make something himself, if he could get it for a fraction of the cost from his old homeland?

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7 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Who on earth would make something himself, if he could get it for a fraction of the cost from his old homeland?

Well, just look around MN, and you'll see that there are many people here who are making violins they cannot sell for even the cost of the time and materials it took to make them. This is not a 21st century phenomena.

Who on earth would make something himself, if he/she could get it for a fraction of the cost from eBay?:)

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9 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

Well, just look around MN, and you'll see that there are many people here who are making violins they cannot sell for even the cost of the time and materials it took to make them. This is not a 21st century phenomena.

Who on earth would make something himself, if he/she could get it for a fraction of the cost from eBay?:)

It helps to realise that very little was manufactured in late 19th, early 20th C America, except for autodidact amateur stuff . Far more there were scores of dealers inserting labels/stamps

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Occasionally we discussed the phenomena of Großstadtgeigen from Germany/Central Europe at the end of the 19th/first half of the 20th century. It describes exactly the same, makers and dealers using bought in Mnk/Schb trade instruments and finished them to different degrees, from graduating, varnishing, purfling to simply add their own label. One might accept that similar happened all over the world during the period. If one has seen enough of them it's possible to tell by some details like outline, scroll, arching and some more subtle features and guess with a certain probability if an instrument is made from a unaltered dozen, modified or self made to the biggest part. This applies to the so called "feine Geigen" from the Markneukirchen area, too. We tried to demonstrate this at the example of Seidel, if I remember correctly.

The Kaplans, by the photos here, I would describe as most probably unaltered Dutzendarbeiten of a better quality, maybe with the exception of the varnish.

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59 minutes ago, Blank face said:

It describes exactly the same, makers and dealers using bought in Mnk/Schb trade instruments and finished them to different degrees, from graduating, varnishing, purfling to simply add their own label.

Of course this happened. It happens today with Chinese and Romanian violins. But there were also some great and not-so-great makers of violins in America during the end of the 19th century and onward. Some were born in America and some immigrated to America. Some had workshops employing European-trained makers. To simply announce that a violin "as most probably unaltered Dutzendarbeite" without having seen any authentic examples of a maker's work (or even necessarily believing that he made any original works at all) seems dismissive.

In Mr. Kaplan's case there is actually a contemporaneous record that he made violins.  @jacobsaunders often refers to centuries-old contemporaneous records to understand the origin of violin makers and whether or not a person with such a name lived in that time and place. We have all that and more with Mr. Kaplan.

Maybe it is "unaltered Dutzendarbeite" or maybe it isn't. I am suggesting that simply because a few pictures of a violin with an American maker's label in it looks like it possibly have been made in Germany or France or wherever does not mean that it was. (Yes, it could have been!)  I realize that I may be hopelessly barking up a tree with our European friends, but I think good violins made in America deserve the same care and respect in authentication as violins made in Europe. 

From Wenberg's The Violin Makers of the United States:

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Well it looks like short of putting Jacob and Blank Face in the "Hot Tub Time Machine" and sending them back to New York in 1902 they will not be convinced. They have a point. There were probably not a lot of American makers at the time and a guy setting up shop in a new country "might" have imported some instruments from Europe to get started.  And if he did make it himself where is he going to get the plan. He had been around violins since he started playing at 7. His are going to look like all the others he has seen.

The problem is that he was one of us. An inventor. A tinkerer. A do it yourself I can do this better kind of guy. The fellow who did the repairs for me said that, "Some of the construction techniques were 'interesting'. not bad, just interesting." This was his #10 he was experimenting. He was experimenting to the end of his life with new tools and techniques.

GeorgeH is absolutely right when he says, "but I think good violins made in America deserve the same care and respect in authentication as violins made in Europe." Kaplan deserves to be recognized for what he did. Hell if not for him we might still be playing with gut strings!

In the end this is all opinion and guess what, its my violin so it is what I think that matters most. I'm not trying to buy or sell it to anyone. It was a rescue of a very nice violin that was sitting in a box next to the door of a violin school. I play it every day and am thrilled every time I open the case.

I was trained as an Economist and spent a long an successful career evaluating uncertain choices. With all of the evidence of his other instruments and accomplishments I'd give it a "He made it" within a reasonable chance of error.

Now I have to go or I am going to be late for my lesson.

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You can deceive yourself until you are blue in the face, it won’t make any difference. As BF pointed out, many, if not most “makers” here also bought Markneukirchener Ware, which they either just labelled, or at the most part tickled up a little. People like Heidegger in Linz “produced” thousands of instruments, although he never actually made one in his life. Also in smaller towns, for instance Wauschek in Krems (father & son, both called Karl) even won masses of medals, as you can see here from his label, although his production is entirely Markneukirchener Dutzendarbeit. I’m certainly glad I didn’t waste my money on George’s book, a whole volume of Dutzendarbeit with American labels and a superficial Readers Digest like text for each one:)

Wauschek Label II.jpg

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6 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

It helps to realise that very little was manufactured in late 19th, early 20th C America, except for autodidact amateur stuff . Far more there were scores of dealers inserting labels/stamps

Except these guys….

The study of early American luthiers is still in its infancy. Just because they aren’t documented yet, doesn’t mean their work didn’t exist.

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The assumption (which permeates threads like this one) that every violin seller is either a maker (x)or a dealer is false.  We have a number of MN members who do both.  Also, most dealing isn't confined to a single source or level of quality.  The indications are that it's been that way since "luthier" really meant "lutemaker".  :P

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8 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

I realize that I may be hopelessly barking up a tree with our European friends, but I think good violins made in America deserve the same care and respect in authentication as violins made in Europe. 

As Jacob explained, it's not something what applies to American violins only. There are also the German/Central European violins, makers called sometimes "Dresden", "Berlin", Wien, Budapest, Switzerland etc. etc. we can describe alike, so it's not a disparagement of "American violins" - this would be a great misconception. There are also Monzino violins of Vogtland origin, along with many other Italians made using bought in Markneukirchen parts. Fo example Sanino was mentioned here occasionally for being known to have used them.

A few things to notice about the pictured Kaplan instruments, there's the Komma of the scroll eye pointing clearly to a commercial product  - not neatly enough for a pro single maker, to clean for an amateur. There's much more to find. The rib corners flush with the outer plate, while overworked instruments have cut them shorter, the long pointy corners typical for serial building on the back, non existence of outer plate channeling and more. While one of these points alone could mean not much, all together are giving a clear impression. 

BTW there was a lot of imported American maple available in the Mnk trade, so that's a meaningless point anyway.

Dictionarys like Lüttgendorf or Wenberg, usually based on quick research are second hand opinions are giving much phrasings like "made first violin in...nice handworking...fine oil varnish...made xxx instruments" without any evidence than self descriptions or informations delivered by friends or relatives, so there's not much prove to get there.

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