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Query re: Identifying good quality Ebony


PhilipKT
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This is a frog on a bow that is being offered in the latest T2 auction, I’m posting here instead of the auction scroll because I’m not interested in the bow, but in learning about Ebony.

This wood seems to have noticeable grain and doesn’t seem to be the uniform jet black that I have always associated with good quality ebony.

It’s possible it could be just dirty or older not terribly well cared for, but I’m wondering if this is a good piece of Ebony, and why or why not?

 

27444A87-9C41-4214-AB2D-952F998CA865.jpeg

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42 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Perfectly good ..,

There was a time when bows weren’t sold through online photos!

Martin I have the absolute greatest respect for your opinion, so I am entirely happy to except as gospel anything you say. Having said that, to my eyes, the Ebony in the first photograph is grainy, has streaks of brown, appears to be, I guess porous is the word, Because it doesn’t appear very dense.

The Ebony in this photograph looks very uniformly black, doesn’t have any visible grain or pores, and is rather glossy.

I understand that the photographs themselves may be different, but even allowing for that, this appears to be a much better looking piece of wood.

If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that in terms of quality there is no difference?

906A9572-1B38-46FE-8A04-DFBD76311483.jpeg

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1 minute ago, martin swan said:

No, there is clearly a difference. I’m saying that if it was a 19th century bow (which your example seems to be) I would not make any assumptions based on the quality of the ebony as perceived by a 21st century sensibility …

I think it’s just a MK German factory Bow, And as I said I have no interest in it, but I am unsure about whether I understand you correctly. Are you saying that when the bow was made they have different standards of quality than they do now?

I am unclear as to whether time has any difference on initial quality, So I apologize for not understanding your comment.

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Just now, martin swan said:

For example a Persoit or Eury or even a Dominique Peccate is more likely than not to have a significant knot in the stick which would be anathema to any maker post 1860 or so …

Does that mean they used poor pernambuco?

 

Hmm. Maybe?  Maybe they didn't have a choice? Limited supply? Maybe it just didn't matter to the consumer?

Good question.

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Just now, Rue said:

Hmm. Maybe?  Maybe they didn't have a choice? Limited supply? Maybe it just didn't matter to the consumer?

Good question.

They didn’t have limited choice. The early makers had access to fabulous wood from old growth forests. 

It didn’t matter to the consumer if there was the odd shake or knot. It’s only a concern for modern makers (and buyers) …

 

 

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3 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

This is a frog on a bow that is being offered in the latest T2 auction, I’m posting here instead of the auction scroll because I’m not interested in the bow, but in learning about Ebony.

This wood seems to have noticeable grain and doesn’t seem to be the uniform jet black that I have always associated with good quality ebony.

It’s possible it could be just dirty or older not terribly well cared for, but I’m wondering if this is a good piece of Ebony, and why or why not?

 

27444A87-9C41-4214-AB2D-952F998CA865.jpeg

Much of the appearance, and more at photos, depends of how the ebony was treated. This one looks as if it was polished with some chalk or lime, leaving whitish residue in the pores. You could treat it now with black shoe polish if you want to have a shiny deep black surface.

As Martin said, with such categories you would miss nearly all of the great French 19th century makers, and the OP bow is most likely not a Markneukirchen in my eyes.

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43 minutes ago, martin swan said:

For example a Persoit or Eury or even a Dominique Peccate is more likely than not to have a significant knot in the stick which would be anathema to any maker post 1860 or so …

Does that mean they used poor pernambuco?

 

Doesn’t it?

And they were able to have a successful result anyway? It seems to me that a piece of wood is either good or not, and a great maker would rather have a good piece of wood, But even if he doesn’t he can still make a great bow. So it seems logical that wood is good or bad, but a good maker can make a good bow even out of a lesser stick.

But that wouldn’t change whether the word itself was best quality or not

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19 minutes ago, Blank face said:

Much of the appearance, and more at photos, depends of how the ebony was treated. This one looks as if it was polished with some chalk or lime, leaving whitish residue in the pores. You could treat it now with black shoe polish if you want to have a shiny deep black surface.

As Martin said, with such categories you would miss nearly all of the great French 19th century makers, and the OP bow is most likely not a Markneukirchen in my eyes.

It’s Lot 418 if you care to check, I thought it might be German because it looks exactly like an MK factory bow owned by one of my students. But that was just a guess on my part, And it’s irrelevant to my question,

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34 minutes ago, martin swan said:

They didn’t have limited choice. The early makers had access to fabulous wood from old growth forests. 

It didn’t matter to the consumer if there was the odd shake or knot. It’s only a concern for modern makers (and buyers) …

Are you certain there wasn't limited choice?

I would have thought it was more difficult to import materials back then and that there was a "waste not want not" mentality.

Maybe they wouldn't select a "less than perfect" piece of wood to make a bow for a royal patron, but for the rest of us? Why waste the wood if the consumer wasn't fussy?

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The reason I asked is because there must be some objective standards which define a piece of wood as good or not good. @Blank facementioned that for photo purposes you can make a piece of Ebony look good with some black shoe polish, which may be true but is deceptive, and doesn’t really address the question.

The particular piece of Ebony on the OP bow didn’t look like very good quality Ebony to me, so I asked whether it was or not. 

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There was a vast amount of wood brought from colonies in ships for various purposes, dyeing, cabinetry etc. Depends if we're talking about pernambuco or ebony but both were far more plentiful, ebony was used in quantity from the mid 1600s.

A lot of ebony looks a bit manky unless you polish and oil it.

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37 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

there must be some objective standards which define a piece of wood as good or not good

That strikes me as a bold assumption. We makers can barely agree on anything, and certainly not what constitutes "good" wood. Moreover, you seem to be conflating aesthetically pleasing, uniform looking, easy to work, well functioning, and maybe a few other qualities all into one metric. Wood is rarely that obliging.

Why would pretty ebony be better? Especially since brown streaks are not necessarily a sign of anything structural one way or another and surface texture is easily altered by polishing, sanding, whatever.

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1 hour ago, Jedidjah de Vries said:

That strikes me as a bold assumption. We makers can barely agree on anything, and certainly not what constitutes "good" wood. Moreover, you seem to be conflating aesthetically pleasing, uniform looking, easy to work, well functioning, and maybe a few other qualities all into one metric. Wood is rarely that obliging.

Why would pretty ebony be better? Especially since brown streaks are not necessarily a sign of anything structural one way or another and surface texture is easily altered by polishing, sanding, whatever.

I don’t think it’s bold at all. Why do we say that this piece of wood is more beautiful than that one? Unless we have an agreed standard? And, for instance, if being dense is good, a piece that is more dense than the other one is better than the other one?

Paul Childs wrote papers for one of my bows and he specifically mentioned that it was “a superior piece of wood.” Now why would he say that if there wasn’t something for it to be superior to? 

Martins point was that the quality of the wood didn’t necessarily have any bearing on the quality of the finished product, And I never questioned that.
I was only asking for some guidance on recognizing good quality ebony.

 

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You’re still confusing “good quality” with “it’s optical pleasing me”, but ignoring that this can be properties being independent from each other. Ebony isn’t one particular species, but assembles different trees from different continents. Many German certificates for example are stating that a quality frog is made of Mauritius Ebenholz, while others are telling that such a claim can be hardly verified without an RNA analysis.

Paul Childs has the right to tell a certain wood superior just because he is Paul Childs, and not anybody else.

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49 minutes ago, Blank face said:

You’re still confusing “good quality” with “it’s optical pleasing me”, but ignoring that this can be properties being independent from each other. Ebony isn’t one particular species, but assembles different trees from different continents. Many German certificates for example are stating that a quality frog is made of Mauritius Ebenholz, while others are telling that such a claim can be hardly verified without an RNA analysis.

Paul Childs has the right to tell a certain wood superior just because he is Paul Childs, and not anybody else.

Thank you for your kind reply. Up above I shared two photographs of Ebony frogs. Given what we have already discussed about photos and such, and ignoring which frog is more attractive, is it possible to tell whether the Ebony of one frog is better quality wood than the Ebony of the other frog?

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I don't know the truth of this bit of history, but supposedly Pernambuco was shipped over as ballast in boats from the New World, as dye wood. The French bow makers could go down to the docks and pick from mountains of the stuff what they wanted to use, with no competition from any other trade (the dyers certainly didn't care about grain). Given that, what they used was by their own definition "good wood". I doubt they give a rat's ass what anyone else thinks about that. If you don't like what they used, perhaps YOUR opinion is the problem.

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3 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

I was only asking for some guidance on recognizing good quality ebony.

Hi.  Perhaps it would help if you listed the properties of 'good quality' ebony.  Then you could ask if anyone knows whether the visible characteristics of your example ebony are correlated with those properties.  The more general question is if there are any observable differences among grades of ebony (once criteria for different grades are identified).  If you're not sure what 'good quality' ebony is, maybe that should be your first question - and of course I don't mean to be rude by suggesting this.

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17 minutes ago, Dr. Mark said:

Hi.  Perhaps it would help if you listed the properties of 'good quality' ebony.  Then you could ask if anyone knows whether the visible characteristics of your example ebony are correlated with those properties.  The more general question is if there are any observable differences among grades of ebony (once criteria for different grades are identified).  If you're not sure what 'good quality' ebony is, maybe that should be your first question - and of course I don't mean to be rude by suggesting this.

That’s exactly the reason for my question, wasn’t that obvious? I showed a picture of an Ebony frog and asked if it was good quality wood. 

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7 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

is it possible to tell whether the Ebony of one frog is better quality wood than the Ebony of the other frog?

No, not by this photos. If a frog isn't split or broken after supposedly 100 years one can assume that it is of a good quality, at least.

Speaking of experience, I found that the open pored ebony one can find with many of the older French frogs is relatively hard and stable, while the smooth and glossy deep black of Markneukirchen mass production is often broken. Not to mention the quality which looks even and homogenic, but starts to crumble when you're trying to carve it.

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To put another twist on this: when I look into my supply catalog I find fingerboard banks listed at a number of quality grades. This is also reflected in huge price differences.

The supplier is obviously grading the quality of the ebony… what are characteristics one can expect from a low grade fingerboard blank vs. a high grade blank? What are the criteria?

Maybe this brings the question more to the wood rather than the art and history of bow making.

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