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Curious about violin ID


Jonathan B

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Thanks @Bridget King.

There seems to be a general belief that the "Paolo Fiorini" and "Andrea Fiorini" lines of violins are equivalent, and as I pointed out above if online auction and sale records are a guide the two names didn't overlap with the change happening in 1915. They were apparently the highest grade of "own brand" violins sold by Beare & Son: after we bought our violin I sent a speculative email to the current incarnation of that company and the violin expert there kindly replied quoting information from an old catalogue they had. The Fiorini lines were sold for over 10 times the price of a basic student violin (which were presumably what @jacobsaunders calls Dutzenarbeit). That would be consistent with your idea that they were made by chosen craftsmen working to specific requirements, even if both sorts were made in the same Markneukirchen region of Germany and shared a basic construction style.

My fanciful speculation that the selection of craftsmen and provision of specifications might have been carried out up to 1915 on behalf of Beares by the Rieger & Fiorini company (based in Munich, a train ride from Markneukirchen) has sadly been debunked by the experts here.

I am pleased to hear you also think these are decent instruments. While I have no expertise at all, by working with my daughter through something like 40 different violins on sale I did develop some discrimination, and when we tried this it stood head and shoulders above any of the others in our modest price range. It is especially good to know it is up to the standards of a full time professional violinist, even if used as a second (teaching) instrument rather than for performance. I wonder how one would be evaluated by one of the experts here who see large numbers of violins across a wide quality spectrum.

It also raises another question. While this forum is very informative about the features typical of violins from different violin-making traditions, what are the features that might enable distinction within the wide quality range among violins from Markneukirchen? Or indeed other centres.

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39 minutes ago, Jonathan B said:

The Fiorini lines were sold for over 10 times the price of a basic student violin (which were presumably what @jacobsaunders calls Dutzenarbeit).

In the year 1871, the Handels- und Gewerbekammer Plauen did a survey about the Violiin trade in the Saxon area (Vogtland). They counted 2843 employees in this area, 242 Stringed instrument makers 254 Bow makers and 213 makers of parts. The instruments come in a wide range of price points. Odinäre violins in price ranges between 18 and 30 Mark per dozen, Mittlere in the price ranges of 30 to 144 Marks per dozen, fine, with and prices up to 100 Marks each.

Beare & Son was (is) a wholesaler in England who had various lines of violins from there, but also from France (Mirecourt), so that your fiddle is a “trade violin” from a higher pricce range. “Dutzendarbeit” comes from most of them having being supplied to the trade in dozens.

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1 hour ago, Jonathan B said:

what are the features that might enable distinction within the wide quality range among violins from Markneukirchen? Or indeed other centres.

This question is always a matter of personal experience and subjective judgements. Though there might be some features to seperate different grades very roughly (f.e. presence or absence of real purfling, flamed vs. plain wood, crude toolmarks or smooth finsih etc.) it's difficult or impossible to agree about a more detailled graduation. At least it very often depends of a person is seller or buyer. Some branding systems like by EH Roth or Juzek (to name two wholesaler firms) were trying to give the illusion that this might be possible, but one could rightfully say that these were just this - an illusion by a clever marketing method.

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

Some branding systems like by EH Roth or Juzek (to name two wholesaler firms) were trying to give the illusion that this might be possible, but one could rightfully say that these were just this - an illusion by a clever marketing method.

If one wants to try to distinguish what violin belongs to what grade, it is useful to read the descriptors the retailers of the time used to market their violins at various price points. Most of these violins were sold through mail-order.

A perusal of the pre-WII retail catalogs of the U.S. music houses shows that some did distinguish their individual product models with descriptions of visible attributes, and priced them accordingly. Sometimes there were price differences ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars for different models in the same product line. 

Looking at many of these instruments today, it can be challenging or impossible to determine what model matched which catalog description because the descriptions are nebulous. Some importers and workshops included model names or numbers on their labels that can be traced back to their catalog listings, but most just slapped generic Strad or GDG labels in their dutzendarbeit fiddles, and priced them according to their appearance, materials of construction, and alleged "tone." 

I would assume that the wholesalers of these violins also graded them when they sold them "by the dozen" with some lots costing more than others.

Here is a page from the Wurlitzer catalog, 1922 showing their "Conservatory" product line. The prices range from $15 to $100. If you came upon one of these instruments today, it would be a challenge to determine which exact model it was based on the catalog marketing descriptions, but one could presumably distinguish the cheapest models from the more expensive ones.

2023-12-07_08-34-42.jpg

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On 4/22/2023 at 2:39 AM, Marty Kasprzyk said:

t might be helpful if somebody could draw a map of Europe showing the places where all these various old violins came from.  And where it moved over time.

This indeed would be most useful

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That huge range of wholesale prices documented by @jacobsaunders does imply there must be some significant differences, whether in the quality of materials used, the skill (and pay) of the craftsmen, or the construction time allocated per instrument.

@GeorgeH's interesting catalogue extract helps slightly. All of the violins are described as having excellent tone, in different words, so one assumes that is advertising hype. The lower priced examples only include descriptions of the varnish colour and polish, further up the price range the features of the wood are described (by the way, was it the case that Saxon makers sourced spruce from Italy?) So quality of materials was probably indeed a determinant of price, I wonder if that correlates with other indicators of overall quality.

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2 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

You can put that at the "marketing blurb" end

Thanks. The dendrochronologists would probably be able to answer the question, but I assume not too many owners of Markeneukirchen instruments pay for an analysis.

In any case, I imagine the range of hills on the German-Czech border (as it now is) is not short of its own trees.

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12 minutes ago, Jonathan B said:

Thanks. The dendrochronologists would probably be able to answer the question, but I assume not too many owners of Markeneukirchen instruments pay for an analysis.

In any case, I imagine the range of hills on the German-Czech border (as it now is) is not short of its own trees.

And wood from those forests around the German-Czech border was used in Italian instruments too. 

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37 minutes ago, Jonathan B said:

Thanks. The dendrochronologists would probably be able to answer the question, but I assume not too many owners of Markeneukirchen instruments pay for an analysis.

In any case, I imagine the range of hills on the German-Czech border (as it now is) is not short of its own trees.

Ekkard Seidl in Markneukirchen does dendrochronological testing. They claim to have one of the largest sample collections of Vogtland instruments in their dendro database. Might be worth speaking to them if you're interested.

https://seidlgeigen.com/dendrochronologie/

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1 hour ago, Jonathan B said:

All of the violins are described as having excellent tone, in different words, so one assumes that is advertising hype.

From Wurlitzer 1922:

"A tone of solo qualities; one that tingles under the fingers and inspires the violinist to do his best."

You think that is hype? :D

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14 hours ago, Bridget King said:

Firstly, I want to say to you that you should disregard the term "German Trade Violin."

I think nobody in this thread used this term? There were a lot of distinctions and references to former discussion and explanations, reading them could have saved you another lot of time and effort.

7 hours ago, Jonathan B said:

@GeorgeH, my confidence is lessened by the knowledge that I could have had "strong and brilliant, yet smooth and rich" for one sixth the price. In fact all of them sound desirable from the tone descriptions.

Also the descriptions of “excellent workmanship, polished varnish and concert Stradivarius model” are more or less identical, beside some more adjectives were used for the more money. So one can get the impression that the price tag was the only difference between all the models.:)

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43 minutes ago, Blank face said:

I think nobody in this thread used this term?

You are correct, no one used this term "German Trade Violin" prior to Bridget King's post.  I am guilty of using this term, but didn't do it here.  I generally just say "trade violin" which is no better, and encompasses a huge area. 

Being distanced in the US, and being familiar with so many mass exports from the region, and having no real knowledge of differences, it's easy to say "trade violin" to mean low quality from Europe... massive abbreviation for things deserving finer attention to detail.  But ironically, everyone says "the usual" which is somehow better?

I can tell from the photos that this one has a very warm rusty brown tone that is hot on the treble and bass end.  :lol:

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35 minutes ago, iburkard said:

But ironically, everyone says "the usual" which is somehow better?

“The usual” refers rather precisely to violins made by the Markneukirchen/Schönbach cottage industry around the late 19th/early 20th century and not to any undefined “trade” of unknown places or periods, so it’s very different.

No offense intended, but the same advice I gave the other poster I would give to you- study a bit from topics being discussed many times before, what could help you out.

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2 hours ago, Blank face said:

“The usual” refers rather precisely to violins made by the Markneukirchen/Schönbach cottage industry around the late 19th/early 20th century and not to any undefined “trade” of unknown places or periods, so it’s very different.

No offense intended, but the same advice I gave the other poster I would give to you- study a bit from topics being discussed many times before, what could help you out.

This thread totally makes sense, and I'm with you...

Expecting anyone other than MN friends to understand the specificity of "the usual" is more than a little optimistic - but at least most of you give some context.

If there is some great visual/reference book, I'd be interested.

As far as any shame for using the term "trade violin" I still don't feel too badly about it.  Living in a place that imported hundreds of thousands of random European instruments through trade catalogs, it makes sense until I have time to learn more.  When something looks higher grade I tend to avoid making comments, since that is when I want to learn about origin.

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17 hours ago, Shelbow said:

Ekkard Seidl in Markneukirchen does dendrochronological testing. They claim to have one of the largest sample collections of Vogtland instruments in their dendro database. Might be worth speaking to them if you're interested.

https://seidlgeigen.com/dendrochronologie/

I took @Shelbow's advice, and Frau (Petra) Seidl did me the honour of replying to my email despite its schoolboy German. It would seem that it isn't uncommon for Vogtlandische violins to contain wood from other areas of Germany such as the Baviarian Alps, but rare to encounter Italian wood.

(vor einhundert Jahren wurden hauptsächlich Fichtenhölzer aus dem Bayerischen Wald, Nordalpen und dem näheren Umfeld (Vogtland, Erzgebirge, Böhmerwald, Thüringen) verwendet. Fichte aus Italien kommt selten vor bei Instrumenten, die über Großhändler verkauft wurden).

That would seem to confirm @jacobsaunders's assertion that the Wurlitzer descriptions are largely marketing blurb.

 

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"Trade violin" (or bow) most certainly carries a negative connotation with most people; and more often than not it is used in this understanding.

How inadequate this can be illustrates my favourite example of a "trade bow".

You may have heard of the French bow maker E. Sartory? Well, he made "trade bows", supplied unbranded to E. Gaertner in Germany, where they were branded as Gaertner before they were sold. Gaertner also sourced bows from H.R. Pfretzschner among others, but didn't make bows in his shop. So the Gaertner bows are "just trade bows".

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