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Holmdale ("Art Nouveau") Violin pictures


Michael Richwine

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22 minutes ago, Blank face said:

Could you show some photos of identical cracking at furnitures? The picture shown in the other thread was very different in my eyes, and though I#ve seen a lot of crackling at old furniture shellac, too, it never looked like this varnish.

The other problem is that this person isn't recorded anywhere as a violin maker - to prove that it's really by him one would need to find some more believable violins to compare. OTOH this one looks like made by a professionel trained maker, not by an autodidactical artist who made occasionally a handful of violins, so there should be more to find.

 

First, it puzzles me, too, since the work is very sure handed, and doesn't show any of the usual tell-tales of untrained or inexperienced work, OTOH, the carving on the head is highly skilled as well, and shows the effect of long training and considerable talent. There's also the thought that there was a pretty active VM community in New York around 1900, and Holmdale could have made any number of violins in collaboration with mentors or others, that he didn't preserve for whatever reason. Just because we haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Doesn't mean it does, either, so IMHO it's best to remain neutral. Nobody ever saw a coelecanth until they caught one.

I'll endeavor to find such a sample, but I'll soon know for sure whether the varnish tests out as straight shellac. I mostly encountered that kind of stuff 50-60 years ago, and it's not near as common nowadays. We didn't bother to record it, because it was just a nuisance, and it's likely been mitigated by now. I don't know whether one can even find Amalgosol any more, but the condition was common enough in the 1950s that there was a DIY product to help remedy it, and I used it as a teen-ager. Worked pretty well for an unskilled, untrained doofus.

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39 minutes ago, Blank face said:

Is there a prove that this is from 1920? Or is it just what the internet or some spurious inscription is saying? That's exactly the definition of the problem.

The instrument was in hand, from an active older player in Atlanta, documented in 1926 and later, player died in ~1940, so we know that it's at least 1920s.  He was not a famous player, just a local musician, fiddler.

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9 minutes ago, iburkard said:

Chair back in my home, same era:image.thumb.png.83a3219a4f5e52291b284d2f2c283236.png

That's just the sort of thing I would have chosen as an example. Easy to date. Only thing is, it might just be early post WWI nitrocellulose. Either way, it's easy to test, and is removed with mild solvent removers. I never bothered to test it, since I was never interested in preservng it before. Guess we'll find out for sure now. I have all the requisite solvents on hand. Just need to pick a spot to start.

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1 hour ago, iburkard said:

The instrument was in hand, from an active older player in Atlanta, documented in 1926 and later, player died in ~1940, so we know that it's at least 1920s.  He was not a famous player, just a local musician, fiddler.

I would rather guess that it's older than 1920s, but that's not to tell by the pictures or oral reports. The photo of the chair looks of course similar, has it a red color like the violin varnish or was it transparent?

1 hour ago, Michael Richwine said:

First, it puzzles me, too, since the work is very sure handed, and doesn't show any of the usual tell-tales of untrained or inexperienced work, OTOH, the carving on the head is highly skilled as well, and shows the effect of long training and considerable talent. There's also the thought that there was a pretty active VM community in New York around 1900, and Holmdale could have made any number of violins in collaboration with mentors or others, that he didn't preserve for whatever reason. Just because we haven't seen something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Doesn't mean it does, either, so IMHO it's best to remain neutral. Nobody ever saw a coelecanth until they caught one.

I'll endeavor to find such a sample, but I'll soon know for sure whether the varnish tests out as straight shellac. I mostly encountered that kind of stuff 50-60 years ago, and it's not near as common nowadays. We didn't bother to record it, because it was just a nuisance, and it's likely been mitigated by now. I don't know whether one can even find Amalgosol any more, but the condition was common enough in the 1950s that there was a DIY product to help remedy it, and I used it as a teen-ager. Worked pretty well for an unskilled, untrained doofus.

What I'm interested in would be the question if this kind of varnish was still used in the early 20th century, and if so, it can have the same appearance as at an older instrument. Or wether there was a different varnish used (like you wrote nitrocellulose or something alike) which more or less accidentally now looks alike. The best would be to find similar and believable signed instruments from the same period and area.

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30 minutes ago, Blank face said:

I would rather guess that it's older than 1920s, but that's not to tell by the pictures or oral reports. The photo of the chair looks of course similar, has it a red color like the violin varnish or was it transparent?

The violin is probably older, but being conservative puts us in 1920.  We could push back to 1910 or 1900 -- seems that he started playing much later in life.  He was born in 1886, died at age 54.

I'm not sure what the intended color of the chair or violin varnish was.  We would assume not opaque?   :lol:

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Shellac was originally used for its color, originally garnet or purple. Bleaching came later. I'm not an authority; never had need to learn a lot more. One usually gains that through direct experience, and we're getting pretty specialized here. Looks like I'm about to find out more.

I have used seedlac and others for antique restoration on mid-19th century furniture, but never done comparison panels to compare color build. Think that would be relevant now.

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FYI, I found another folder of photos of this instrument, interior only.  There was a pencil or ink inscription that showed up with UV, 1928.  We all know that written notes are dubious, but there was nothing else inside.  Only 1928, no name, no remnants of a label/glue. It was not written through the F, very neat.

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I just tested with a swab dampened in ethanol, and the varnish came right up, very dark, just like the old finishes I remember working on. I'd call that pretty definitive. iburkard, you might want to try that on your chair, on a drip or a hidden spot. Just a damp swab for starters with 190 proof. Mine picked up color strongly in less than 30 seconds.

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1 hour ago, Blank face said:

I would rather guess that it's older than 1920s, but that's not to tell by the pictures or oral reports. The photo of the chair looks of course similar, has it a red color like the violin varnish or was it transparent?

What I'm interested in would be the question if this kind of varnish was still used in the early 20th century, and if so, it can have the same appearance as at an older instrument. Or wether there was a different varnish used (like you wrote nitrocellulose or something alike) which more or less accidentally now looks alike. The best would be to find similar and believable signed instruments from the same period and area.

I think that's settled. It is what it appears to be, until further facts arise. Speculation is pointless in the absence of new information. The varnish on the instrument comes up readily on a swab dampened with ethanol and behaves exactly like the heaps of furniture and architectural trim that I had refinished over the years. I expect that Iburkard's chair will test the same.  It will be interesting to see what Ron Ashby at Shellac.net chooses to contribute about the evolution of shellac as a product, and the chemistry of the breakdown, because old spirit varnishes don't break down like this. I used to know the guy in charge of furniture preservation at the Smithsonian, but lost touch when I got serious health problems and closed the furniture restoration business in 2004. 

I'll get some samples of various dark shellacs and prepare a sample board; I'll have to in preparation for this project. I have a plan of attack coming together.

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57 minutes ago, Michael Richwine said:

I think that's settled. It is what it appears to be, until further facts arise. Speculation is pointless in the absence of new information. The varnish on the instrument comes up readily on a swab dampened with ethanol and behaves exactly like the heaps of furniture and architectural trim that I had refinished over the years. I expect that Iburkard's chair will test the same.  It will be interesting to see what Ron Ashby at Shellac.net chooses to contribute about the evolution of shellac as a product, and the chemistry of the breakdown, because old spirit varnishes don't break down like this. I used to know the guy in charge of furniture preservation at the Smithsonian, but lost touch when I got serious health problems and closed the furniture restoration business in 2004. 

I'll get some samples of various dark shellacs and prepare a sample board; I'll have to in preparation for this project. I have a plan of attack coming together.

I'll see if I can find some remote spot to test.  I'm not really inclined to polish an area, since I basically know the result will be the same.  I chose not to polish this chair on purpose.   :)  It's rough to the touch, but looks nice IMHO. 

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9 hours ago, Michael Richwine said:

It's not a label. Have you ever tried to write with India ink and a nib pen on the inside of an assembled violin rib? Harder than you might think. I worked as a civil engineering draftsman in my youth, and I can't do a good job of it. Here's an actual handmadeLabel.thumb.jpg.9c2117bcf4a9ef5792e967435174ca88.jpg label. I can get a better image, but the label is heavily stained and very low contrast.

The draft registration card provided earlier by fiddlecollector states that Holmdahl was employed by "Famous Play(ers) Film Co." in Fort Lee, NJ.  Fort Lee was "Hollywood" before Hollywood was even a thing, as Hollywood later became the center of film production in the US to escape from Thomas Edison's film patents' reach.  Famous Players Film Co. was the predecessor to Paramount Studios.  Between 1914-1918 Europe stopped making movies because ingredients for making celluoid film were rationed to make gunpowder.  This allowed the US film studios unprecedented opportunity to expand. 

So many 1918 samples (when Holmdahl should have been innudated with film set work) remind me of "Johann Baptist Schweitzer 1814" labels.

As a scenic artist Holmdahl had to be intimately familiar with how various media would have interacted with wood (longevity/crazing of varnish not withstanding).  Frankly it's preposterous he might have selected something like India ink (spreading and running into pores) to write on the rib.

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35 minutes ago, Hempel said:

T Frankly it's preposterous he might have selected something like India ink (spreading and running into pores) to write on the rib.

Could you be getting carried away? Where do you see ink spreading and running into pores? When I worked as a draftsman, I never noted any problem with India ink spreading, especially on a sealed (stained) surface. The photo is abysmal because I didn't bother to light it better or dig out a better endoscope. Who else do you suggest may  have written that, and why? I assure you the body hasn't likely been opened; I've opened a LOT of violins and have an idea what to look for. What would be the motive or profit?

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15 hours ago, Michael Richwine said:

I think that's settled. It is what it appears to be, until further facts arise. Speculation is pointless in the absence of new information. The varnish on the instrument comes up readily on a swab dampened with ethanol and behaves exactly like the heaps of furniture and architectural trim that I had refinished over the years.

I don't think that it settles anything else than that the varnish solves in alcohol after a while, like all varnishes do. My point was if it's the same as at the 19th century Mittenwald and British making or something different.

I would be more curious about the inside work, also about a more close look of the rib joints.

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3 hours ago, Blank face said:

I don't think that it settles anything else than that the varnish solves in alcohol after a while, like all varnishes do. My point was if it's the same as at the 19th century Mittenwald and British making or something different.

I would be more curious about the inside work, also about a more close look of the rib joints.

I sell quite a few early-to-mid 19th Century Mittenwald Verleger violins. My customers like what I can get out of them, a lot, so I buy all I can find. My favorite everyday player is a "Matthias Neuner" dated 1810 with everything date appropriate, and I have probably 4 or 5 Neuners, and "Neuner& Hornsteiners", dated from 1806 to the 1870s in various states of readiness, They have withstood various levels of abuse. The best sounding one, I got on auction for $375, it looked so awful, but I have a customer waiting for it now. The varnish on this American fiddle is nothing like what you find on any of the Mittenwald fiddles, IMO. Please bear in mind that decades of actual hands experience and study, and mentoring from suppliers coatings chemists, and formal training from manufacturers like Lily, Mohawk, Guardsman, and the Furniture Medic franchise gives me a certain level of expertise when it comes to coatings. I had a wife and two sisters, about the same size and age, but I never had any trouble telling them apart. It's like that with most finishes for me, simply due to long familiarity. This is shellac. I still need to run some sample boards and so some further research to find out more about exactly what variety and grade, and to learn more about why and how early commercial offerings of shellac degrades do badly when "properly" prepared shellac doesn't act that way at all.

I'll measure the corner block proportions and see what else I can see with my better scope and better light. You can't see any rib joint lines; the ribs are squared off and about 1.8mm thick, and  I doubt I'll be taking the top off just to look. It'snever been off before, and while I may have to loosen the upper bout, I'm reluctant to do even that. It may take a while. 

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It seems that we are talking at cross purpose here. My question really wasn't about if it's composed from shellac or something else.

This alligatored/blackened varnish is commonly regarded as and observed at 19th century Mittenwald and English violins, as I wrote several times before. In the threads I linked before this was widely discussed, showing examples and giving links to (for example) Kennedy instruments, a blog entry by Dave Slight discussing it at a mid 19th Mittenwald cello and a lot more. Below once again some pics from a 1829 date Knilling 7/8 I once had. Maybe this is unknown to you, but just a fact. It is furthermore assumed that the makers noticed the unfortunate detoriation a long time before the end of the 19th century and stopped the use of this varnish. Therefore it's a surprise to see it at an early 20th century presumed American violin, even more if you have "brothers and sisters" of this looking alike. Maybe they are also older Mittenwalds or British?

Another observation I made that this is often applied at a glue ground, making it chip off just by wetting it with water.

So if you are saying that you are familiar with the Mittenwald varnish as pictured below, but at your violin it is something completely different, that would be what I want to know.

IMG_6893.JPG

IMG_6894.JPG

IMG_6895.JPG

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"The best would be to find similar and believable signed instruments from the same period and area."

I'm not sure what you mean by believable.  Based on what we know of the 1920s violin from Atlanta, and Michael's 1918 violin from NY, they have a similar color and have failed in a similar way.

Was it truly observations about varnish failure that changed the ingredients of Mittenwald varnish (to avoid alligatoring)?  Or was it changes in supply/material sources, and we have the luxury of looking back and seeing differences?

 

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4 hours ago, Blank face said:

It seems that we are talking at cross purpose here. My question really wasn't about if it's composed from shellac or something else.

This alligatored/blackened varnish is commonly regarded as and observed at 19th century Mittenwald and English violins, as I wrote several times before. In the threads I linked before this was widely discussed, showing examples and giving links to (for example) Kennedy instruments, a blog entry by Dave Slight discussing it at a mid 19th Mittenwald cello and a lot more. Below once again some pics from a 1829 date Knilling 7/8 I once had. Maybe this is unknown to you, but just a fact. It is furthermore assumed that the makers noticed the unfortunate detoriation a long time before the end of the 19th century and stopped the use of this varnish. Therefore it's a surprise to see it at an early 20th century presumed American violin, even more if you have "brothers and sisters" of this looking alike. Maybe they are also older Mittenwalds or British?

Another observation I made that this is often applied at a glue ground, making it chip off just by wetting it with water.

So if you are saying that you are familiar with the Mittenwald varnish as pictured below, but at your violin it is something completely different, that would be what I want to know.

IMG_6893.JPG

IMG_6894.JPG

IMG_6895.JPG

We could be talking at cross purposes. I'm fully convinced that my violin is varnished with straight-up dark shellac that has failed in a way as familiar to me as my own hands, while you seem convinced that it's something else for which there are many plausible explanations, none of which I have examples in hand at the moment. I do have several old Mittenwald violins in hand, none of which have mudcracking. But your photos resemble my fiddle about as much as Miss Piggy resembles Marilyn Monroe. I strongly suspect the varnish problems in your examples are shellac related, because shellac was very popular in the 19th Century as a clear varnish, and knowing the economics of violin production in Germanic states, anything that would speed up production would be attractive. The person who introduced shellac to the American market was a German shellac bleacher named Zinsser around 1850.  One of the facts that I uncovered is that prepared shellac has a limited shelf life, and prolonged exposure to temperatures over 75Fshortens its shelf life to under six months, and exposure to "extreme heat" ruins it immediately. Improper storage might account for a lot of coating failures

In the picture you can see there's virtually no undercoat, although even the "bare" area shows some ultra-faint crazing. I could attach a picture of the most abused/ weathered Mittenwald I have, and while the varnish is gone in many spots, it shows no mudcracking or crackling.

Crackle.jpg

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2 hours ago, Michael Richwine said:

In the picture you can see there's virtually no undercoat, although even the "bare" area shows some ultra-faint crazing. I could attach a picture of the most abused/ weathered Mittenwald I have, and while the varnish is gone in many spots, it shows no mudcracking or crackling.

I have the impression that it is time to stop here. If one would bother to read through all the informations that were linked before (more in the other thread about this violin) one could easily understand that this is exactly the kind of varnish which can be found often, not at all, but at a certain type of old Mittenwald and English instruments, as I pointed to several times before. Not necessarily at all.

Once more, I am not interested to argue if it is shellac or something else, but if there might be a connection between this violin, it’s maker and one of the mentioned schools of violin making. But if it turns into a dispute about Miss Piggy and Marilyn there won’t be any further outcome.

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34 minutes ago, Blank face said:

I have the impression that it is time to stop here. If one would bother to read through all the informations that were linked before (more in the other thread about this violin) one could easily understand that this is exactly the kind of varnish which can be found often, not at all, but at a certain type of old Mittenwald and English instruments, as I pointed to several times before. Not necessarily at all.

Once more, I am not interested to argue if it is shellac or something else, but if there might be a connection between this violin, it’s maker and one of the mentioned schools of violin making. But if it turns into a dispute about Miss Piggy and Marilyn there won’t be any further outcome.

I'll look as I work on the fiddle, because I'm interested to find out where this guy learned making. I agree that it's a bit mystifying to see a violin like this appear as a one-off.

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There seems to be two separate questions/topics going on here- one regarding the varnish, and another regarding whether or not Holmdale was even the maker.  A couple posts, including mine, suggested he may not have been the maker, unless someone could point to other instruments he had made.  Then Michael posted the above, and no one has even mentioned this apparent "other" violin with his actual label.  Can we see more of this instrument for comparison?  Does it have similarities to the OP's violin?  I think this could go a long way toward answering whether or not Holmdale was the maker.

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Perhaps the instrument was imported and purchased in the white, and the decorative inlays, neck, and varnishing were added by Holmdale. 

There were several big shops in NY at that time that were importing violins in the white, and finishing them in their shops. I don't think that it would have been difficult to purchase one.

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