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Old 01-21-2009, 11:51 AM
Martin Sheridan Martin Sheridan is offline
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Join Date: 11-05-2008
Location: Sycamore, Illinois
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Default tangled webs

"Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive", Shakespeare.

The violin maker Roger Hargrave has pointed out that the best fakes are made by restorers who are in the best position to do so. The reason is that they are literally in close proximity to the originals and often learn to carry out extremely delicate and undetectable repairs. In short, they are the ones who develop the best skills to do the faking. I saw a Nicolo Amati violin about 25 years ago that had an entire section of the top replaced and it was absolutely undetectable to my eye even after it was pointed out to me the area that had been replaced. Wood, varnish, sub varnish, workmanship; undetectable.

Hargrave himself gained extra fame about a decade ago when it was discovered that a G.B. Guadanini violin up for auction was actually a recent work by him. The only reason it was detected was that a friend of Hargraves had seen the violin shortly after its completion at his shop and then discovered it at the auction. Hargrave himself had no knowledge of the deal.

Like many makers I've done a lot of antiquing with no intention to deceive and have sometimes been surprised and bemused by players who could not accept my telling them that the instrument was new. I pass this off as witness to the well established notion that we see what we wish to see.

Personally I have only seen two violins in my lifetime that absolutely convinced me that they were old when they were not and with both there was no attempt at disquising or presenting them as anything other than that of contemporary work and they had the labels of the makers. However, my suspicion is that they will both gain new, read "old", labels at some point in the future. Neither though had the appearance of Italian work.

Incidently, Hargrave has said that the work of the late 19th century and 20th century Italian makers is already so polluted that we may never know who made what.

Many violins were antiqued when they were made and are now quite old themselves lending some extra credence to their disquise. Some shops went to great length to antique violins including grafted scrolls and real reparied cracks.

I'll tell a story on myself. About 20 years ago I traveled to Pennsylvania to buy a beat up bass from an amatuer reparier in a small mountain community. After an enjoyable conversation and concluding the purchase of the bass I was in my car, engine running and ready to leave when the Pennslyvanian hurried back to my car with a somewhat battered violin that he said had been found by some friends inside a wall of an old house they were restoring. The neck was out, it was missing a C bout rib and of course it had an early 19th centruy Italian label. I ended up buying the violin and was quite taken with it, it had a label which matched that of a somewhat obscure Italian maker, but after the initial enthusiasm of the find wore off I realized that it was probably a modern Bohemian violin from around 1920 and that I had paid too much. I kept that violin as a reminder not to get carried away.

I believe that experienced and informed repairers and makers would spot a faked bass reputedly from the classic period in a heart beat. However, as with violins, early to mid 20th centruy fakery would be much harder to detect. Most of us have not seen enough known legitimate works. I know of few early to mid 20th century Italian makers who have concentrated on basses, so it would be easier for someone to take a bass from this period and pass it off as Italian but with the caveat that it was handmade, one of a kind bass and not a mass produced product from one of the factories.
Two years ago a player showed me his bass which had been sold to him as a 20th century Italian bass. All I could tell him in honesty was that I had seen two other basses attributed to that maker and that it was not by the same maker. It's my belief that the bass was Italian but it was not made by the person who had made the other basses with that attribution, and I have no way of knowing if the other two basses were made by the maker they were attributed to. The question then is how would anyone know? And that may be the subject of another post as my coffee is calling me and I don't feel like writing any more right now.
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