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Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.

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Uncle Jaque 06 Jan 03 - 09:37 AM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 06 Jan 03 - 10:37 AM
Jeri 06 Jan 03 - 10:48 AM
Jeri 06 Jan 03 - 11:04 AM
Louie Roy 06 Jan 03 - 11:05 AM
Uncle Jaque 06 Jan 03 - 11:09 AM
GUEST,ClaireBear 06 Jan 03 - 11:49 AM
mg 06 Jan 03 - 12:09 PM
Jeri 06 Jan 03 - 12:14 PM
NicoleC 06 Jan 03 - 12:16 PM
Sorcha 06 Jan 03 - 12:19 PM
GUEST,Q 06 Jan 03 - 12:19 PM
Uncle Jaque 06 Jan 03 - 02:25 PM
Sorcha 06 Jan 03 - 02:47 PM
NicoleC 06 Jan 03 - 03:29 PM
Uncle Jaque 07 Jan 03 - 01:07 AM
NicoleC 07 Jan 03 - 12:11 PM
Sorcha 07 Jan 03 - 12:25 PM
Uncle Jaque 07 Jan 03 - 02:16 PM
NicoleC 07 Jan 03 - 04:49 PM
Uncle Jaque 07 Jan 03 - 09:50 PM
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Subject: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 09:37 AM

Fiddles in the Attic.

        Last night I spoke by phone with a Friend who had recently been presented with a couple of old violins from the attic of his Family Farm in South Central Maine. This home has been in the Family for at least a couple of Generations and is currently occupied by his Grandparents.   These dusty hierlooms had been tucked away up there for at least 50 years, as far as anyone knows.

        I have given a little curiosity over the years as to the distinction between the "Fiddle" and the "Violin", and don't consider myself to be any authority on the subject at all - but what seems to have emerged from the farmhouse attic is one of each. Perhaps one of you Fiddlers out there might illuminate us a bit.

        Details are sketchy, but this much was extracted from the "Grandpa"; he remembers being instructed as a child (we're probably talking 1930's, here) under great duress from his Father, to play violin, and remembers playing both instruments. As soon as he escaped from said duress, or upon the Old Man's demise, the instruments went into storage where they have been ever since. Gran'pa never really took to music, much, even though it seemed that his father had much wanted to pass along what seems to have been a long Family tradition.

        Great-Grandfather (Granpa's Dad) was apparently the Son or Grandson (we're not sure which yet) of an Irish Immigrant who we figure might have come over sometime during the Irish Potato Famine - 1840's, wasn't it?

He was apparently an accomplished Violinist, and is said to have played in the Providence, RI area both with the "Faye's Theater" (?) and the RI Symphony Orchestra in Providence. My guess would be that this would have been sometime between 1910 and 1940.

        One of these instruments seems to have been his; I would venture to call it a "violin" mainly because it has a chin-rest and was used for Classical performance.   It is accompanied by 6 bows, all of which I am told are "beautiful" with mother-of-pearl inlay on a rich, dark wood that looks as if it might be mahogany.

        I have not seen these instruments yet, and only have a description given over the phone - but perhaps someone in here can shed some light as to their identity and origin.   My Friend intends to have them professionally evaluated and restored, as there is some minor splitting and joint separation from long exposure to the temperature and humidity extremes up there in the attic.   The finish on them is a little rough, but generally intact.

Although I do some restoration on guitars, I will advise him to farm these out to someone who specializes in violins, as I really don't know that much about them and I suspect that one or both of these may just have some significant antique value.

        Inside the body of the first violin is a printed paper label which reads:

        "E. A. NOTTAGE, Violin Maker"
        "Diploma Awarded for Tone at Rhode Island State Fair; 1897"
        "Repairing and Toning a Specialty"

        Handwritten on the label is:

        "Repaired: 19_?_3."

        He thinks that the unreadable digit might be a Zero or a "3".
This violin is encased in what appears to be a regular violin-shaped hard case.

        The other instrument is, I think, a "Fiddle". Don't know why, really, other than it has no chin rest. I have seen pictures of old-time Fiddlers playing the instrument over their lap, with the tailpiece resting on the left chest, and the neck pointing away to the front and downwards a little, the bow just passing over the crook of the left elbow. Some of them may have even fretted the strings overhand, like a Mountain Dulcimer rather than coming around from under the neck. I suppose you would not need a chin-rest doing it that way. It looks a lot more comfortable to me, and if I ever take up the fiddle I think that's the way I shall do it.

        What really got my attention on this one is the case; a wooden cabinatry "Coffin" with an arched or "mounded" top. To my mind, this indicates a vintage of somewhere between 1830 and the Civil War; am I correct on that?    We have been told that the reason that they used to "mound" the tops on instrument cases was so that the fellow loading them into the baggage compartment of a train or wagon - or the hold of a sailing ship - would put them on top of the pile, as the rounded top was not conducive to a stable stack if part of the "foundation" underneath. Thus the valuable instrument avoided being crushed beneath a ton of other people's baggage and cargo.

        That makes sense to me!

        The Fiddle is made of a beautiful, blonde, tiger-stripe material we are told - probably hard maple. Some of the pegs are missing, and it shows wear from a lot of use. The fingerboard has started to lift off of the neck.
The label inside only reads:

        "Copy of Antonio Straduvarius" (I suspect that the misspelling of "Stradivarius" may be intentional, much as the forgeries of the "Derringer" pistols used several creative alternative spellings of the name in order to avoid litigation for plagiarism.)

        And: "Made in Germany".

        I can't help but wonder; when that Ancestor sailed over from starving Ireland... did he bring his fiddle along with him?
And did he teach his Son to play it?

        We'll continue to pick Grandpa's brains for historical & Genealogical details, and I'm anxious to personally examine these relics.

In the meantime, if any Mudcat Fiddle experts out there would care to comment or speculate on what we might have here, we'd appreciate it!


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 10:37 AM

What treasures! Keep us posted on these beauties as you find out more!


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Jeri
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 10:48 AM

A fiddle is a violin is a fiddle. People tend to make more extreme adaptations on a fiddle because the styles of playing vary more.

If these were lying around in my house, the one from Rhode Island would have a chinrest and the other wouldn't because I'd brought the Strad copy with me from Ireland, bought the RI violin later and taken the chin rest off the first to put it on the second. It may have broken or the player might have just removed it - can't say for sure. In any case, chin rests are easy to take off & put on.

I have a copy of a Stainer that immigrated from Ireland, and it also has a coffin case complete with wallpapered interior, little iron hooks and wood worm holes. From what I've been told, violins as antiques are a dime a dozen and are worth more as a playable instruments. The top was cracked badly and it cost a bunch to get it fixed, but it's still worth more as an instrument than the repairs cost. (I figure the repairs cost $300 and the fiddle's worth about $750.)

As a player, I'd probably be more interested in the Nottage violin, but some of the Strad copies sound wonderful.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Jeri
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 11:04 AM

Please note that the "I'd be interested in" comment as well as anything that sounds like I was talking about just me is ...well, just me. I'm keen on small local makers of instruments. My best violin was made in 1901 by a guy who lived about 20 miles from where I now live.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Louie Roy
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 11:05 AM

I was always told a violin was a fiddle that went to college


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 11:09 AM

Thanks for the feedback!

Is "Nottage" a fairly well-known maker? About what time period were these instruments produced? Are they equivalent in quality and reputation to a "Martin" guitar... or to a "Harmony"?

When and if we get these restored, Jeri, I might be able to bring one of them to a gathering so that we can hear you play it! I'd be interested in how it plays after all these years.

Would you care to reccomend a good Restorator in the Augusta - Portland area? There used to be a fellow in Freeport who worked on violins, but I don't know if he is still into it or if he is any good.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: GUEST,ClaireBear
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 11:49 AM

A friend of mine who plays both (classical) violin and (folk) fiddle used to tell me that the difference between the instruments -- if any, other than the style in which they're played -- is really a difference in setup: The bridge on a classical violin is very rounded while a fiddle bridge tends to be flatter.

I would think the optimal strings would also be different between the two styles.

There may or may not be any truth to any of this . . .


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: mg
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 12:09 PM

I remember an Irish Rovers special years ago on immigration to Amerikay, and they said that they would often make sure a fiddler was on the trip because it kept more people alive that way. Probably not total altruisim...the reason that so many people were able to immigrate here, under such dire poverty, is (I also heard or read this somewhere, can't confirm) is that otherwise they would have had to load ballast, and at least the Irish could walk on..maybe not off mind you.

mg


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Jeri
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 12:14 PM

Jaque, I don't think brand names count for violins they way they do for guitars. Too many folks made 'em. Some were turkeys and some were great. There are and have been loads of small makers and the guy who made mine made maybe 40 instruments in his lifetime, possibly fewer. I don't think it's easy to hear about someone who only made 40 violins. Getting the instrument fixed and having it appraised by someone knowledgable about violins is your best bet because you just can't rely on a name to determine value. (Not unless it really IS a Strad!)

As to learning about Nottage, I'd probably try to find where in Rhode Island he was located and as music shops in that area. They may have seen other instruments by him.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: NicoleC
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 12:16 PM

Strings -- about the same difference as any player would use to create a tone that suits their instrument. A rock guitarist would not necessarily choose the same strings as a jazz guiatarist, but they are still playing a guitar.

It's true that fiddlers often use a bridge with less of a crown to make it easier to play doublestops, but this is not always the case. Many fiddlers play with a well crowned bridge. Again, this is a minor issue that is part of player preference, much like a guitarist would have a preference for action.

There's a big difference between fiddlers and violinists, but they play the same instrument! :)

The label saying it's a copy of a Strad is not intended to deceive nor were there plaguerism issues. Copying master pieces is a tradition in stringed instruments that continues today, sometiems they don't even say "copy," but they are still not labelled that way to fool anyone. I don't think the case shape is a good indication of age -- modern cases are also often arched. Tradition, again. And it may not be the original case.

Uncle Jaque, your advice was 100% correct -- they should be referred to an experienced violin repairperson who will be able to gauge the needed repairs and probable tone once they are repaired. And s/he may be able to identify them more. A peg job is not a major repair, but it is time consuming and fairly expensive. The fingerboard is more worrying, but it may be minor. Most worrying of all is the condition and tone of the wood after being exposed to extremes of temperature in the attic all those years.

Neither, I don't think, is valuable as a collectors item for the maker or model it is, but either or both could be great sounding instruments that are worth something to a player. (Or not.) And, of course, it's valuable to the family.

Incidentally, there's a fair chance the bows are worth more than the violins. They should be checked out as well.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Sorcha
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 12:19 PM

And Claire, the stuff about set up is true.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 12:19 PM

Uncle Jacque, be sure and get the bows evaluated. In a recent similar case here, the violin was evaluated at $500, but one of 2-3 bows with it was pegged at $7000.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 02:25 PM

Interesting!

We once had a cheap old fiddle an Aunt tried to learn on once - but the bow had been lost. When I investigated putting it back into playable condition, I quickly learned that a decent bow would cost much more than the blooming fiddle was worth! I promptly gave it away and kept working on my 5-string banjo, which I have been trying to learn for the past 35 years now, with marginal results.

Out of 6 bows, I'm hoping that most of them will be worth something, as this friend is not wealthy by any means and still has student loans to pay off. Since only 2 will be needed (assuming that both violins are to be played at once) that leaves 4 which may possibly come into play in subsidising the restoration of the instruments. I expect that most if not all of those will need repair as well - at least re-hairing.

Would you reccomend any particular type of string, or should we leave that up to the Restorator? Are pegs pretty much universal, or do they have to be turned for individual instruments?

I have an old wooden peg-turning tool in my shop - it's in pretty rough shape, but it looks like an enlarged pencil-sharpener; remember the little ones we used to take to school that were about an inch long with a little blade mounted in a plastic block? This one is wood, and about 4" long.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Sorcha
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 02:47 PM

Every instrument has favorite strings, and every player has favorite strings. I'd leave it up to the repair person.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: NicoleC
Date: 06 Jan 03 - 03:29 PM

Yup -- string choices will be the last thing the repairperson looks at, to fit the instrument. Pegs have to be fitted to the particular instrument -- it's a time consuming task. The bows will probably need rehairing and re-arching. Around here, that would cost about $70 each for a reputable repairperson, $50 for a so-so job. Even if they are mediocre bows, you could probably sell them for more than their repair cost.

I wouldn't try to get too excited about making money off this deal. I've looked at about 20 or 30 attic specials in the past few months, all of which were supposedly in "playable" condition, looking for my new baby. Most needed $200-300 worth of repairs right off the bat.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 07 Jan 03 - 01:07 AM

Nicole; I think that these are going to stay in the family - I was just wondering if selling a couple of the "spare" bows migh help pay for the restoration of the fiddles - at least one of them.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: NicoleC
Date: 07 Jan 03 - 12:11 PM

It might! I think you'd get more money for a bow if you had it fixed up first. There's some risk, but most people won't spend too much on an unknown and unplayable bow. That said, I was given a similar fixer-upper -- at random out of a selection of bows needing restoration -- and ended up getting a great bow when I was done. It's too light for most players (56g for the interested), but if it were a few grams heavier I could probably get $1000 for it.

So it's quite possible that at least one of the 6 would be sellable at a good price, providing you can find a buyer.

Okay, I'm curious and I want to see these babies now!


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Sorcha
Date: 07 Jan 03 - 12:25 PM

Pics??


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 07 Jan 03 - 02:16 PM

I have yet to lay eyes on these old rigs, but will hope to get some pictures of them when I do. It might be a while before I use up the roll of film and get it developed, scanned etc. and then where do I post them? I guess I'll have to get your E-dresses and send as ATT.
I'll ressurect this thread and let you know when pics become available.   

In the meantime I will try to chase down a good local Restorator this side of Boston. Any suggestions?


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: NicoleC
Date: 07 Jan 03 - 04:49 PM

Call every shop that sells instruments in town and ask? Bet one name comes up over and over again...


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Subject: RE: Fiddles from the Farmhouse Attic.
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 07 Jan 03 - 09:50 PM

I called the Portland Conservatory of Music, who put me on to their Violin / Cello Instructor, a Ms. Julia Eiten.
She uses Robert MILLER in South Portland,(207)799-8909 for her instrument adjustments.

I called, got his answering machine, & left a message.

Then I found Anne CURE Violins in Falmouth, much closer to home; (207)781-8082.

I called, got their answering machine, & left a message.

But then, I have for years occasionally heard of a fellow even closer in Freeport, who was supposed to have a pretty good reputation, but I hadn't seen any of his ads recently. Finally, digging through the Brunswick Yellow Pages, I found him; "Kevin" of "Frost Gully Violins" (207)865-0818.

So I called him... you guessed it... BUT he was the first (and so far only)one to actually return my call!

Kevin lives about as far off the beaten path as one can get in Freeport, but gave directions so I think that when the violins get down this way we will take them to him for an evaluation. If they are going to cost more to restore than they are worth, I may take a crack at one of them under the "What've we got to lose?" clause. No doubt there are books available on the subject, and I know of no better way to learn such a craft than diving right in.

Kevin warns us that attics really do a job on fine instruments, and that a lot of the damage is not all that obvious, but still devastating. Oh well; we'll see, I suppose.


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