Copy Refrence

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by KSB - Ken Smith, Apr 6, 2005.

  1. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    About a year ago or less we were talking about copies and I mentioned a story about a Famous Strad. I thought it was the 'Betts" but could not find the refrence.. Well, while doing some research today I found this by accident.. My 'witness' has come forward.. See here;

    "Having spent 17 years as an employee, Betts tried to differ from the dealers and self-taught makers in those early years by calling himself a ‘real instrument maker’. As his shop became more busy, Betts employed many of the great English violin makers of the 19th century, including Vincenzo Panormo, Joseph Hill II, Henry Lockey Hill, Richard Tobin, Bernhard Fendt I and II and John Furber and, ironically, became more of a dealer himself. Many great musicians, as well as great instruments, were regular visitors to his workshop. One such visitor was the famous Italian violinist Viotti who brought his Stradivari to Betts and asked him to make an exact copy of the masterpiece, including all the varnish, wear and cracks. Betts promised to fulfil the task within a month, but once Viotti’s back was turned, Betts took the Cremonese masterpiece to Fendt and asked him to make two exact copies of the Strad. Viotti came on the agreed date to pick up his old Cremonese instrument and the English version of it, but, unbeknown to him, he never saw his original Strad again as Betts gave him both copies without Viotti realising the ‘exchange’!

    From this site;

    This is NOT the exact source I read it from the first time but it IS the exact same story......

    Addition; "Originally published in Double Bassist 16, Spring 2001"
  2. That is a fascinating story. I remember your earlier reference to it. Thank you for providing the source. There was something similar in the plot line of "The Red Violin", I believe with Samuel L. Jackson commissioning an exact replica prior to the auction. I think in the movie it is left open to question whether a swap happens or not.

    Which begs several questions regarding truth and certainty in the real life story. If the duplicates were extremely accurate, can we be certain that the swap occurred as planned;- what if Fendt, the maker decided to do a swap of his own by making 3 copies? What if he got the original and the first copy confused before finishing the second copy? What if Betts got them confused? If the Fendt copy was not detected by Viotti, who discovered the ruse? This would be a great mind tease plot for some film maker.

    Is there any follow-up on the whereabouts of the copies and the original?

  3. ...Unlikely since it would be near impossible for a mere mortal to make ONE copy in a months time, let alone two. The varnish would smell very strong with an oil color odor and would be soft and easily detectable...I don't buy it!!!!!!!!!
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Ken, the Betts Strad is a famous documented Violin. The story is how he got it. The Violin World knows this. Fendt was infamous for copies and lated shunned by his peers for doing these devious deeds.

    Most books on Strad will refer to the Betts Strad. Most will not go into detail how he got it.
  5. prelims222


    Sep 20, 2004
    Southeast US
    I've heard this story too, but the points Mr. McKay brings up are at least worth pursuing. How did they get rid of the 'new varnish' smell?

    Either way, my hats off to Fendt for being a good copyist. Maybe someone will take my regard seriously and give me one of his basses.
  6. Perhaps in a busy violin shop it all smells like new varnish. Of course in the hollywood version, you never have to deal with those pesky details. Assuming Fendt was that good a forger, and assuming they figured out a way to deal with the fumes they were all inhaling (getting a wiff myself now) ;) , let us pose another hypothetical: If it were made into a movie, who would be the villain, and who would be the hero?
  7. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    If Fendt was able to make a copy that was sonically indistinguishable between the Strad original by a master, I'd have no choice but to either recognize Fendt as a master parallel to Strad or question the true value of having a Strad in the first place.

    The idea that a professional player couldn't tell the difference between a century old violin and a month old one is difficult to digest.
  8. KS, I do believe that the story was perpetuated, but I question its believability. It takes about 300 hours to make a WHITE violin. So even working double time at twice the speed a fast profficient maker would only be done with one violin in the white in a month. If he had is apprentices though that could speed things up but still he would need to match the wood perfectly for two identical instruments, build the things and let it oxidize to look natural ( before ozone generators) and varnish, dry, wait until it is hard enough to dry, rubdown, etc... I think it is a violin myth.

    As for sound, new instruments sound notoriously different than strads, even by the best maker. The difference in timbre would be noticable. But the fact that the fake and the copy-copy would sound alike is an interesting thing to ponder.
  9. Oh, Chas, you're thinking too hard. It's the story and the moral of it that counts here and the added mystique, not whether the history is actually plausible. But I love your reaction because the story provoked my mind the same way. Then I realized it is mostly just a story about some infamous/famous dead guys (sorcery being my specialty!).

    My take: The story elevates the Fendt (my favorite "hero" in the tale) as well as the Strad reputation, and villainizes both the customer who commissioned a fake (leading to his own demise) and the businessman who "accommodated" what could only be a very "questionable" request twice over. Even if it is not believable because of the pesky details, it is believable given the possible motivations of the characters involved.

    I think the best point is what you have hit right on the head. Despite the reputation of the Strad, if you didn't know better, you might play upon a Fendt (or another well made copy) with equal satisfaction. The more closely it visually and physically it looked like the Strad, the less you'd be inclined to acknowledge the difference auditorially. Your imagination might fill in the harmonic differences. So really it is a story that questions the degree to which human imagination vs. reality dictates our wants, values, and actions. Good varnish, I guess...
  10. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Remember this happened about 200 years ago. Strads were as new as 70 years old or so and not 270-300 years like many are by now. Maybe it was 2,3 or 4 months later BUT the Betts Strad is History, not Theory!!

    As far as build time goes, Martini made by himself in his life 300 violins, 10 Violas, 50 'Cellos and 45 Basses. Fendt worked in the shop for Betts along with others back then. I don't think the 'Dept. of Labor' limited the work week to 40 hrs.. It's not like they had to run home to catch 'Wheel of Fortune' on TV or 'News at 11" !!

    They did not have Electricity or even Sandpaper yet.
  11. Another historical perspective on a (perhaps a different one?) Strad belonging to Betts and his aquisition of it is offered here:

    "Arthur Betts was the man who, in 1825, had the good fortune to have a man wander into his shop with one of the most beautiful violins ever made by Antonio Stradivari. He also had the ruthlessness to pay only a guinea for it when he discovered that the man had no idea what he had; the violin, from 1704, is now a part of the collection at the Library of Congress."

    - a likely story, as they say, and an explanation that would have at least kept Betts from being exposed as an outright thief.

    The same site acknowledges that Fendt worked for Betts and was well known for his excellent forgeries.

    Consider this as well: the date of the above "alleged" legal but nefarious aquisition is strangely co-incident with Giovanni Battista Viotti's (1755-1824) death. Yeah, a very likely story, as they say.

    I like Ken's story better. And if the time frame were adjusted, it does become far more plausible. I can almost swear that I actually saw a movie about the Fendt forgery (like would have been made in the 30's or 40's). I could find nothing on it, though.

    So how did the Library of Congress get it?
  12. And then there is this:

    Is this Viotti's second strad, a Fendt fake, or what? You will note and I especially call your attention to the repeated use of the words "believed to be" and the phrase "almost unbelievably fresh state of preservation". Hmmm. Nothing can be taken for granted.

    At some point, history becomes legend, legend myth, etc.

    There are many well documented "forgeries" hanging in museums.
    In the end, you have to decide what you are willing to believe, and acknowledge that truth is not so plain and simple.
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Silversorcerer, thanks for that link. I get chills when I read about the Olde English. It often leads to the mention of Samuel Gilkes. It is said that if he lived a little longer he would have been 'known' as one of Englands Greatest makers. He died at 39-40 years old. S.Gilkes is also credited with training a few makers in the C.Harris shop including C.H.II and both Simon Andrew and William Forster IV in the Forster Shop. Kennedy also worked there and William IV later worked with Kennedy according to one book source. William Gilkes was born 1811 and only about 16 when Samuel (his father) Died. William NEVER worked in the Forster shop at all as it closed in 1819.

    Sorry to rant on but some of you know that I own one of the few Samuel Gilkes Basses in existence as most of his work bears the Harris or Forster label. Many Harris inst's though were not labelled. Gallery Strings in London found a record of 'one' S.Gilkes Bass being sold to a Bassist in Holland back in 1981. That is the only other S.Gilkes Bass that I have heard of other than mine.

    My Gilkes was made as a Chamber Bass about a 3/4 size but with full Cello dimentions and a Strad model as well. It was completed in 1811 and as mentioned before Amati and Stainer were the Kings.. Strad was 'the new kid on the block'. My bass had a shallow neck stand and low bridge most likely for Gut strings and had Cello type pegs without gears. It was modified about after 1850 to a regular Double Bass with gears and the shoulders beautifully cut. It still has it's original Neck/Scroll in one piece.

    Now maybe if Gilkes had put a Strad label this 1811 Strad Cello copy Chamber Bass, it would have passed as well if slightly antiqued not to mention making history as the only Strad Bass.

    Had this 'Betts' Strad Copy story happened 50 years later in history, Strad would have been more well known and its' owner more 'street wise' to it's value.
  14. And if you hadn't brought the story of Fendt up, Ken I probably would never have found that link. I got quite an education there, thank you very much! I did read about Gilkes and thought you would like that. I didn't know much about him. I've seen most of those names on basses over at the Contrabasse Shoppe. You've explained why I haven't seen another Gilkes. ;)

    It's interesting, the connection between Stradivarius, Viotti, Betts, and Fendt. From some of the reading, it appears that Viotti popularized (if that is the right word) the Strad. But he may have done so mostly playing a Fendt copy, (which may have even been better than the original) depending on which story is true. So the price of the original Strads goes up, while Fendt creates knock-offs. Betts fences them in England and this is easy at the time because there is no easy way to know how many Strads there were originally. He is pocketing a good profit all the while with the new "Italian" violins that Fendt is making and Viotti (who had a reputation for trading violins as well) is promoting. Sounds like a scheme all three of them were in on. And Stradivarius, while he was alive, probably never got top price for one of his originals. And some of his "best" examples could be fakes.
    Why not?
  15. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Strad did get good money for his stuff in his own time. He had the Rep in Cremona for many years. For 10 years, he didn't make any cellos at all. He was too busy with Violins. We he did come back with Cellos, they were different than the earlier ones thus changing the modern cello for ever... So I've read...(Hill)

    Gilkes is mentioned here and there as one of the top makers in England as his work was second to none. There just isn't that much around by him with his own label. All the books that list the English makers talk highly of him.

    Imagine what kind of wood he was able to get when he worked at the shop that was the Maker/Repairer to the King.
    There are no cracks at all on the Top of my Gilkes. The Back, round like a Cello is also without any cracks. Amazing how the other English Basses, mostly flat backs have tons of cracks on the top and the back and some are barely more than half the age of the Gilkes.

    When you make good stuff, you don't need to make copies. That's one of the problems with the 20th century Hungarian Basses. Great Basses but all copies or antiqued fakes. No self pride... What a pity..
  16. ispider6


    Jan 30, 2005
    This discussion reminds me of the debate over the Strad "Messiah" that was in the news recently. If I remember the story correctly, it is rumored that the Messiah is a fake and was probably copied by Vuillaume and eventually sold as the real deal. I know that recent studies have shown some evidence that it is authentic and some that it is not. So perhaps we'll never know for sure but nothing piques one's interest like a good old-fashioned controversy. Especially when it involves one Antonio Stradivari.
  17. I think this might have been discussed in another thread, so for the benefit of those readers who missed it, here is part of it again…

    …interesting discussion - one which reminds me of an article in the BBC Music Magazine (April 2004) which puts forward some interesting points of view with respect to Strads, violin makers, alterations etc. For those readers who don't take that publication, I've scanned the article (4 pages) and posted them on one of my sites as four .PDF files - they have been put there for educational purposes only!


    - Wil