A fascinating violin by Jacob Ford

We recently sold a violin to local violinist and teacher Helen Page. Helen was the first person to try the violin and she fell in love with it instantly. I often find that the best instruments go like that; if they sound great, they sell regardless of price.  

Now this violin is rather interesting for reasons other than its great tone: I bought the instrument some years ago in an auction where it had been mis-catalogued. After the sale the auctioneer came up to me and said “I've made a massive mistake with that violin, haven't I?”  I had the pleasure of having three Ford violins on the bench at once which is a privileged way of learning a maker's hand so I replied “yes, it's by Jacob Ford.” The scroll, the purfling and the edge-work all had the indisputable signature of Ford, a highly skilled 18th century English violin maker.  To be fair to the auctioneer though, not many people know Ford's work like I do.

Jacob Ford violinThis Ford that we sold to Helen Page has a dramatic use of wood and varnish. The back and ribs are of densely figured birds-eye maple wood overlaid, unusually for Ford, with a dark brown varnish. The hand written label inside simply reads: Jacob Stainer, Absam.

This violin is especially curious as it is not just another English Stainer copy but a copy of a particular instrument. Flicking through the Vienna Kunsthistorisches museum catalogue which features Stainer's work I fell on an identical instrument (IV9 made in 1673). The model, the wood and the varnish all identical to our Ford violin.

Another interesting and hitherto unexplained feature of Ford's work is the use of a wooden locating (?) pin in the button of the back, this being a feature on Stainer's large violas. I suggest that the pin was used by Stainer when building an instrument for which a mould was not needed (due to low quantity of large violas likely to be built). Instead they were built on the back and pins were used to locate the rib structure. Ford's copying of this feature in the violin misunderstands that, but hats off for such clever copying.

If you would like to hear Helen's Jacob Ford violin for yourself or simply enjoy a quartet, contact Helen via the Dell Quartet based in Newbury. Click here for a sample of their repertoire or contact Helen on helencpage@hotmail.co.uk