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Inventions with revolutionary engineering design

Vuillaume Jean Baptiste ’s measurements here as a PDF

General Characteristics of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume’s instruments are as follows:

 1-   His main contribution to violin making was work on varnish. It’s endurance and quality, is surpassed only by the best of Italian violinmakers. However, there are often examples of his violins, which show excessive lacquer wear, and deposits of dirt deeply joined with the top lacquer film, especially on instruments that have not been attended to for a long time. These areas are mainly located on the top desk in close proximity to purfling lines along the mid section of the violin.

2-  Purfling joints on the back table are often cut on the straight, and not on the bias (under sharper angle), as tradition requires. The joints positioned in the middle, under, or over the pin (if present), or nearby are cut in the same manner. Yet, this is no absolute rule to be observed as a definitive statement. There are exceptions.

3-  His violins of the first period have rather large, and wider edges.

4-  His brand in the first period was burnt inside the violin and positioned on the middle bouts, when used.

5-   His brand is burnt at the length of 10 mm precisely.

6-  His varnish varied from orange-red, to red. But generally, after 1860, varnish on many of his instruments became lighter.

7-  Body length on his instruments is usually 357 mm, 359 mm, 362 mm, 363 mm, sometimes even 356 mm, etc.

8-  Generally, a black dot can be found on the joint of the top table, under the position of the bridge, however this is neither a rule to be observed as a definitive statement.

9-  He used an external mould to build his violins. He created this system in the mid-nineteenth century, and it was later interpreted as the French system of violin making. It was his aim to copy with absolute perfection the given master, for instance any Cremonese one. Being an extraordinarily ingenious and skilled craftsman, he made the mould around the original violin and then built the new instrument inside the mould. So his dream, of making violins almost identical to the Cremonese instruments, came true.

10- When making copies of violins by other famous violinmakers, such as Stradivari - J. B. Vuillaume occasionally even incorporated into the new instrument original parts from other violins beyond repair made by the maker he was copying.

11- The “Body Stop”, (Mensur), is generally (193 mm) long. In this respect he follows the French 18th century tradition of a short stop (190 mm), which was traditionally (195 mm) long in Italy, and even (200 mm) long in Germany. However, on copies of other makers, Vuillaume did not use this Mensur, as it would have been a ridiculous rule to adhere to in this instance.

12- Violin serial number is in most cases inscribed in the mid section inside the instrument, along the central axis of the instrument, while dating of the violin is in most cases just above the loops of his signature in the top right corner on the back table, inside.

13-Some important instruments of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume incorporate identical serial numbers on the back table inside, on the ribs (usually on the left top side), and on the top desk. This is a clear indication of maintaining order within his workshop, and a security measure that only those parts of an instrument that belong together, are finally married.

14- An instance has been noted, where a copy of a long back Stradivari instrument incorporates an inscription in the top centre section of the back table on the inside. This denotes a combination of letters & a single number, Nu 2. Presumably, this is a mark signifying that this is a second copy of a specific Stradivari violin, or a mark signifying that this is a copy of an instrument that is no longer in existence due to its state before copying.

15- Instruments made by his apprentices were not signed by Vuillaume, only initialled in the mid section, and in many instances bore a different label to the ones he used on his own work.

16-His range of practice violins was manufactured by his brother and bore a label St. Cecile.

17-Instruments are dated, (using only the last two figures), which are to be found in the upper right paraph on the back table, inside. Nevertheless, examples have been also noted where a date is clearly shown on the label. These instances appear to be from the absolute beginning of his violin-making career. Moreover, a substantial number of authenticated violins are not dated at all.

18-Most of his instruments are signed in pencil in the upper treble right bout, inside. He apparently used two types of signatures. Both variants are of larger size, incorporating five round decorative loops underlining the signature, ending with an axially placed loop resembling the sign for infinity. One variant shows a clear signature “Vuillaume”, under which is the above-mentioned set of loops, while the other evidently depicts the loops without the actual signature “Vuillaume above. The reason for this variant appears to be one of date placement in the mid position above the signature loops, whereas in the complete version of the signature there is apparently no space left for the placement of the date in that position. Furthermore, the actual loops of the signature appear to depict “Baptiste” due to starting on the left, where one can quite clearly see the first letter of Baptiste, “B”. Both noted examples of signatures share a significant common denominator, where a line copies the form of the closest positioned rib, as a single stroke, beginning far left and tracing the rib roughly at the same distance all along, ending with a final stroke behind the top right corner of the signature, or loops.

19- Some of his instruments are decorated in black decorative lining on the scroll and the rib corners. According to Bignon, these decorations denote that the instrument was made in Paris.

20- Labels used by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume show most likely an intentional “misprint” in words ending with a small letter “s”. This shows as a slight inclination of the letter “s” towards right.

21-He used classical fixing pins on some of his instruments, where in some instances the pins have no other function than to lead the sight of an observer towards the pin, thereby making the person miss the actual position of such, close positioned, marks as an initial “JV” inscribed, thus hidden, within the boundaries of classical inlay width.

22-An instance has been noted, where the lower pin detracts from a nearby inscription located between the purfling lines, towards right, perhaps depicting “IP 320LJ32F”. This appears to denote a serial number, in an alternative position, combined with a second set of numbers and letters, which are as yet unexplained.

23-It has been noted that on some of his instruments he used a miniature pin, or a black, (dark brown) dot positioned on the front table just under the sharp inlay joint of the top right corner.

24-Some of his instruments appear to use a clearly intentional, and rather significant mark, depicting a purfling hairline cross on the back table, positioned at the bottom left corner. This was also noted on instruments of Nicolo Amati.

25-It is noted in a copy of a letter by Vuillaume, that he could not make himself do purfling on violins that were ready for this process. It is the only example we come across to-date, clearly noting his likes and dislikes of the luthier process.

26- Vuillaume kept a logbook with personally kept records, by serial number, of every violin that he made throughout his life. However, it appears to be the case that a violin, or two, have not actually slipped being listed in his log book, as it is obvious that if Vuillaume adhered to his rule without exception, all violins made by his hands would have been marked with a corresponding serial number inside, which is apparently not the case in every single instance.

27- Generally, instruments with serial numbers positioned close to the centre of the back table inside, (with hash each side, or not), which at the same time do not incorporate Vuillaume’s signature in the top right section, on the back table, are made by his pupils.

Violin Science

Antonij & Hieronymus Amati

Marks, initials, and signs on the outer surface of the case of the instrument labelled: Antonij & Hieronymus Amati 1628.

1- Clear and unquestionably intentional mark is located on the back table positioned to the left of the top pin below the button. This mark appears to be either an “R” with a small cross positioned beneath it, alternatively two overlapping capital letters “A” and “H” with a small cross, positioned beneath them.

2- Clear and unquestionably intentional mark is positioned on the front table at the right bottom corner inlay meeting point. The mark is a hairline cross extending from both the upper line of inlay going downwards, as well as from the lower line of inlay going upwards. The inlay hairlines begin at the sharp inlay end of the meeting point where they cross and further follow through for about 10 mm from both sides. The only other example of this mark seen on my three times certified Nicolo Amati instrument, which was at some point also verified by an expert from Sotherby’s. This mark was located on the left bottom corner of the front, or the back table.

3- Clear mark, which may be interpreted as unintentional or accidental, is located on the rim of the front table just above the front left top corner. This mark appears to be an arrow of an identical size to the other below-mentioned example of the same in point (8), without central axis, pointing possibly towards the joint of the front table with the neck.

4- Clear mark, which may be interpreted as unintentional or accidental, is located approximately 50 mm towards the right of the above-mentioned arrow mark on the front table at the front left top corner. This mark appears to be a capital letter “I”, alternatively “J”, or an “H”, with a further possible capital letter, which is less clear and a much larger version of the first mentioned. It could possibly be an “A”, or an “H” positioned to the left of the first mark.

5- Clear mark, which some may choose to interpret as unintentional, is located at the right top corner inlay meeting point on the back table. It consists of a very long hairline extending from the corner inlay meeting point, which then bends in a long bow downwards. This hairline ending was evidently performed by one of the great masters. The clear fact that this is not the only hairline extended corner inlay on the instrument, but definitely the longest, the single bow one, and the most perfect, suggests an intention to present a clear mark, such as a signature of the maker who chooses to extend only one hairline inlay ending in this fashion, while being able to extend all in the same way without any complications. It may, of course, be interpreted as unintentional, but the actual level of brilliance, perfection, and professionalism implies to me that this mark cannot be considered as an unintentional occurrence and most definitely not an accident.

6- Clear mark, which some may choose to interpret as unintentional or accidental, is located at the right bottom corner inlay meeting point on the back desk. Similarly, the inlay at this corner is also extended nicely into a hairline, but as stated, it does not form into a bow, nor does it extend nowhere near as far as the previous example. It is rather shorter than the above-mentioned hairline extension and basically following a straight line. However, there appears to be a series of letters and numbers positioned just above this corner on the rim of the back desk. This sequence of letters and numbers is hardly legible and appears to begin with a Greek capital Alpha, followed by a few other hardly legible letters, ending with series of three or four numbers. This ending line of numbers could possibly be “1834”, “1H34”, “IH34”, “I834”, “834”, “83M”, etc. This mark, in my view, cannot be interpreted as unintentional. Although, one might see another set of possible marks just below the inlay at this position, this appears to me to be an accidental damage of the lacquer, which might be misread as set of letters.

7- Clear mark, which could possibly be interpreted as unintentional or accidental, is positioned approximately 30 mm towards the left of the above-mentioned mark on the back table at the side of the bottom right corner. This mark appears to be a capital letter “A”.

8- Clear mark, which could possibly be interpreted as unintentional or accidental, is located on the rim of the back table towards the left of the button. This mark appears to be an arrow without central axis, pointing possibly precisely inline and away from the above-mentioned mark.

9- An unclear mark may be seen on the back table just below the top left corner inlay. This may be interpreted as unintentional or accidental. It is positioned approximately 60 mm downwards at the right side of the vertical section of the inlay below the corner. This set of marks appears to be starting with a capital letter “L, Alpha, 3, 3, _” The letters and/or numbers are clearly positioned one below each other along the right side of the inlay line. The question remains from which side should one read them. Depending on this, one would have to assume a totally different set of letters or perhaps even a combination of letters and numbers.