Celtic Lines

Celtic Lines   we know the way

We welcome communications in the following languages:
English, German, Spanish and French

Great BritainFranceGermanySpain

We know how

Inventions with revolutionary engineering design

Vuillaume Jean Baptiste �s measurements here as a PDF

                                          �s list of instruments here as a PDF


Characteristics of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume Instruments

Author’s Remarks

  1. His main contribution to violin making was the effort on recovering the lost Cremonese varnish formula as was last used by Antonio Stradivari, (even though a lesser grade form of this lacquer was subsequently used by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi, and lastly by Pietro Giovanni Mantegazza), or creating a new formula that would at least come near. The endurance and quality of his lacquer, is surpassed only by the best of Italian  violinmakers. However, it must be mentioned that there are often examples of his violins, (particularly from the first two periods), which show excessive lacquer wear, and deposits of dirt deeply ingrained with the top lacquer film, especially on instruments that have not been attended to for a long time. Such areas are mainly located on the top desk in close proximity to purfling lines on the centre bouts of the instruments, and under the bridge.
  2. Purfling joints on the back table are often cut on the straight, and not on the bias (under sharper angle), as the tradition required. The joints positioned in the middle, under, or over the pin or nearby, (if present), are cut in the same manner. Yet, this is neither an absolute rule to be observed as a definitive statement. Exceptions have been noted, especially on copies of other makers. Furthermore, there are several well-known examples of his violins, which actually incorporate both styles of purfling joints together in various placements.
  3. His violins of the first period have rather large, and wider edges.
  4. His brand mark in the first period was located inside the instrument and generally positioned on the centre bouts, when used.
  5. His brand mark is sized at the length of 10 mm precisely.
  6. His varnish varied from tones of brown, to orange-red, and sometimes even 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, 363 mm, sometimes even 356 mm, etc.
  8. Generally, a black dot, (for those who are in the know, the reminiscence of the Cremonese centre hole system, or the imitation thereof), can be found on the joint of the top table, under the position of the bridge. However, it is presumed that Vuillaume would have started to use this measure only after he became more famous and was very well set up as a known entity in Paris, particularly after his trip to Count Tarisio’s heirs. One can in no way claim that all, or even most of Vuillaume’s instruments would have this feature on them.
  9. Commencing around 1852, he begun to use an external mould to build his violins. He created this system in the mid-nineteenth century, which was later interpreted as the French system of violin making. It was his aim to copy with absolute perfection the given master, for instance the best Cremonese makers. 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, became true.
  10. When making copies of violins by the famous violinmakers before his time, such as Stradivari, and Joseph Guarneri Del Gesu - 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. Instrument serial number is at first in most cases inscribed in the mid section of the upper bouts inside, centrally, and later in the upper treble bouts area, while the actual dating of the instruments is inscribed in most cases just above the loops of his signature in the upper treble bouts on the back table, inside.
  13. An instance has been noted, where a copy of a long back Stradivari instrument incorporates an inscription in the upper bass bouts inside, on the back table. This denotes a combination of letters & a single number, Nu 2. This may well be a previously reserved and later assigned serial number 2. However, it cannot be excluded that this is an assigned number signifying a second copy of a specific Stradivari violin, or a simply designation of a copy of a specific instrument that is no longer in existence due to its state before copying, or total destruction.
  14. 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, were finally married. 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. 
  15. Instruments are dated in most cases, (using only the last two digits), which are to be found in the upper treble paraph on the back table, inside. Nevertheless, examples have been also noted where a date is clearly shown on the label, (using four digits), mostly in manuscript positioned vertically on the right. These instances appear generally in the latter period of his violin-making career, in 1870’s usually in copies of Stradivari, and Del Gesu. Moreover, a substantial number of authenticated violins are not dated at all.
  16. Instruments made by his apprentices were not signed by Vuillaume. Generally, only initialled in the mid section of the back table and in many instances such instruments also incorporate a different label to the ones he used on his own work.
  17. His range of practice violins was manufactured by his brother Nicholas and are generally fitted with a label St. Cecile, where the other range of these lower grade instruments was Stentor.
  18. Most of his instruments are signed in pencil, (in his first period still in pen), in the upper treble bouts, on the back table inside. From the outset, he used a consecutive series of developing signatures, which are clearly distinguishable and can be associated with various periods of his violin making carrier. Two main variants are of substantial size, second of which incorporates in most examples five-six 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, then turning upwards and going into a clear first letter of Baptiste, “B”. Both noted examples of signatures share a significant common denominator, wherein 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. His more important instruments are further signed in ink on the upper bouts inside on the top table. The examples we have encountered are small and over time became indistinct, best seen under high magnification.
  20. Some of his instruments are decorated in black decorative lining, applied with a thin brush, on the scroll, pegbox, and the rib corners. According to Bignon, these decorations denote that the instrument was made in Paris.
  21. Labels used by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume from the 2nd Croix des Petits Champs period show a possibly intentional “misprint” in words ending with a small letter “s”. This shows as a slight inclination of the letter “s” towards right.
  22. Whilst he used classical fixing pins on a number of his instruments, in some instances the pins have no other function than to lead the sight of an observer towards the pin, and away from the surrounding area, 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.
  23. 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 still remain unexplained.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. It is generally claimed in various resources that J.B. Vuillaume kept a personal log book with  inscribed records, by serial number, of every violin that he made throughout his life. However, it seems to be now proven that some violins, or indeed quite a large number of them, actually slipped being listed in this log book, as it is obvious that if J.B. Vuillaume wished to adhere to his rule without exception, from the absolute beginning of his violinmaking carrier, all violins made by his hands would have been marked with a corresponding serial number inside, which simply does not apply to many of his instruments.
  28. One must also not commit the same error as most of ignoring the almost always forgotten fact that Jean Baptiste Vuillaume’s violin making carrier did not start in 1822 at Lete’s organ making company, where he already arrived as an accomplished violin maker. There was a time when he was a pupil of his father in Mirecourt and then an apprentice of Chanot in Paris. During both of these, (not insignificant), periods he clearly had to make a number of stringed instruments, which more than likely could not have been marked as his own, and certainly would not be part of any book of records.
  29. It is a matter of fact that J.B. Vuillaume removed the original base bar from a specific Stradivari instrument to improve sound quality on several occasions. The most famous example of this amendment is to be found on the original of Stradivari’s Messiah. Furthermore, J.B. Vuillaume  is known to have made numerous copies of this specific violin, while taking pleasure in letting his visitors guess, which one is the original. One must conclude that since this is a very well documented case, it is more than likely that J.B. Vuillaume actually made several copies of other Stradivari instruments in other than this single instance. This also clearly signifies that he would have had to find an alternative solution for numbering of these “additional” violins, and leave them out of his log book. He wrote to his brother informing him about his trip to Italy in the 1860’s, particularly referring the latter part of this trip to Cremona, that he has finally managed to acquire what he was still missing after his purchase of everything from Tarisio’s heirs, (i.e. the technologies, procedures, tools, and knowledge), to enable him to produce many copies of the Messiah.
  30. To date it still remains unclear if there in fact ever was a physical item in the form of a book, or similar, that could be described as a “Log Book of Serial Numbers and Dates”. Having had ample time to examine the available evidence, one can only reasonably conclude that the well-known “book of records” referred to by many sources and authors is in fact a “Sales Ledger” simply providing a running record of daily sales of instruments, which does not by any stretch of imagination comprise actual sales of instruments made by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume. In fact, many if not most instruments contained in this book are sales of instruments by any maker ranging from Stradivari to unnamed instruments of any school and country of origin.
  31. An un-researched, unverified, and ill-construed statement presented by numerous contributors in past and even current literature, on major Internet resources, and in numerous publications worldwide that this violin maker “numbered almost all” of his instruments, (i.e. inscribed serial numbers into them), which was further disseminated into other worldwide public domain resources needs to be set straight. Jean Baptiste Vuillaume absolutely did NOT inscribe serial numbers in “almost all” of his instruments - in reality not even anywhere near something that may perhaps justify using that expression. Nor did he inscribe a date in all, or even most of his instruments. In fact, he did not even put his label into all of his instruments.
  32. Over time our research proved beyond doubt that from the total of 3,000 instruments claimed to have been made and sold by the maker perhaps even up to 50% were not signed by him, or has he inscribed serial numbers into them, nor has he ever let any other person substitute him in this capacity. When looking at the extremely low numbers of known, accepted, and recorded instruments in comparison to the total 3,000 which still exist today, it is rather doubtful that he would have inserted any versions of his numerous labels in that portion of the total output of the premises under his direct supervision.
  33. It seems obvious to us that the St. Cecile and/or Stentor instruments, that were made under the supervision of his brother Nicholas have been assigned serial numbers, which cannot be placed simply in between, or instead of, the sequence of serial numbers of instruments created by the hands of J.B. Vuillaume or any of the instruments created by up to 20 luthiers of varying expertise who worked for the maker throughout his life. In other words, one cannot explain the  missing 2,643 instruments by stating that those were St. Cecile, whether just by themselves, or including the Stentor brand. Both of the Vuillaume brothers clearly intended that there is a definitive set separation between the various lesser grade instruments and those produced by Jean Baptiste and we observe that this separation remained in effect until his death in 1875.
  34. Whilst various sources insist on implying in their descriptions and records of past sales that St. Cecile violins are “Jean Baptiste Vuillaume” instruments, (leaving out the “by” designation), fact of the matter remains that the two series or lines of instruments have literally nothing in common and should not be referred to in this manner. The proof is not just in the low-grade expertise of makers who made St. Cecile violins, (and the extremely limited time given to them to make an instrument in what was essentially a factory), but above all in the difference of sales price of these instruments during the life of Jean Baptiste, which correlation remains in effect to date, and will likely stay so forever.
  35. Of the 375 authenticated violoncellos, violas, violins, as well as child violins currently known to us that can be referred to justifiably as “by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume” of which we have in our possession most of the relevant details, 122 instruments do not have a serial number inscribed in any part of the instrument, and 59 instruments have only been assigned an assumed “c. Date” by auction houses or violin experts, where in most of those cases there is neither a date inscribed anywhere in the instrument, or the date present therein clearly does not fit together with the serial number, nor with the label that was inserted into the instrument. In 35 of the 375 instruments there is no date inscribed by the maker anywhere within, or on the label, and in 1 instance there is neither a date or a serial number, nor a label inserted. Further in 1 sole rare case, the serial number inscribed within is so faint that it is illegible. It has taken us since 1984 until 2017 to compile and verify our data and the reader may rest assured that we have seen perhaps more instruments by this maker up close and personal than most.
  36. One of the feasible theories that we are conscious of is that Jean Baptiste Vuillaume started to inscribe serial numbers inside his instruments intentionally with No. 3 following the numerical sequence for a period of time, until implementing first changes, with a specific desire to retain Serial No. positions 1 & 2 for such time in the future when he would resolve to make two instruments that would in his mind justify using up the first two instrument positions. Unless we are provided with irrefutable proof, (i.e. the physical item), it is felt necessary to state that instrument Serial Nu. 1, remains undiscovered, and we are not aware that anyone has actually encountered it at any time since its earliest possible creation sometime around 1822. During the past decades, we have had in our possession five instruments of this maker, of which one was an extremely early example, but whilst it was within the first 20 instruments, it was certainly not the elusive Serial Nu. 1, which we certainly believe was created by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, even though likely much later than around 1822.
  37. When one assesses the almost 30 distinctly varying examples of the maker’s signatures that we have managed to acquire during our research into his life as a violin maker, business person, and an inventor, it becomes rather self-apparent that he was on a hefty quest for some 20 years to chisel out a signature that would satisfy his requirements in the sense of being almost impossible to falsify, and yet showing the traits of an artist. It would seem that he has finally come up with what he believed was the most suitable version of his signature in 1841, and used it with little variances for the rest of his life not only in the instruments he chose to sign, but on letters, notes, quotes, invoices, and numerous official documents. The only difference was that on documents he almost always used his complete signature, whereas when signing instruments within, those examples mostly do not incorporate his surname.
  38. Until now we have discovered only two other examples, where J.B. Vuillaume inscribed his full, (complete), signature, (incorporating his surname), resembling the last version from 1841, into stringed instruments that he created with no other person’s assistance. We have however noted several additional examples where he used this type of signature and replaced his surname with a surname of the person he was making a specific instrument for, or where he was making a note for posterity about an important event in his life. These signatures generally inscribed into the upper treble bouts inside on the back table are clearly totally separate from his standard use  of the five-looped example where in most cases the space for his surname was replaced by a two-digit date, with or without hyphens either side.
  39. There are also just a very few examples from the first period, where he signed his instruments in the upper bouts inside on the back table, centrally, using a rather basic manuscript inscription “J B V”. It appears that this was a very short period, extending perhaps to no more than 3-4 instruments in total, which predates all other examples of securing his instruments by whatever means.
  40. Several examples of his full signature exist where the two smaller loops far left do not as usual exhibit the traits of a “B” (for Baptiste), but either accidentally, or with full intent resemble the instantly recognisable shape of a heart. Whilst this assumption may seem a little far fetched, it is precisely these very few and unique examples, which can be found on the maker’s manuscript letters addressed to persons one can assume may have been dearest to him.
  41. We have discovered just one instance of a variation of the final signature inscribed into a violin dated 1841, made at Croix des Petits Champs, Serial No. 1400, where Jean Baptiste Vuillaume used a signature that incorporates only three circles below the infinity loop, instead of the final five. It would be foolish to assume that this must be the only such example in existence, even though it may well be the last remaining example of such instrument. Further to this theme, we possess quite a few different examples of his manuscript signatures executed in most cases on documents or correspondence where he uses 1, 2, 3, 4, and even 6 circles under the infinity loop in his signature. One could easily venture into multiple examples of hypothetic reasoning behind these examples, but from our perspective the simplest and most logical appears to be a desire to develop a version of a signature that is hard to impossible to forge.
  42. Only a single instance is known to us to date where Jean Baptiste Vuillaume inscribes a “flowery” decorative example of the letter N using it to assign a serial number to an instrument that is placed in the upper bass bouts on the back table inside - that is Serial No. 2. Two other examples of this type of the letter N exist to the best of our knowledge. One on a typeset, but previously handwritten example of a business trading letter from 1829, and a further manuscript example present on a label inserted into instrument Serial No. 21 dated 1825.
  43. Looking at the range of instruments he created, but particularly at the significant number of instruments that totally span out of what is the accepted classical Cremonese shape, many of which are exhibited in Paris, one can easily appreciate that he was obviously on a quest to improve the already stunning sound quality of top Italian instruments. It would however seem that his conclusions finally lead him straight back to the original shape developed by Andrea Amati in Cremona, which was subsequently perfected by Nicolo Amati, Antonio Stradivari and Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri.
  44. It was determined that there was a clear lifelong bond between Jean Baptiste and his brother Nicholas, which extended not only to violinmaking and the running of that business enterprise basically in the sense of a joint operation, but also in joint investment of the profits accrued from the business deals related to that enterprise. Indeed, several items of correspondence between the brothers show clearly, (what we assume may well have been the unofficial and true accounting over periods of time), and agreement sought in various instances from his brother Nicholas as to who should be paid what and why from these profits.
  45. There were several periods when Jean Baptiste Vuillaume chose to break the sequence of serial numbers that he would have otherwise had to follow under the assumed rule of consecutive numbering of all instruments expedited from all of his various business premises. Yet another such period commences according to Jean-Jacques Rampal in the 1840’s, and we would extend this further back into the late 1830’s. One such instrument was a cello still recently owned by this top-level authority on J.B. Vuillaume, which had neither a serial number or a signature, dated internally 1873, which is held to be a spurious date.
  46. Sometimes, he used classical fixing pins on instruments, especially when copying exactly the work of another maker. However, it must be noted that in some instances these pins have no other function than to lead the sight of an observer towards the pin, thereby making them miss the actual position of such inscribed marks as an initial “JV” in close proximity. These marks remain hidden within the boundaries of classical inlay width and can be observed only with the  use of instruments with high level of magnification.
  47. Generally, instruments with serial numbers positioned close to the centre of the back table inside, (with hash either side, or not), which at the same time do not incorporate Vuillaume’s signature in the top right section, on the back table, or other instances of serial numbers on remaining parts of the violin, may be in most cases safely attributed to his pupils, and various  violinmakers working under his supervision.
  48. An instance has been noted where one of instruments ascribed to Jean Baptiste Vuillaume depicts a handwritten initial “J” in the right section of the instrument label. This initial has been compared with other examples of his writing, and found to be similar.
  49. Labels in genuine Jean Baptiste Vuillaume instruments often display faults caused by imperfect cutting of the edges by less sophisticated, or simply less sharp tools, resulting in stretching of the fibres in at least one of the corners.
  50. It has been established that Vuillaume used at first three distinctly different types of manuscript labels, which are from the beginning of his carrier linked with Lete’s shop, bearing the address of the organ maker. After this, he used two further typeset label types, partially pre-printed,  enabling the insertion of manuscript date and serial number, likely up to the violin n° 30. After this first series of instruments, he commenced to use one after another, in total three main different types of printed labels; two at rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, the third type at 3 Rue Demours-Ternes. In the period of 1865 - 1868 he dated at least several instruments on the right side on the label, using manuscript numerals inscribed vertically. Lastly, shortly before his passing, the maker inserted into his instruments at least two additional versions of rather different labels that he never used before. One of these states the address at 3 Rue Demours-Ternes and incorporates on it the purchase, (or the asking price), for the instrument concerned printed on the label, and the other bears a manuscript inscription “1 Fevrier 1875”, and the five looped signature, to which purpose the size of the previous typical label was enlarged vertically to accommodate for these inscriptions.
  51. More importantly, we have uncovered an instance already in the first series of 30 instruments linked to Lete’s & Vuillaume’s joint business premises as partners where a serial number of a specific instrument/s exists twice, ergo two different manuscript labels assign the exact identical serial number. This is not an error of the maker, nor could one assume by any stretch of the imagination that the manuscript text and the numerals have been misread, or misinterpreted. Whilst we have reached our own conclusion we do not feel the need for sharing this. It is left to everyone else to reach whatever opinion they may come to. The exact serial number referred to herein is being left out of this paper, intentionally. What can be however revealed to those who would like to know more about this maker is that when looking at any expert’s assessment of authenticity regarding any particular instrument assumed to be by this maker, is that no expert’s opinion can or should be taken as anything more than just that - An Opinion! Scientific proof using more than just a couple of disciplines is absolutely essential, and frankly exclusively court accredited experts with a long and successful carrier should be relied on.
  52. Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, like no other violinmaker before him, or since, achieved something that is almost impossible to manage. His work is recognised rather easily as such on instruments where he wanted it to be the case, and yet he achieved precisely the opposite effect wherever he desired to conceal his work, set in confusion, and deceive the assessor in the future.
  53. Jean Baptiste Vuillaume actually begun to place his signature into his instruments and use serial numbers as soon as 1822, i.e. commencing with instrument Serial No. 3 - however, this version of his signature bears little resemblance to the subsequent versions, and the final version.
  54. Roughly from 1830 to 1841, the signatures and serial numbers appear to be missing in various sequential periods. Instead, Vuillaume’s name only is stamped to the inside of the violins, with a small rectangular stamp, and or marked on the label, if it was fitted. It would seem that after 1841, he again started to sign and number his violins.
  55. While it is generally acknowledged that perhaps more than three thousand instruments came out of the various J.B. Vuillaume's workshops, (according to one of his own letters, which is  today in a private collection), the apparent lack of genuine instruments all over the world, and the few examples present in various violin collections, shops, museums, databases, etc., would appear to suggest that the true number of instruments made by his hands may perhaps be very different. The answer to this well-researched evidence is of course open to every individual’s opinion.

Copyright Celtic Lines ©( 2001 - 2017)