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French Double Bass circa 1910 attributed to Léon Mortin - #2633 - SOLD

Front image of a French Double Bass circa 1910 attributed to Léon Mortin
Back image of a French Double Bass circa 1910 attributed to Léon Mortin
Side image of a French Double Bass circa 1910 attributed to Léon Mortin
Scroll image of a French Double Bass circa 1910 attributed to Léon Mortin
Click to zoom to an instrument from a follower of Gand and Bernadel double bass

What a truly glorious French instrument this is.

Yes - agreed.

Can you tell me about the model?

Yes - the model of this instrument looks every bit as if it were an enlarged Strad model violin. Both the outline and arching are near perfect in symmetry.

Yes - on the back I can see the outline of a violin. Can you tell me about that?

On the upper back - immediately below the back button is a feature carved into the wood -that can be termed a "secondary-button". The secondary button is a highly decorative feature that mimics the shape of the actual back button. In so doing it allows (in addition to standard purfilling line that follows the upward contours of the neck-block) a purfilling line to follow the arc-like shape of the shoulders. This creates the aesetically pleasing illusion that one is looking at the outline of a large violin or cello rather than that of a double bass.

What about the wood and the purfilling?

The highly figured timber used for the two-piece back, ribs and scroll shows a flaming that runs almost horizontally. The spruce table shows a wonderful straight grain that narrows from a medium width at the edges to fine at the table centre.

What about the purfilling?

The way the purfilling has been inlaid in both meticulous and precise.

Can you tell me about the varnish?

The translucent orange-brown varnish over a yellow ground has a slight craquelure to it's surface that is absolutely exquisite.

I just love the lion's head scroll. It's quite magnificent.

Yes - in terms of its form, proportions, detail and execution it is most pleasing.

Is the instrument labelled and dated?

No - unfortunately not.

Do you have any info on Mortin?

The Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley (Amati Publishing Ltd 1971) has a short entry as follows: "Worked at Mirecourt. Successor to Darte and Cunin, 1891. Stradivarian modelling."

Did you find any other entries on Mortin?

Yes - The Encyclopedia of Violin-Makers by Karl Jalovec (Published by Paul Hamlyn 1968) also has a short entry as follows: "Mirecourt, 20th cent. Successor of the firm Vuillaume-Darte. Stradivarian model."

Do you have any info on Darte?

Yes. Henley writes: "Auguste Darte. Worked at Mirecourt from 1865. Died 1892. Pupil, son-in-law, and successor of N. Vuillaume. Entitled to a conspicuous place among the many productions from that town. Worked several years with J.B. Vuillaume."

Do you have any info on N. Vuillaume?

Yes. Henley writes: "Nicolas Vuillaume. Second son of Caude François (2). Born 1800. Died 1871. First worked with father in Mirecourt, afterwards in Paris with brother Jean Baptiste 1832-1841 and returned to Mirecourt 1842. Busied himself chiefly with production of superior class "trade" instruments ....".

Do you have any info on Cunin?

Yes. Henley writes: "Born 1865. Pupil of Paul Bailley. Worked for several firms at Mirecourt. Died 1890."

Detail view of the Calow, Nottingham brand that was inside the pegbox of the double bass att. to Léon Mortin - In size the small block measures 4.4 x 4.3 x 2.6cm
Detail view of the Calow, Nottingham brand that was inside the pegbox of the double bass att. to Léon Mortin.
Click on the image above to see some large views.

So you could say that Mortin continued a well established tradition of making in Mirecourt?

Yes indeed.

How have you established the 1910 date?

By 1865 the use of the three string instrument in France had almost completely faded away. If we examine the peg box of this instrument it is clear that it was made for four-strings.

OK - so after 1865. Can you narrow the date down a bit more?

Yes - the original tuner-heads are made from an early form of brittle plastic called Bakelite which was first invented around 1905.

OK - so after 1905. Can you narrow the date down even further?

Yes - at some stage of the instrument's life it received a neck graft by a member of the Calow family of Nottingham, England. We know this for sure - because inside the peg box - just behind the top nut - was the brand Calow, Nottingham.

Can you tell me about Calow?

According to Henley there were three members of the Calow family strongly associated with bass making that lived and worked in Nottingham as follows:

1. William Calow (1847-1910) - collected basses and specialized in making them.
2. Thomas Calow (1868-1905) - son and pupil of William. Assisted father in repairing. Committed suicide at 37 by hanging himself with a bass string.
3. Francis William Calow (1884-1925) - son, pupil and successor of William. Many instruments stamped 'Calow Nottingham'

In theory any of the three Calows could have performed the neck graft on this instrument. Which one do you think did it?

The use of a name brand and the extremely fine condition of the instrument - favour the work as being down to Francis William. The common usage of Bakelite between 1910 and 1920 additionally supports this theory.

If Calow died in 1925 it would suggest that the instrument has spent most of its life in England. Do you have any more recent history on the instrument?

Only that we purchased it in England from an excellent jazz bassist.

Can you tell me about the sound quality please?

Understated - the model is good, the arching is good, the thicknesses are good and by golly the sound is good too. Projection and purity of sound with distinct tonal qualities are definitely what this instrument is all about.

What about feel?

A new neck and full set-up courtesy of Belgian restorer Jeroen Bruynooghe is sure to put a large smile on your face.

When Jeroen grafted the new neck onto the pegbox was the Calow, Nottingham brand removed?

Fortunately before the graft was fitted - Jeroen managed to cut the brand out on a small block of wood. It is offered with the instrument as part of its history.

Summary:

In terms of making, looks, condition and sound there is a certain whiff of quality about this instrument. If you are an orchestral player, a jazz player, a soloist, a collector or an investor seeking an instrument of merit then look no further than this fine French instrument.

Stats:

Width at the upper bout 19.85in (50.6cm)
Width at the centre bout 14.85in (37.8cm)
Width at the lower bout 25.85in (65.8cm)
LOB 44.35in (112.5cm)
St length 41.65in (105.6cm)

SOLD.

For a very big view of the instrument, click on each of the photographs

Front View

Back View

Front View Back View

Quarter View

Scroll view
Quarter View

Scroll View

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