Yes - majestic really is the right word to start a review of this beautiful instrument.
William Forster was honoured with the patronage of His Majesty King George
111 (b-1738, d-1820), his younger brother HRH Henry Frederick (b-1745,
d-1790) the Duke of Cumberland & Strathearn and King George's first
son HRH George Augustus Frederick (b-1762, d-1830) the Prince of Wales
- who in 1820 - on the death of his father ascended the throne as King
Yes indeed. The Duke of Cumberland played the violin and was a great patron
of musical art. The Prince of Wales was an enthusiastic cellist and had
Forster make several cellos specifically for him. The most celebrated of
these being the "Royal George" of 1782 which was painted on the upper table with the royal coat of arms, on the lower table with the Prince of Wales feathers and around the ribs with the legend "Liberty and Loyalty".
Yes - correct.
Yes. Royal or Old Forster (b-1739, d-1808) as he is sometimes termed was the second of four in the family with the name of William that were involved in violin making. Old Forster's son - William 111 (b-1764, d-1824) is known as Young Forster or Forster Junior. Both old and young Forster are the most celebrated makers of the family.
The Forster family is well researched and documented in the impressively produced
volume "The British Violin" - published by the British Violin Making Association
in 2000 (ISBN 0 953471 27). If you like studying pictures the publication
features no less than eleven full colour pages of Forster instruments that
are reproduced to the most incredibly high standard.
Yes. The Forster family is recounted almost at first hand by Simon Andrew Forster
(b-1801, d-1870) - the youngest son of William 111 (Young Forster) in the
"The History Of The Violin And Other Instruments Played On With The Bow From The Remotest Times To The Present".
The work was co-written by William Sandys and published in 1864. Reprints of
the work are still available today.
The book contains information taken directly from the "Old Forster" account
books and the partial reproduction of the more important letters and orders.
In addition to what became the premiere violin making and dealing business
of the period Forster began to publish and sell music. In 1781 he entered into
a contract with Franz Joseph Haydn (b-1732, d-1809) that resulted in him publishing
a large proportion of Haydn's work. During Haydn's visits to England in 1791-92
and 1794-95 some of his best works were written and audiences flocked to his
Yes. There are partial listings. Simon Andrew Forster writes "...it will be proper to mention that it can only approximate to correctness from the deficiency in the account books before referred to." On page 299 he adds "At
what time he first was honoured by working for royalty we are unable to state,
as the account-books before 14th November 1773, have either been destroyed
or lost; and those books which still exist were kept imperfectly."
Yes. "There were only four double basses made by William Forster (2), three of which were made by the command of his Majesty George 111...".
The quote is taken directly from page 315 of The History.
The monumental Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley (Amati Publishing Ltd 1973) agrees precisely with this production number. Musicologist Duane Rosengard in his article "The 1789 King George 111 Double Bass by William Forster 11" published in the International Society Of Bassists magazine Vol X14 No.1, Fall 1987 writes "We learn from Sandys and Forster that William 11 completed 4 double basses, and a fifth was finished long after his death (presumable (sic) by his son, William 111). Of these four, three were made for the Royal Band of King George 111. These are dated 1787, 1789 and 1805 respectively".
Well lets start by saying that this Forster bass is indeed exceedingly rare however it is not quite as rare the quote implies.
If one reads chapter XXII of The History it can be seen that the three instruments made for King George III were indeed all itemized in the ledger and the fourth and the incomplete fifth instrument are document within the text. What seems to have been overlooked or omitted both by Henley and Rosengard is a number or rather the number of additional double basses recorded in the ledger.
The following are recorded;
1778. Double Bass - The Revd. Mr. Hodgson.
1787. Mr. Gordon, N°. 3 Bass.
1787. Mr. Hunter, Kings Arm Yard, N°. 4 Bass.
1788. Mr. Buckley, Manchester, N°. 5 Bass.
1789. Mr. Cervetto, a new Steiner copied Bass, N°. 1.
Simon Andrew Forster proffers explanation; "The numbers on the instruments
do not assist to arrive at satisfactory conclusions, as they are occasionally
marked for those made in each year, at other times altogether omitted and sometimes
marked in succession from year to year."
You could say that it is partly taken out of context. The fact remains however that the rarity of the 1805 scroll is not diminished or lessened in any way. It is of course unique and of museum quality.
We think that you be very lucky to see another example as fine as this one in a lifetime of playing or dealing in instruments.
Simon Andrew Forster writes that William Forster made three distinct classes
"The commonest instruments were not purfled, and they had oil varnish of an inferior
quality.....The next class was much better finished; they were all purfled, and
a superior varnish used; therefore formed an intermediate instrument to the next
or highest style of workmanship, in which everything was embodied to conduce
to excellence, to beautiful appearance, and to the finest tone."
Yes. Many of his instruments bear his signed, printed and numbered label as
follows; William Forster, Violin, Violoncello, Tenor & Bow-maker to their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales & Duke
of Cumberland, London, No 5, 1790. He also produced an elaborately engraved
trade card that advertised the royal warrant and the shop address as 348,
near Exeter Change (sic), Strand.
Yes. Both copper and silver "halfpenny" tokens were issued. In diameter they
measure an average of 30.39mm. On the obverse face the tokens feature a crown
and the 1795 date encircled by a stave with the melody to God Save the King.
On the reverse face the feathers of the Prince of Wales are depicted surrounded
by Forster's trade and address details within linear circles.
The outer circle reads; Wm FORSTER. VIOLIN, TENOR & VIOLINCELLO MAKER.
The inner circle reads; No 348 STRAND LONDON.
In the late 18th century a shortage of coins produced by the British Royal Mint prompted business and merchants of all types to produce coin like objects that could be used for the payment of goods instead of coins. Most tokens would indicate the issuer and the denomination. If a denomination was not shown - it was implied by its metal type, size, colour or shape.
Yes indeed. They could be redeemed for goods or services to the equivalent value at the merchant's outlet. They were also a useful form of advertising.
Forster had attained an enviable reputation and he was at the height of his career. If a token was going to be issued in order to emphasize his royal warrant it really was the most opportune time to choose for it coincided with the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Caroline of Brunswick (b-1768, d-1821) on the 8th April 1795.
No unfortunately not.
Part of a faint pencil inscription was found on the middle back located near to the bass side central seam. The other part of the inscription lay beneath a large mid-back repair in the form of a cross-brace. By carefully shaving the brace away to nothing the whole of the inscription became visible. Unfortunately we haven't been able to recognise or decipher what it says!
Beneath the old fingerboard - the flat face of the neck was branded "L.P. Balmforth" in
no less than four places along its length.
Leonard Percy Balmforth (b-1881, d-1936) was born in Leeds. His labels show
that he was a pupil of Paul Bailey (b-1844, d-1907). Karl Jalovec in his
double volume Encyclopedia of Violin-Makers (First published in Great Britain
1968. Prepared by Artia for Paul Hamlyn Ltd.) writes "Specialized in restoring and selling old instruments, but also made some handsome violins on the model of Stradivari."
In 1905 L.P.Balmforth established a shop which is still trading today (Dec 2012) under the name L.P. Balmforth and Son Ltd at 6 Leeds Road, Harrogate HG2 8AA. In The Strad of January 1917 there is half page advert which reads "L.P.Balmforth, Violin Expert, Maker & Restorer" and gives the shop address as 5, Park Lane, Leeds. The advert also advertises an impressive list of violins, cellos, strings and accessories for sale. Of interest to bass players is the entry "Morel's
Double Bass Rosin, 6d. each."
The brands provide sure proof that L.P. Balmforth worked on the instrument. Due to their location we can safely assume that at the very least this work involved the fitment of a new neck and fingerboard.
They certainly suggest that the work was done prior to L.P. Balmforth entering
into a partnership with his son - Leonard Geoffrey Balmforth (b-1909, d-1967)
and the consequential change of the business name to L.P. Balmforth & Son.
Stylistic comparison to other Royal Forster instruments tell us that the work is by the same hand. If you read the captions beneath the sequence of photographs of the fully restored instrument - these point out some of those features.
Yes his instruments - particularly his cellos for which he is famed - appear regularly in London auctions.
Brompton's 29/10/12 lot 173 dated 1788 (full colour scroll, front & back views).
Brompton's 13/09/10 lot 20 dated 1789 No3 (full colour scroll, front & back views).
Phillips 19/11/96 lot 250 dated 1790 (full colour front & back views).
Phillips 24/03/94 lot 266 dated 1790 No5 (full colour front & back views).
Christie's New York 02/12/94 lot 87 dated 1782 (full colour front & back
Please click on the image of the back pre-restoration. A representative selection of the amount and type of work necessary is provided via a short series of pictures with captions below.
A total of 153 were taken to record what condition the instrument was in and what work was performed on the instrument. This means that the selection of 30 shown represents only 20% of the total taken.
Yes thank you - we will take that as a compliment. Providing the instrument is treated in the proper manner the work should see the instrument through at least another century of its life.
The work was performed by self-employed luthier Jeroen Bruynooghe who currently (January 2013) lives in France.
As you know sound is a very subjective matter. Having said that we are confident that you will all agree that the sound is full and rounded with exquisitely rich and complex deep dark tonal qualities.
Yes indeed. From the open B-string right up to the top B at the end of the fingerboard on the G-string the sound is indeed - remarkably even.
Yes, yes, yes and absolutely yes. The sound really is something very special indeed.
If you are thinking about investing a not inconsiderable sum of money in a
top quality instrument and sought a good tip - a great recommendation -
you would be incredibly fortunate to find anything remotely comparable
to the prestige of a maker in the possession of a royal warrant. In the
case of William Forster II he was not only honoured with the patronage
of His Majesty King George 111 but also his first son the Prince of Wales
- later King George 1V and the Duke of Cumberland & Strathern. Yes - "Royal Forster" -
as he became know - certainly does conjure up a high level of kudos if
you know what I mean. Perhaps the younger ones amongst the readership call
it street-cred. Whatever - if you are a player, an orchestra or a collector
looking to invest in what is without question a world class instrument
- then this truly majestic looking, truly majestic sounding contrabass
by William Forster II ticks all the right boxes for sure.
LOB (length of back) - 114.6cm (45.15in)
Width across upper bouts - 56.1cm (22.10in)
Width across middle bouts - 39.1cm (15.33in)
Width across lower bouts - 73.6cm (29.00in)
Depth of lower ribs inc both plates - 20.3cm (8.00in)
Body Stop - 59.0cm (23.20in)
String length - 105.5cm (41.55in)
Houska - MD The Contrabass Shoppe Ltd.