Double Bass by Louis Lowendall, Berlin circa 1890 – Review

Tell me about Louis Lowendall.

The well researched double volume Deutsche Bogenmacher by Klaus Grünke, C. Hans-Karl Schmidt and Wolfgang Zunterer published by Eigenverlag der Autoren in 2000 (ISBN 3-00-005839-7) stipulates Louis Lowendall's dates as b-1842, d-1918 and records that his family name was Löwenthal. It also records that in 1866 he opened a company in Dresden to manufacturer musical instruments called the ‘Lowendall Star Works’ which he moved to Berlin in 1889.

What else does the Deutchche Bogenmacher have to say?

Obviously being an encyclopaedia on the bow makers of Germany it focuses on bow production rather than on violin making and as such suggests that many of the bows branded Lowendall were supplied by August Moritz Knopf (b-1857, d-?).

So what do other dictionaries say on this obviously very astute entrepreneurial violin maker?

Unfortunately when we compared the entries in five different reference works we found that there was a quite a bit of date and event contradiction.

Ouch - that does tend to make research more difficult. Still what can you deduce from say your most recent reference encyclopaedia. That should be bang up to date shouldn't it?

The Brompton's Book of Violin and Bow Makers by John Dilworth published in 2012 by Usk Publishing (ISBN 978-0-9573499-0-2) records that Lowendall founded his business in Berlin in 1855 and that he expanded into America by opening a branch in 1867. Dilworth goes on to mention that due to the American's having a problem pronouncing his surname it was at this point that he anglicised it to Lowendall.

What about Lowendall's forename?

German & Austrian Violin Makers by Karl Jalovec which was first published in GB by Paul Hamlyn Ltd in 1976 records that Lowendall's first name was Ludwig. Although it is not stated - one would have presumed that the name was anglicised to Louis at the same time that he changed his family name from Löwenthal to Lowendall.

Did Lowendall ever visit England?

The Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers by William Henley published by Amati Publishing Ltd in 1973 (third edition) records that although Lowendall returned to live in Dresden in 1873 he continued to make regular trips to both America and England.

So Lowendall had the acumen to see that there was a growing demand for well made inexpensive instruments?

Yes indeed and in order to supply the many orders that flooded in he employed a large number of artisans to make instruments in different models, grades and qualities.

Can you tell me about some of the different models?

Copies of Stradivarius, Güanerius, Maggini and Gasparo da Salo were produced.

What grades of quality were made?

Many instruments were both labelled and bore the model name that denoted the grade branded on to the back of the peg-box; Lowendall's Imperial Violin, Lowendall's Celebrated Conservatory Violin or Lowendall's Grand Concert Violin.

It seems that Lowendall wasn't shy to advertise his products was he?

No indeed he wasn't.

Were any higher quality instruments made?

In addition to the trade type instruments produced Lowendall employed a number of highly skilled craftsmen to construct instruments of much, much finer quality. These instruments generally followed Stradivarius models and were accurately made and finished in a red varnish of particularly fine quality.

Did Lowendall receive any awards for these better quality instruments?

Both Henley and Dilworth record that he was awarded a silver medal at the “London Inventions Exhibition”. Although neither authors provide a date for this event presumably it was the ‘International Inventions Exhibition’ that was held in South Kensington in 1885.

Did Lowendall receive any other awards?

Both Henley and Dilworth record that he won a silver medal at an exhibition held in Bologna but both fail to name or provide a year for this event. The Jalovec records that his workshop in Berlin “won many medals at exhibitions” but fails to provide any listing.

Do you know the address of the workshop in Berlin?

Henley records that the building that he purchased in 1889 occupied four floors and was “spacious”. Both Henley & Dilworth record that it was located at 121 Reichenberger Strasse, Berlin.

Lets move on to the instrument. Would you describe it as being one of Lowendall's better quality instruments?

Yes indeed. In fact our boffins here at The Contrabass Shoppe all believe this to be one of the nicest and best preserved examples that they have ever seen. The well flamed maple back and matching ribs and the straight even grained spruce front demonstrate that this is an instrument of quality. The beautifully translucent deep blood-red spirit varnish over a yellow ground also strongly signifies the splendid quality of this instrument.

How can you be so sure that the instrument was made by Lowendall. Is it labelled or branded?

Unfortunately the instrument doesn't have a makers label. What is does display however is the Lowendall logo on the back button and the city name BERLIN in capital letters positioned a centimetre below the convex line of the back button purfilling.

Can you describe the Lowndall brand for me please?

Although the brand is partially worn it consists of a capital “L” within a wreath of laurel leaves. At the top of the wreath there is a small gap that breaks what would otherwise be a full circle. At the bottom of the wreath there is a small bow.

So besides the choice cuts of wood and the beautiful varnish what else will I like about the instrument?

With a length of back statistic of 110.5cm and a string length stat of only 104.1cm you'll just love how manageable and easy this instrument is to play.

Besides the very advantageous string length are there any other plus points to consider?

Yes – the bass sports a seriously fine set up which includes a new slim-feel “D” neck, a top quality fingerboard from Germany, a top quality Chevalets Despieu bridge, a pair of ebony bridge adjusters, a top quality sound post and one of our über functional English pattern brass endpin units.

Is there anything else that I can rave about?

Yes indeed. The pegbox has been adorned with a set of English made brass machines. The hand made machines have been set on brass half plates and are beautifully precise and super smooth to turn.

I must say that externally you have done the instrument proud. Did you do any work on the inside?

Internally we have washed out any body cracks, reglued and secured with sudds as necessary. We have also replaced the upper block and fitted a new bass bar of the correct length and depth.

Would you go as far to say that the instrument is in A1 structural condition?

Yes indeed. A1 structural condition it is.

What about the sound?

The sound is full and rounded with just the right amount of punch and projection.

Will the instrument suit me?

If you are currently in the process of trying to get one of those coveted positions in an opera, symphony or chamber orchestra then the playability, good looks and sound of this instrument is certain to help you along very nicely indeed.

Can you provide a summary?

Louis Lowendall was a violin maker, dealer and entrepreneur who saw a gap in the market for well made instruments that wouldn’t cost a fortune to buy. He is well recognised and credited with the production of many thousands of trade to good trade type instruments that were made by artisans in large workshops that he opened in both Germany and America. When ready these instruments were exported all over the world. Lowendall is also credited with the production of some better quality instruments of which we believe this really splendid instrument is representative.

How about a final summary?

We feel sure that you will be well impressed with the quality and volume of sound that this smallish instrument produces. With a very advantageous string length of only 104.1cm the instrument feels good and is easy to play too. As for the value aspect we are confident that you won't find a better-presented old instrument of this quality for this sort of money.

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