English Double Bass by John Thomas Hart, London circa 1850 – Review

What a beautiful looking instrument this is.

Yes it is. The proportions and model are simply divine, the quality of wood used throughout is superb and the neatness of making is outstanding. As for the deep red-brown hues of the beautifully preserved varnish - well these are simply breathtaking.

So an instrument of divine quality. Are there any maker's labels, inscriptions or brands inside the instrument?

Unfortunately no. There is however an old repair label positioned on the bass side of the central back brace which reads 'Repaired by E. Withers and Co, 31 Coventry Street, London'. Although it doesn't help identify the instrument it does establish that the repair was undertaken sometime between 1846 and approximately 1879 when the Withers shop was located at this address.

How can you be sure that the instrument is made by John Thomas Hart?

We were very fortunate to be able to inspect a near identical instrument that still retains the original John Thomas Hart label.

Anything else positive?

Yes - when we purchased the instrument the endpin unit that was fitted to the instrument bore the manufactures name of Hart & Son on one side of the brass screw. From the brand we can work out that this beautifully made and elegant fitting would have been designed and manufactured some years after the instrument was constructed when the firm was run by John Hart's son and grandson and called Hart & Son.

Well – that doesn't really prove anything?

No - you are correct it doesn't - however - when you consider that the unit had been on the same instrument for probably in excess of one hundred years - it is not unreasonable to speculate that George Hart (1839 – 1891) supplied Edward Withers 1 (1808 -1875) - previously mentioned as a repairer of the instrument - with one of the latest fittings available for one of his dad's instruments.

The Hart & Son endpin unit – English Double Bass by John Thomas Hart, London circa 1850

Can you tell me a little about John Thomas Hart please?

Yes. John Thomas Hart (1805-1874) was a maker, dealer and connoisseur of violins.

Can you expand on that?

Yes indeed. In 1875 one of the first really authoritative books on violin making and makers was published in London. The volume entitled "The Violin – Its Famous Makers And their Imitators" was written by George Hart - the son of John Thomas Hart.

It sounds like George had inherited his father's enthusiasm and passion for studying and dealing in violins?

Yes exactly. George bought and sold many private collections of instruments and became - just as his father had before him - widely recognised as a connoisseur in the field.

George should have his facts right about his dad. What does he say in his book?

"HART, John Thomas, born December 17th 1805, died January 1st 1874. He was articled to Samuel Gilkes in May 1820 of whom he learned the mechanical branch of his profession. He afterwards centred his attention upon the peculiar characteristics of the Cremona and Italian Violin-makers generally, and in a comparatively brief space of time obtained an extensive acquaintance in that direction. His unerring eye and powerful memory of instruments once brought under his notice secured for him the highest position among the connoisseurs of his time. Commencing business at a period when the desire to possess instruments by the famous Italian makers was becoming general among amateurs, and being peculiarly fortunate in securing an early reputation as a judge of them, he became the channel through which the greater part of the rare Italian works passed into England, and it has frequently been said that there are very few distinguished instruments in Europe with which he was unacquainted. Among the remarkable collections that he brought together may be mentioned that of the late Mr. James Goding, the remnant of which was dispersed by Messrs. Christie and Manson in 1856; the small but exquisite collection of Mr. Charles Plowden, consisting of four Violins of Stradivari and four of Guarneri, with other instruments of less merit, the whole of which again passed into Mr. Hart's possession upon the death of their owner; and, lastly, a large portion of the well-known collection of the late Mr. Joseph Gillott, sold by Christie and Manson shortly after the famous sale of pictures belonging to the same gentleman. This collection of Violins raised upwards of £4,000. To mention individually the gems comprised in this array of Cremona's handiwork would be a difficult task, but among them may be noticed the Guarnerius Violin known as the "King," which brought 700 guineas; the Stradivarius Viola, formerly Lord Macdonald's, which sold for 400 guineas; the beautiful Stradivarius Violin now in the possession of P.Roberts, Esq., &c."

The book was obviously written in the correct parlance of the day. It does seem rather old fashioned by today's standards.

Yes agreed. Also the method of writing is less academic than we demand today from a reference work on violins and their makers.

Did John Thomas Hart have a shop?

Yes. According to the beautifully produced and authoritative book The British Violin published by the British Violin Making Association in 2000 (ISBN 0 953471 27) – John Thomas Hart went on to establish one of the leading violin businesses of the 19th and early 20th centuries - at 14, Princes Street, Leicester Square, London.

Do you know which makers were employed or supplied instruments for John Thomas Hart?

John Thomas Hart is said to have employed many of the finest English and French makers of the time. It is known that he had a close working association with the highly esteemed violin maker and connoisseur Georges Chanot (1801 – 1883) of Paris and with J.B Vuillaume. Sadly the names of many of these makers have not been recorded. These are the ones that we can find.

    1. William Valentine (d. ca1877) George Hart records – "Made many Double-Basses for Mr Hart, which are highly valued". Hildalgo Moya and Towry Piper in their book Violin Tone and Violin Makers published in London in 1916 by Chatto & Windus expand slightly as follows; "Worked for many years for Hart. A good repairer. Chiefly known as a double bass maker".
    2. Charles Harris Jnr. (1791 – 1851) worked for Hart for a brief period. The British Violin records – "This must have been in 1827". William Henley in his monumental - Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers (Amati Publishing Ltd 1973) writes; "Workmanship superb and always full of interest". And - "Among British copyists of the Stradivarius and Amati outline and arching he stands out beyond them all".
    3. William Voller (ca1854 – 1933), Charles Voller (d ca 1935) and Alfred Voller (ca1857 – 1918). The British Violin records that the highly skilled Voller Brothers were employed by George Hart in Wardour Street around 1892.

What do you know about John Thomas Hart's association with John Frederick Lott Junior?

According to the semi-biographical novel - "The Violin Hunter" - by William Silverman (Published in 1957 by The John Day Company, N.Y - Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 57-8238) about the remarkable Italian violin collector Louis Tarisio - when John Thomas Hart heard that Tarisio had a number of top quality Cremonese instruments for sale he rushed over to Paris to establish contact with Tarisio - "... at Vuillaume's place". With him he took Lott in order to act as an interpreter.

The inside table of the John Thomas Hart double bass – English Double Bass by John Thomas Hart, London circa 1850

Hmm - it doesn't exactly confirm that John Lott Junior made instruments for John Thomas Hart. What other material do you have?

The Double Bassist No42 - Autumn 2007 features an article about an instrument by John Lott Junior - by Martin Lawrence and Thomas Martin. The instrument featured is remarkably similar to our own in a great many ways and is all the more of interest due to the fact that it is branded HART'S in small capital letters just below the back button.

In the article - what do Lawrence and Martin say about John Thomas Hart?

Surprisingly little. In the two pages of text John Hart is only mentioned twice as follows:

    1. "Conversely, Lott accompanied a number of the London dealers including Turner and Hart on buying expeditions to Paris".
    2. "It was made for John Hart and carries his brand below the button".

In the article what do you think about the lack of background information on John Thomas Hart when the instrument was clearly made for him?

Well - I would have to say it does seem notable for its absence. The fact that nothing is mentioned about the input that John Thomas-Hart would have had on an instrument made specifically for him would also seem to be a bit of an oversight.

Can you tell me some more about John Frederick Lott Junior please?

At around the age of 14 - after learning the basic skills of violin making from his father - John Frederick Lott Jnr. (1804- 1870) became apprenticed at the shop of Richard Davis (formerly the shop of John Norris and Robert Barnes) where he worked alongside his older brother - George Frederick Lott. There are two different accounts as to how long Lott Jnr. stayed with Davis. The first account puts it at four years while the second puts it at only a year. Whichever case - it does appear that in order to make instruments Lott Jnr. obtained wood and tools from Dodd - where his father worked – and sold the finished instruments through Dodd and Metlzer until about 1823. Disillusioned with his way of life it is documented in the semi-biographical novel - "Jack of all Trades" - written in 1858 by his friend the violin connoisseur Charles Read that he gave up instrument making for " ... twenty years of colourful travel". John Lott Jnr. finally returned to London in the early 1840's and in 1852 established his own shop at 60 Wardour Street where he developed the art of copying old master instruments to a very high level.

Would you say that John Frederick Lott Junior had a hand in the making of this instrument?

The notion that John Lott Junior had some sort of hand in the making of this instrument is plausible but uncertain. What is much more certain is that if John Hart didn`t exercise the majority or even a proportional hand in the actual making he certainly exercised a significant amount of control over what the specifications of the instrument should be.

What sort of specifications for instance?

If you were going to commission somebody to make an instrument for you – it would be prudent to tell them exactly what you wanted to achieve from that instrument. As it still is today - this would include discussions about the model, the arching, the internal work, the carving of the scroll, the type and quality of the varnish and finishing etc, etc. Before, during or after you have discussed all these aspects – it is most likely that a price for the instrument would be agreed and a contract drawn up.

What sort of control do you think John Thomas Hart exercised over this instrument for instance?

In comparison to the main London makers own production from the same period - the instrument featured here displays features that are less frequently seen. The model in particular is more "Amatise" in its arching and it is slightly smaller than classic Lott, Fendt, Kennedy or Betts work. In addition the particularly neat use of outside linings is a call back to makers such as Hill, Dodd and Corsby who were active in London at the beginning of 19th century.

What other features characterise this instrument and reference Hart's input?

As with the John Thomas Hart instrument that we were delighted to inspect in London and a second instrument that we have been able to make comparison with from photographs - this instrument has been made with a great deal of confidence and flair to an extremely high standard. The quality of wood that has been used throughout is superb, the general proportions, the uprightness of the F's and the incredibly neat, strong and bold making are all simply delightful. The scroll too is bold and well-carved with a slight flatness around the volutes. With regard to the peg-box - it is slightly shorter in length than one would expect from an instrument of the period. On the other hand the rich red-brown varnish is simply breathtaking in both its quality and application.

Would you say that John Thomas Hart was a stickler for quality?

As mentioned previously John Thomas Hart only used the best English and French craftsmen. With regard to this instrument Hart specified a top quality instrument and certainly got one.

Does the instrument sound as good as it looks?

Yes it does. We are pleased to say that the instrument comes complete with the glorious full-bodied quality of sound that is associated with fine English instruments.

How about a final summary.

This instrument has a great many wonderful qualities that should score highly on the wanted-list of any prospective player, collector or investor. The timber used in its construction is beautifully figured, the proportions are perfect for every type of player, the instrument is structurally in exceptional condition and the quality of sound that it produces is full and tonally-rich. With named mid-nineteenth century London made instruments of this sort of quality and in this sort of condition now in demand more than at any other period in history - we firmly believe that this instrument will gain its new owner a top position in a major city and prove in time to be a most wonderful investment.

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