Gand & Bernadel Fres Double Bass Bow circa 1880 – Review

What does "Frères"- mean?

"Frères" means bothers. In this instance it refers to the brothers Ernest Auguste Bernadel [1826-1899] and Gustave Adolphe Bernadel [1832 - 1904]. Their father was Auguste Sebastien Philippe Bernadel [1798 - 1870]. There is much written about this talented family of makers and their work is widely recognised for their fine modelling, supremely neat workmanship and their superb varnishes.

Who does Gand refer to here?

In this instance Gand refers to Charles Nicolas Eugéne Gand [1825 -1892]. Charles Nicholas Eugéne Gand was the son of Charles François Gand [1782 - 1845] who was known as "Gand Père". Like the Bernadel family - the making, repairing and business achievements of the Gand family are well recognised and documented.

When did the two families join together?

The two houses joined together in 1866 and established the Firm Gand & Bernadel Frères. The association lasted until the elder Bernadel retired in 1886 after which the firm continued in the name of Gand & Bernadel.

Were the instruments made entirely by the three partners?

The partners produced exquisite Lupot-Strad model instruments that looked and sounded really well. Orders for the instruments began to flood in - so in order to cope with the demand - workmen were engaged - although the traditional Lupot-Gand red varnish was still applied by Charles Nicolas Eugéne Gand.

What about the bows?

During the twenty year association they supplied many fine bows. Most of these were made to order by the better known makers of the time such as Joseph A. Vigneron, Justin Poirson, Louis Thomassin, Claude Husson and August Barbé. The firms stamp - Gand & Bernadel Frères was then branded onto the bows.

Who made this particular bow?

This bow has been certified by Jean-François Raffin as from the "School of Voirin".

Remind me again who Monsieur Raffin is?

In addition to being co-author of L'Archet - the authoritative Encyclopaedia on bows of the French school - Monsieur Raffin appraises and certifies bows. In 1996 he was awarded the distinction of "Expert to the Court of Appeal" in Paris.

Does the certificate have photos?

Yes - there is a full head and frog photo.

What date is the certificate?

It is dated 24th May 2005.

How does the certificate authenticate the bow?

The certificate is written in French. Here is a rough translation;

'I the undersigned - Jean-François Raffin. Bowmaker and Expert before the Court of Appeal of Paris, certify that the double bass bow shown to me this day for my opinion, is authentic in all its principal parts as follows; from the School of Voirin, made for Gand & Bernadel brothers whose firm's stamp it bears on the stick at the side of the frog.'

How does the certificate describe the bow?

The characteristics of the bow are described as follows;
'Stick; round, in beach wood stained red, 61.7cm long.
Frog; open ebony, without ferrule or slide, with round heel, under-plate of metal fixed with two pins.
Button; made with a double collar called "Papillon".'

How does the certificate conclude?

The certificate concludes as follows;
'Interesting specimen of this great French School in good condition to this day - made around 1880.'

What does The Contrabass Shoppe think of the bow?

Director Tony Houska thinks that this is a very rare and special bow. He comments. "In all my years as a player and a dealer (some 38 years) - I have never come across another bow such as this. From the dealer, collector or bow historian's point of view - it is something very special indeed. The mere fact that the stick is made from beech wood is in itself most unusual. When assessed in combination with the open frog - which by the way doesn't have either a pearl slide or a ferrule - the brass button and the original slender ebony face - the whole piece is most intriguing indeed."

What else does Mr Houska like about the bow?

Tony continues; "I just love the shortness of the bow and its lightness in weight. The whole bow just feels wonderful and alive in the hand. I also love the shape and precise carving of the head and the wide grain lines that are visible in the wood particularly at the head."

Is there anything else special about this bow?

"Yes indeed. There is plenty to marvel and speculate about. Just take a look at the crystal clear brand stamp on the shaft of the stick. It is simply amazing. You should also take a good look at the three capital letter 'B'-brands. There is one stamped after the name brand towards the end of stick shaft, the second one is stamped on the opposite side of the stick close to the lapping - and the third one - slightly more faint than the other two - is impressed on the main brand side of the ebony frog. This large font brand is something that I have never ever seen before on any other bow. It does seem to suggest that the item must have been some sort of special order from a customer or patron. The question in my mind at the moment is - is this a shop brand as in 'B' - for Bernadel or is this the initial of the patron who is purchasing or owns the bow?"

Could you suggest who might have been the patron?

"Well OK - but purely on a speculation basis. If you look at the LOS and weight stats - they do suggest that the bow could have been commissioned for a promising young student or perhaps a lady-amateur wanting to play chamber music in their own home or in informal settings. It could even have been made for say a more elderly musician - because he was performing each night in the cramped conditions of a theatre pit. Being old and somewhat frail - might mean he just couldn't manage a heavier bow for any length of time. As I said - it's just a few ideas. Wouldn't it be great if the bow could tell us is own stories of music making?"

Is the stick in good condition?

Yes - for a bow of this period it is in pretty amazing condition. There are no signs of wear or damage apart from a thin glue line that runs for approx 19mm from the bottom of the 'B' - next to the main brand - to the end of the stick. There are also two small glue lines that run for approx 14mm from the top of the 'B'. If we examine the brand it is apparent that it has been impressed very, very deeply and as just mentioned - the glue lines run directly from the edges of the brand. All of this strongly suggests that these fractures were caused at the time that the brand was struck. Unfortunate as this is - if the branding had been done in the workshop of Gand & Bernadel Frères - it can be described as being "damaged in the make" - rather than "accidental damage" cause in negligent usage. It would also follow that the repairs now apparent - would have been executed prior to it being offered to the customer. A situation probably of some embarrassment to the shop and obviously not entirely ideal for the customer!

Does it actually matter who damaged and repaired the bow?

Well yes in theory at least. If the bow was "damaged in the make" and subsequently repaired in the shop of the maker then in theory the loss of value is not as great as if the item had been damaged at a later date through negligence.

Is the frog in good condition?

Yes - it is good condition. The only thing that is apparent is some slight rounding of the edges of the frog from playing usage. This has had the positive effect of making the frog seem incredibly comfy in the hand. In addition there is a slight groove - approximately 15mm long - in the ebony on one side of the frog where a player or players have "stored" the bow underneath the lower string of his instrument.

Is the bow of interest to me?

If you are a collector, investor, museum or very interested in the history and development of the bass bow then yes - most definitely - is the answer. If you are a player - then you will carefully need to assess the LOS, weight and strength of the stick before you purchase it.

Any final summary?

This is without question a very, very interesting and unique bow.

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