A violin bow by the famous 19th-century violin maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, carved with an ivory image of Paganini, has been auctioned for $134,500 at Christie’s in New York. It represents a world record for the maker, sitting alongside further records for violin bows by Francois Xavier Tourte and Eugene Sartory, two of bowmaking’s most influential craftsmen, made in the same sale.
The bas-relief carving, on the part of the bow known as the 'frog', was a trademark of Vuillaume’s workshop, and Vuilluame himself was a copyist whose forgeries of Stradivari violins can now make in excess of £200,000 at auction. The bows produced by the workshop were made by some of the most respected craftsmen of the time, tending to follow the style of Vuillaume’s most respected bow-making colleague, and inventor of the violin bow of the modern form in which we recognise it now, Tourte. The Tourte bow offered in the sale with an estimate of $150,000 - $250,000, made another world record price of $182,500, for a gold and tortoiseshell-mounted example made around 1820.
The sale confirms the continuing increase in the price of high-quality bows, both in America and Europe. Most players extol the virtues of a good bow and the necessity of having one, some even going as far as to say they are more important than the instrument itself.
'You can take a violin and play it with four or five different bows and you are going to get different sounds out of the instrument with each bow,' says Isaac Salchow, bow maker and consultant expert for this sale.
The knowledge that different bows draw different tonal qualities from an instrument, dependent on its construction, age and quality (a bow by Tourte might be pliable but resilient; a Peccatte slightly heaver, for instance), means that top-quality antique bows are increasing in value at an exponential rate.
'Their relative scarcity plays a major role,' says Salchow. 'The numbers just continue to dwindle.'