Menuhin’s Tourte bow fetches £42,000

Gramophone25th Mar 2010
Menuhin’s main bow fetches £42,000 (photo: Sotheby's)Menuhin’s main bow fetches £42,000 (photo: Sotheby's)

Yehudi Menuhin’s main playing bow has been sold for £42,000 at Sotheby’s in London.

The bow was made in the early 19th Century by Francois Xavier Tourte, who was known as “the Stradivari of bowmaking” and was expected to make around £25,000. 

The bow was originally sold in Sotheby’s Menuhin Sale of 1999, which made a total in excess of £750,000 – double its estimate of £400,000. “The bow came back to us last year,” said Tim Ingles, head of musical instruments at Sotheby’s.  “The owner was hoping that the Menuhin effect would work in the way it did in 1999, and fortunately that was the case.”

The bow was given to Menuhin as a gift by Emil Herrmann in 1929, to accompany his purchase of the “Prince Khevenhueller” Stradivari violin. In his 1976 autobiography Unfinished Journey, Menuhin refers to the bow as “the bow I still use”.

The bow’s original mounts were lost but Menuhin went to the best bowmakers of the time, Hill and Son, and had one of their top craftsmen, William Retford, make replacements. When Ingles was collecting items for the 1999 sale from Menuhin’s house, he found a small brown envelope with “original Tourte frog” on it (“frog” being the term for the adjuster of the bow).  “I was breathless,” says Ingles, “because with its original mounts it would have been an enormously valuable bow. Sadly, there was a nickel-mounted German frog inside.”

The bow was bid for by two musicians and two collectors, but the successful buyer has chosen to remain anonymous.

Caroline Gill

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