Book Review: Violin and Bow Makers of Australia

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    Alex
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    Seven years ago, Alan Coggins came to realise that the history of early violin making in Australia was at risk of being lost to the mists of time and that, without some concerted effort to record the lives and times of these pioneering artisans, their lives, their stories and indeed their work itself was in danger of disappearing forever.

    He also realised that this was perhaps the last chance to gather first hand information about the “middle period” of Australian violin making (1900 – 1970) from the surviving relatives, associates, friends and customers of prominent makers such as A E Smith, William Paszek, William Dolphin, etc. … and so the project was born.

    The scope of the work also developed with time to include makers right up to the present time but, perhaps more importantly, it was to become egalitarian. It was not to be dedicated to the chosen few professional makers but was to include anyone in Australia who had ever cobbled a few pieces of wood together to make a violin for, indeed, this is the true nature of violin making. It is not only the preserve of the dedicated trained professional but is practiced at large by amateur woodworkers, at night classes, on kitchen tables and in garden sheds around the country from information gleaned from books, magazines and photographs; often made from the materials that come most readily to hand and with little more than a vision for guidance … such is the lure of the violin!

    That Coggins has the necessary skills and perseverance to carry out the vast amount of research required to compile a tome of this expanse is impressive enough. When, at the third of fourth attempt to have instruments photographed with unsatisfactory results (violins are notoriously difficult to photograph) he simply went out and purchased the necessary photographic equipment, locked himself away and spent the next two months teaching himself, through trial and error, how to take violin photographs of the required quality level.

    All this skill, tenacity and relentless pursuit of quality might yet have produced a bloody dull book were it not for the fact that Coggins is also an accomplished writer and natural story teller. He relates the lives of each of his charges with empathy, pathos and good humour.

    Many of the entries are simple factual statements but others are heartachingly romantic, desperately sad or explosively funny. This is a reference book, but it’s more than that, it’s a thoroughly readable reference book and that’s a rare thing indeed.

    Weighing in at 1.7 kilos, its 312 pages are packed with over 500 entries and 282 high resolution photographs depicting 47 significant examples of the most prominent Australian makers. Violin and Bow Makers of Australia will be equally at home gracing the coffee table or as a permanent feature of the dusty workshop bookshelf.

    It will undoubtedly be the standard reference work for the remainder of this century and it rightly belongs on the bookshelves of every violin maker, dealer, collector and fiddle fancier in the country. It is in limited release so anyone with an interest in this fascinating subject and who wants to be one of the lucky few should get in there quick.

    Order on line at http://www.abcviolins.com

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