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"In the white"

Elizabeth Ward Chinese German Gliga in the white

Many buyers may be unaware of the existence of instruments sold "in the white".  This doesn't mean instruments that are painted white, or that have a colourless varnish.  It is a way that instruments are sold by makers either to other makers or to dealers who are specialist enough and large enough to have their own varnishing facilities (which basically means a large enough space to hang up instruments to dry, away from anything likely to stick to the varnish (flies perhaps?!) and the time to hand brush varnish over the instrument perhaps ten times or more).  This is the final stage of violin making before set up work is done.

Now, it doesn't take much thought to understand that with no distinguishing features other than the wood itself, it is difficult to say the least for any buyer to know where an instrument actually comes from.  Chinese and European maple are visually different but some Chinese makers use European maple for their best violins.

We live in a global economy and it is entirely normal for items labelled "made in England" (if there are any still left!) to contain components from elsewhere.  The best Chinese violin cases have German hardware which is a selling point.  But this applies not only to parts actually sourced in another country but also to parts actually made in another country.  There is an interesting article on this here:

In short, under present EU legislation, if the final part of an item is done in Germany (for example) it is perfectly legal to label the item as made in Germany.

How does this work in violin making?  Well, a violin labelled "Made in Germany" is worth a lot more than the same violin would be if it was clear that it was made in China (I am saying that because there are violins with German or English names that are made in China where no-one claims otherwise, it's just that the buyer makes assumptions from the name.  Are you more likely to buy a violin labelled "Happytone" or one labelled "Johannes Freistein"?).  But the violin that is labelled "Made in Germany" may very well have been mainly made in China with only the varnishing and set up work done in Germany.  Sometimes this is clear from the maker's website, but not always.

Let me put it this way: if I were to buy in violins in the white from Gliga (which I don't) and give them to my handyman neighbour to varnish, and if I were to buy in attractive pegs, tailpieces and tailposts from India (which I am constantly being offered) and get my neighbour to cut the pegs to size and drill the holes, and then use a peg shaver to fit the pegs (which I can do), I could quite legally claim that the violin was made in England and it would sell for a lot more.

I won't be doing that of course.  It may be legal but it is not a practice I want to participate in.  I would prefer it if the legislation mentioned in that article I linked to had actually come into force.  But I am reminded of a time when I foolishly bought two "made in England" violins from ebay at a price that was far too good to be true.  You know what they say about if it seems too good to be true ..... actually I think they probably were made in England - at evening classes!


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