It appears that Henry Aldridge & Son are guilty of outright fraud where the alleged “Hartley violin” is concerned. “Fraud” occurs when one person or entity knowingly misleads another for purposes of monetary gain. You’ll recall that I questioned the validity of the claims made about the “Hartley violin” in my open letter to Andrew Aldridge and his colleagues. One of the points which I brought up as raising a red flag vis-a-vis the authenticity of the violin was the lack of participation by professional musicians, musicologists, and instrument makers in the verification process. Later statements by Aldridge & Son indicated that such individuals have participated, although, like all of the other “experts” allegedly involved in the process, no names were offered so that their participation and conclusions could be independently verified.
Well, over the past few days I’ve been doing some verification of my own, speaking with three luthiers (violin makers) about the “Hartley violin” and seeking their professional opinions on the likelihood that the violin presented as the instrument Wallace Hartley played on the deck of the Titanic as the ship was sinking was, indeed, the real instrument. I consulted Mr. Timothy Jansma, of Freemont, MI (http://www.jansma.com), Mr. Steve Reiley of Guarneri House in Grand Rapids, MI (http://www.guarnerihouse.com),and Mr. Ken Amundson of Amundson Violin (http://www.amundsonviolin.com) All three were unanimous in affirming that, given the sensitive nature of the finish used on violins, ANY exposure to sea water, even less than total immersion, would have left visible damage to the finish, in the form of a gray “fogging” of the finish where water actually came into contact with the instrument. All three were equally firm in asserting that ten days exposure to the general dampness of the Atlantic Ocean, even aside from any immersion the violin may have experienced, would have resulted in the glue holding the instrument together failing as it returned to its liquid state. All three were categorical in stating that the violin as presented and depicted in the photographs supplied by Henry Aldridge & Son could NOT be an instrument that survived the events which the alleged provenance of the so-called “Hartley violin” is said to have survived. In point of fact, they were quite firm in stating that no violin made circa 1900 or today could survive intact through such an experience.
Mr. Amundson was kind enough to go one step further and put his conclusions, and the reasoning by which he reached them, into an email for me, with permission to quote him on the subject. I’ve cut and pasted that email into this post in its entirety, with no editing whatsoever. The points that he raises, as a professional instrument maker, restorer and historian are pretty damning, particularly concerning the actual quality of the instrument in question, and given that he has sixty years of experience in his field, his statements, along with those of Messers. Jansma and Reiley, combined with their own sixty-plus years of experience, is impossible to gainsay – at least not without resorting to fantasy. I think it’s high time Henry Aldridge & Sons ‘fessed up to their shenanigans and offered an apology to the Titanic community as well as the rest of the world for their utterly dispicable, unprofessional behavior.
Mr. Amundson’s email: “Mr. Butler, I appreciate and respect your efforts to discover the truth about the “Wallace Hartley” violin. I enjoyed the adventure of your phone call today, and the ensuing conversation, as you inquired with me about the possibilities of this violin, being the real thing. I must tell you right off the bat that it is my opinion that this violin, that is shown in the pictures is not the real thing. I look at many pictures of violins every year, and observe many more in person, assessing their condition and value as a service of my trade. I’ve seen every possibility that can happen to a violin, including being driven over by a pickup truck, and several that have been in floods, and or, stored in damp, humid basements, and cellars. They always come apart at the seams, and at all other glued intersections. The most common glue used for centuries is animal glue, coming from the scrapings off the inside of the hyde of an animal. The most commonly used glue is from the horse. It is very quickly weakened and dissolved in its dry form to become liquid again, even though it has held a violin together for a century or more. The top and bottom plates are carved, along with the neck and interior blocks. All the ribs are cut to size and heated and bent over a very hot iron to form the shoulders, waist and hips, ( or upper, center, and lower bouts ) of the instrument. Wood has a memory of sorts and when it comes loose from its glued position, it always looses its bent form and sometimes it nearly straightens out again. The same is true with the linings that assist in the strength of the gluing of the ribs to the rest of the instrument parts. This instrument that is represented in the story line, is most certainly in my opinion a wide grained German instrument from the time period in question, that shows very little skill in the carving and general make-up. Every violin shop has a few of these laying around that probably won’t ever reach their retail rack out of concern for their professional reputation. This man Wallace Hartley would have likely been playing on a fine Italian, French or even a much better German violin, than what is represented in these so-called facts put out by the people representing it. The picture I’m looking at speaks for itself if one has an open mind and minimum knowledge of such things. The straps on the case in the pictures is only meant to help keeping the case closed and were never long enough to wrap around a mans body in addition to the violin case. I’ve seen these violin cases in my career and they are not water proof. 3 or 4 hours in the water and this violin would have been in whole parts, not attached to each other. Then, for this violin to be a whole violin today it would have needed about 100 hours to correctly reglue, refit, and reassemble the violin. WHO did it?, and why is this person not named. I believe this violin could have been owned at one time or another, or even the time period in question, by Mr. Hartley. I believe it could have been the one given to him by a special person as a gift. However, it is not a violin that floated in salt water for 10 days. A more believable story would be that he recieved it as a gift but it was left at home and the people in his life just let it get old like so many I’ve seen, and it was passed down or sold or traded without much thought to its value. A man of his stature would never let anyone place a metal plate on the tail piece of a violin he was performing on, as it diminishes the tone, volume and voice of the instrument. He would have known this about violins. He would have been performing on his favorite ,high quality violin that night and not a violin of this apparent level of quality. I’m making these last few statements only a reasonable possibility, not a settled fact in my mind. Think about it??? If you were drowning and certain to die, would you carefully place your violin in its case and strap it to yourself as a HIGH priority of the moment. There are many other factors that come to mind that would dissolve the popular theory about this violin, but I believe I have made my point. Sincerely, Ken Amundson Amundson violin www.amundsonviolin.com