Tag Archives: Hartley violin

Titanic News For 24 April 2013

(1) Titanic Belfast exceeded all expectations for 2012 reports BBC News. More than 800,000 people from 128 countries visited Titanic Belfast in its first year. Some doubted it would succeed and would need 290,000 visitors to break even.

Source: Titanic Belfast Had 800000 Visitors In Year(23 April 2013,BBC News)

(2) Titanic:The Artifact Exhibition is coming to Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland in June. Advance tickets are now on sale through the web site. The exhibition runs from 1 June 2013 through 5 Jan 2014.

Source: New Titanic Exhibit Coming To Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Center(23 April 2013, NewsNet5.com)

(3) Alan Aldridge of Henry Aldridge & Son was interviewed recently by CBS News about the Hartley violin. Aldridge says that micro-analysis found evidence of salt water corrosion in the wood and metal screws on the silver plate. He also says he has no idea how much it will be worth when auctioned off.

Source: Reputed “Titanic Violin” To Be Put Up For Auction(23 April 2013, CBSNews)

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Update on Hartley Violin

 

The BBC has an interesting update on the Hartley Violin claim. To recap: Henry Aldridge Wallace Hartley's Violin& Son claims a violin has been authenticated as belonging to Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley and was on his body when recovered. It was given to his fiancee where it remained until she died. It was then donated to the Salvation Army with its Titanic connection mentioned. Then it was given to the mother of the current owner (unidentified at this point) who contacted the auctioneer to have it authenticated (which took seven years).

Skepticism was quick in coming. Karen Kamuda of Titanic Historical Society has questioned the authenticity pointing out no such violin is listed in the official inventory of items found.  Tracey Beare of Belfast Titanic Society thinks the violin is Hartley’s but not the one used on Titanic. Titanic author Daniel Butler went further and accuses the auctioneer of fraud and got violin experts to render an opinion. You can read the blog entry about that here.

Aldridge refutes all of those claims and says there are explanations for each of them.

1. Inventory Issue: Violin Not Listed In Official Papers of Items Found On Body
Aldridge: “Larger items of luggage were frequently not recorded but small effects like watches were.” (BBC, 5 April 2013)

I have no idea whether this is correct or not, but one would have to go back through the documents to determine how they did handle luggage. What Aldridge is referring to are those things found on the body, i.e watches, notes, rings and other personal effects. Such things,when found,would be returned to relatives or loved ones.

The problem is Aldridge claims the violin was inside a leather bag strapped to Hartley’s body which floated upright on a cork and linen lifejacket for ten days. If that is true, then they could not have missed the bag and its contents. It would have been opened and inspected, and noted somewhere. Finding a bag strapped to a dead man’s body and not opening to inspect and inventory? That is rather hard to believe. One possibility is that the bag was found floating but not to a body but possibly on something else (a deck chair perhaps) or just by itself. Then it might be brought back and left for the authorities to examine. If this is true, it might explain why no official record of it exists with his body. It was not found on him but perhaps is buried in paperwork. So when Maria Robinson identified it in Nova Scotia, they gave it to her and hence why no official record exists.

Of course the other possibility is that no violin was found at all and thus the one at issue, while owned by Hartley, was not on Titanic.

2. Salt Water Issue
The claim: A violin immersed in salt water gets heavily damaged and comes apart.
Aldridge: The violin was inside a nearly waterproof leather bag strapped to Hartley’s body which floated upright for ten days. (BBC, 5 April 2013)

Assuming it was in a leather bag that floated upright on Hartley’s lifejacket, there are some things to be considered. Even in a bag, it would not entirely protect it from the cold temperatures nor moisture. We have to assume during that time waves passed over the body and presumably the leather case strapped to the body. At some point, the body would be submerged temporarily. The water stain on the violin could have come from this.

There is a way to test this though is Mythbusters style. You set up a tank to simulate the wave action of the North Atlantic and have the same salinity (salt) level in it. Also make sure the water matches the colder temperatures for that time of year. They you set up floating dummy with a leather sack and a violin inside (preferably one donated for the cause) along with detection gear to monitor for temperature and moisture level inside the sack. And run for ten days to and see what happens. And then also run another challenge of a violin afloat with a leather container for the same amount of time.  My guess is the one inside the leather bag might be less damaged than the one without.

The BBC article does have violin dealer Andrew Hooker (formerly of Sotheby’s) saying that violins have survived seawater immersions in the past. He says that an 18 century Stradivari violin was swept out to sea one day in 1952 and was swept back in the next with no problems being able to be played. Note what is left out. He does not say where that happened (for fact checking) because it may not have been swept out to the deep sea but was lodged nearby on a rock and then swept back in on the next tide. To say it was not damaged is probably not accurate. Hooker does say something interesting to the BBC:

“Mr Hooker examined the Hartley violin in person and says it has been restored since surviving the Titanic disaster.”

Note that key word restored in that sentence.  According to The Telegraph article on 14 Mar 2013, the violin has two long cracks on its body opened up by moisture damage. And later we have a letter to the current owner’s mother as to why the Salvation Army music teacher decided to give it away. “….I found it virtually unplayable, doubtless due to its eventful life.” So it begs the question as to what Mr. Hooker means it was restored.

Perhaps though, even if made playable again, it never sounded good. That would bolster the assertion by one of Butler’s experts that the metal plaque effects the tone and quality of the violin. If so that would support the theory this violin was not one used for public performances.

3. Second Violin Issue
Claim: The violin, while owned by Hartley, was of a lower grade than most performers were used. Likely a gift since the metal inscription would inhibit its tone and overall quality when played.
Aldridge:” Mr Aldridge says that Hartley was a “cafe violinist” not a concert-grade musician, and did not have spare money for extra violins. (BBC, 5 April 2013)

Aldridge does have a point here. Concert grade violins are not cheap but most performers save up to buy the high quality equipment. It sounds better and if treated right, will last a very long time.  But if he was smart, and I bet he was, he had a backup. One that in a pinch he could pull out and use. It would be old, perhaps not as good, but would get the job done until he got back his primary (which would be in the shop being repaired). He may have brought it aboard Titanic that voyage and that is what we found. We may never know for sure whether he had two violins or not aboard Titanic. I wonder though if any violins were found in the debris field and recovered. They did find some musical instruments. Perhaps if he did have a second it is there and he kept the one most dear nearest to his heart.

I think we have to at least consider the possibility he had a primary and a backup. And if the metal inscription did effect tonal quality, he may not have used for public performances even if he was a “café violinist.”

Wrapping Things Up
One proof submitted is a diary entry by Maria Robinson dated 19 Jul 1912. It apparently is the transcript of a telegram sent to the Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia in which she states: “I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiance’s violin.” The actual telegram has not been found so, at this point, it cannot be ascertained it was sent. It would seem to confirm a violin was returned to her. If that is true, it certainly supports the theory the violin was found but not why it was not recorded. If it was in luggage (the leather bag) found floating, that might explain it. However the silence on the Nova Scotia end is odd. If it was found on his body, it would be noted. If it was found in a leather bag brought ashore, and then identified by Maria Robinson, there would be an entry somewhere. A further check of records might have to be done and perhaps looking into ancillary records that might contain that nugget.

I think it is wise to have a second pair of eyes, independent of Aldridge, go over all the findings and double-check everything. And it also is wise not to underestimate fakery. There have been great fakes in the past that have gotten by experts on the first examination. Aldridge, despite what some might want to believe, would never be part of this. The damage to his reputation and his business would not be worth it. However there are others out there who have no problems creating historical fakes using clever means. Getting an old violin from that period and using all the right things might very well create a fake Hartley violin that would pass muster. After all, if one can make seemingly historical inscriptions on ancient tombs to make them look real, then mocking up an old violin is not so difficult.

Source: ‘Titanic Violin’ Sparks Heated Debate(5 April 2013, BBC)

Titanic Author Believes Hartley Violin A Fraud

Titanic author Daniel Allan Butler is challenging the Hartley violin authenticated by Wallace Hartley's Violinauctioneer Henry Aldridge & Son.  The violin was purportedly used by Hartley aboard Titanic and was found strapped on his body. However the records indicate no such violin was found attached to his body. A written note by his fiancee seems to confirm it was given to her by Nova Scotia officials. Now either they scrubbed the violin entry (a possibility) or the violin was not found on his person. Aldridge claims that experts have confirmed the violin was stained from exposure to water, that its wood and construction conform to the time period, and that the metal inscription on the back is authentic. Butler consulted his own experts who examined the pictures and gave their opinions as to whether a violin would stand ten days in cold North Atlantic waters.

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.

Butler’s violin consultants were Timothy Jansma, Steve Reiley, and Ken Amundson (with their websites noted for reference) and all have many years in the violin business. Amundson adds further that a violin with water damage needs significant repair work and that it would likely be found in large parts rather than as one piece. He also believes the violin at issue was likely a gift and never used by Hartley. The reason? The metal plate diminishes the sound and he would use a high end violin while performing.

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. (Amundson)

So the violin was likely Hartley’s but not the one used on Titanic. Butler raises some important points about the violin but the caution is that none of them have examined it. However the point about the possible effects of water on the violin indicates it would not survive intact or possibly at all. What remains to be seen is whether Aldridge will disclose the names of experts who examined the violin. So far, that has not happened. And outside experts will be needed to take a look at the violin and the supporting evidence to see if it matches up.

To my mind, this now goes into the unproven category. Not saying it is a fraud but want more definitive evidence of its authenticity before I place in the authentic category. Other Titanic experts are likely thinking the same as well.

Sources:
1. The Saga of the “Hartley Violin” has Taken an Unusual Turn (28 Mar 2013, Danielallenbutler.com)

2. An open letter to Andrew Aldridge and his colleagues, of Aldridge and Sons (18 Mar 2013, Danielallenbutler.com)

Hat tip: Thanks to Bill Willard for alerting me to Butler’s postings

Daniel Allen Butler Store

Music Aboard The Titanic

And The Band Played On: Music Played on the Titanic

A Night to Remember (Criterion Collection)

 

Friday Titanic News

1. The violin recently revealed as Wallace Hartley’s aboard Titanic will be going on display Wallace Hartley's Violinthis weekend, along with other Titanic memorabilia, at the Belfast City Hall. It is part of a special exhibition that marks Belfast first Royal Charter granted by King James in April 1613.  Lisa Morgan, city events officer, says the inclusion of Titanic was important to Belfast as it was built there.

Sources:
(1)’Titanic Violin’ For Belfast Anniversary(29 Mar 2013, UTV)

(2)Titanic Belfast Celebrates First Birthday(28 Mar 2013, UTV)

2. A collection of crystal bowls similar to those used on Titanic are being made to mark the anniversary of its visit to Cork. The bowls will be limited editions and for sale in April.

Source: Replica Crystal Will Mark Titanic Anniversary(29 Mar 2013, Cork News)*

*Due to policy of charging for links, we no longer provide them to Republic of Ireland newspapers.

The Passion of the Christ (Definitive Edition)

It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (remastered deluxe edition)

The Ten Commandments

Hartley’s Violin! Not So Fast Say Skeptics

Various newspapers are reporting that skepticism over the Hartley violin has arisen. To Wallace Hartleyrecap: Henry Aldridge & Sons auctioneers announced that after six years of forensic examination and detective work, they have authenticated a violin owned by Wallace Hartley and was found with his body in 1912. However Karen Kamuda of Titanic Historical Society and Nigel Hampson of Titanic in Lancashire Museum dispute it. Both point out that inventory of items shows no violin was found on his body.

No one is doubting that Hartley owned the violin but whether or not it was the one used aboard Titanic. Aldridge rebuts the charge by pointing out they conducted many tests on the violin (such as chemical), and uncovered a telegram from Maria Robinson to Nova Scotia officials thanking for the violin. Such tests would, I would assume, be available to the museums, exhibitions, and private collectors wanting to make sure the violin is genuine.

So what about the inventory? Well there are two plausible explanations. One is that no violin was found which would cast doubt on the violin in question. The second is that Nova Scotia officials altered the records so that no one would raise any question about a violin being handed over to Miss Robinson. The family likely knew (since she was engaged and purchased the violin for him) and did give her his other personal possessions. In truth, we will never know but the telegram certainly indicates the Nova Scotia officials gave her the violin.

Certainly though raising questions is a good thing to keep things honest in this whole process. While I can see some small operator trying to con a buyer, I doubt Aldridge would do this. The risks are too high with the entire world looking at it under a microscope.

Sources:
1. Authenticity Row Erupts After Violin Played Moments Before The Titanic Sank Is ‘Discovered’ (18 Mar 2013, The Independent)

2. Notes Of Discord Over Soundness Of ‘Titanic Violin’ (19 Mar 2013, Belfast Telegraph)