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John Betts

1785 violin, London England

"BETTS, John Edward - Known as 'Old John Betts'. Born at Stamford (Lincolnshire), 1755. Came to London and studied the art under Richard Duke. Soon developed a keen business capability, opened inviting premises, and at different periods, employed notable men such as Panormo, Fendt, Carter. and Tobin. Died in 1823. Buried at Cripple- gate Church. Made few instruments himselfearly productions characterised by Amatese outline and arching. Sound-holes rather inartistically wide. Scrolls always neatly finished. Excellent wood in quality and prettiness. Subsequent instruments bear- ing his label were most probably made by the above-mentioned workmen. Adver- tised that he 'makes in the neatest manner, violins the patterns of Ant. Stradivarius, Hieronymus Amatus, Jacobus Stainer and Tyrols. Equal for the fine, full, mellow tone to those made in Cremona'. But the larger proportion of instruments emanat- ing from his workshop were Amatese, and he instructed assistants to continue working in the 'metier' which brought him the best reputation and quicker increased his banking account. Doubtless quite justified in not striking out for the'patch of originality, apparently being conscious of his own fluctuating skill, as well as not underrating the caprices of the public. These instruments, whoever actually made them, give the index of the varying planes of the Amati structure. Arching beautifully done, ease and grace very discernable about the waist curves. Workmanship wholly refined. Scroll of fine volute and a perfect approach to the boss, often of broad aspect. Sound-holes also of ideal curvature. Frequently backs of an especially beautiful close-striped figure. Varnish applied as though worn and aged. Tone never brilliant or strong, but often exceedingly suave, warm and of silvery clarity. Violas sometimes inlaid with various decorations. 'Cellos perhaps superior to the violins, and steadily gaining in the estimation of experts.

Usually branded 'Betts London' on button. This has been fictitiously used in a wholesale manner, and may be seen on common factory fiddJes. Many specimens with a Betts label are often of the five to ten-pounds inferior order, and indubitably not genuine, not even as having been made by the most elementary of the many apprentices in his workshop.

Cello bows also stamped "Betts".

English violins ought to and deserve to have better recognition. The failure of our older makers to successfully compete with those of other countries was not caused by indifferent talent, for they availed themselves of every opportunity of seeing and measuring Cremonas and Tyroleans, and had sufficient skill to minutely copy every detail. Why they were so frequently ignored has never been satisfac- torily ascertained. Perhaps it was the invasion of so many continental players who impressed possible purchasers with the tone of their instruments-in conse- quence, these admirers naturally desired violins with a similar tone, forgetting that the artist is often the special tone-producer rather than the instrument itself. So, of course, as it was impossible for everybody to have Cremonas, they fell back on the Tyrolean, not much troubling about anything except that they came from "foreign land. Thus an innumerable quantity, often of weak and inferior structure, found safe harbourage in this country, springing up and taking root with astonish- ing rapidity to supply the demand of the many credulous purchasers-and cver since inundating our markets. Many of them have fceble tone, nothing particular in the way of contour, and frequently very much bruised. Yet they were preferred to the English productions-instruments superior from every point of view to anything from the Klotz-world. Perhaps all this had a serious effect upon the financial affairs of some of our makers, and as pecuniary difficulties often.. prove a stumbling block to the successful practice of any art, several of them eventually became dealers, thus still furthering the popularity of foreign goods."

-William Henley, The Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bowmakers