Analysis March 2023: Keeping ledger information in public domain


A lot at a 2022 auction caused a stir among bow researchers and enthusiasts – particularly when it was donated to a public institution to save it from private hands

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The US Library of Congress’s (LoC) acquisition late last year of the bow inventory ledger of the Rudolph Wurlitzer firm represents a relatively rare instance of a historical dealer document ending up in a public institution. The Wurlitzer ledger contains descriptions of more than 1,000 bows sold by the US firm between 1937 and 1950. Just days before the ledger was due to be auctioned by Tarisio in October 2022, Carla Shapreau, an academic, violin maker and lawyer whose research includes investigations of Nazi-era looted musical instruments, contacted the instrument collector David L. Fulton to ask him if he could help save the ledger from going into private hands. Fulton made a successful bid and swiftly donated the document to the LoC. ‘Rescuing the ledger was a way of keeping the information it contains out in the open, which is ultimately where it should be,’ says Fulton. ‘I made the donation with the explicit understanding that the document would be in the public domain.’

Public access to provenance and pricing information for stringed instruments and bows received a boost 20 years ago when Philip Margolis founded the Cozio Archive. Acquired by Tarisio in 2012, this archive now encompasses over 36,000 instruments and bows by more than 3,500 makers and includes over 57,000 historical auction prices. But important records from violin firms often remain in private hands, held close by dealers and not available to the wider public. Notable exceptions include the Lupot, Gand & Bernardel, and Caressa & Francais archives that Jacques Francais donated to the Musée de la Musique in Paris in 1981, and the records he bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution on his death in 2004…

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