These photos were published in the October 1988 issue of The Strad in an article by Edward Sainati about 19th-century French cellist August Franchomme

Mystery 18 august

During a recent short stay in Paris … while I was leafing through autograph material of some 19th-century French musicians, I came upon a letter written by a celebrated virtuoso cellist describing his first impression upon playing a distinguished instrument. The letter’s contents … enamble us to share, however fleetingly, the first impression of an important musician as he assesses the qualities of a historic instrument – the ‘Duport’ Stradivarius cello now played by Rostropovich.

’Duport’s famous cello has finally been sold at an enormous price to Vuillaume, the luthier. At this very moment it is in my hands. The more I contemplate it and the more I play it, the more prodigious I find it. What opulent wood! What magnificent varnish and what elegant, perfect workmaship! It’s preservation is, I think, unique. Its tone is extremely full, pure, smooth and distinguished and it has a surprising uniformity. How beautiful this Duport cello is!!’

It was Vuillaume who finally negotiated the sale to Franchomme in 1843 for 22,000 francs, nine times the price paid by Duport … Upon Franchomme’s death, the cello was acquired by his daughter who sold it to Hill & Sons for Baron Knoop in 1892. After passing to several subsequent owners, the instrument was bought by Rostropovich in 1974.

In considering the letter, it is important to note that Franchomme does not yet own the cello as of October 1843. The logical conclusion is that he is trying it out, probably at the suggestion of Vuillaume who is eager to sell it for Duport’s son.