John William Owen

Highest auction price achieved
£ 10200.00

By William Meredith Morris

He was born in Leeds, May 28, 1852, and works at Amati House, Merrion Place, New Briggate. He is the only child of William and Hannah Owen, the father being a native of Congleton, and the mother of Chester. The latter, whose maiden name was Rimmer, was of a highly artistic turn of mind, and without a rival as a designer in fancy work. Owen received his early education at an elementary school in his native town, but it was discontinued at a stage which made it necessary for him to supplement it by attendance at scientific classes in the evenings later on in life. He was apprenticed to the engineering trade, but the work proved too heavy for him and his health gave way. He was an invalid for about three years, and was obliged to get constant medical attendance. On recovering, his doctor advised him to give up all business except that of violin-making, which he had taken up as a hobby previous to his illness. He acted upon this advice, and as he gained in strength he took up the art of making and repairing more thoroughly. He spared no effort in gleaning information on the subject from every available source. He acquired both theoretical and practical knowledge from expert workmen, and he went to France, visiting one atelier after another, with the same object in view. It sometimes happens that good comes out of evil. It is so in this instance : the ill-health of Mr. Owen is responsible for one more splendid addition to the roll of British fiddle-makers. We do not regret his severe illness provided that it has not shortened his thread of life, and that it will not. Phoenix-like, rise again from its own ashes. He commenced violin-making in 1884, but the business at the start was not continuous. Since his recovery it has been carried on without intermission. Up till now he has made about a hundred new instruments, including violins, violas, and 'cellos. He has also made a large number of new backs and bellies for instruments belonging chiefly to dealers. He has repaired very extensively. He keeps a record of every instrument that passes through his hands, and the list stands now at 3721. He works on the Stradivari, Guarneri, and his own models. The fiddle submitted to me was original in outline and modelling. Its dimensions are : — Length of body … 14 1/8ins,Width of upper bouts … 6 5/8ins,Width of lower bouts … 8 1/4ins,Width of middle bouts … 4 3/8ins,Length of inner bouts from corner to corner 3 ins,Length of ff holes … 3 ins,Height of ribs 1 1/4ins, diminishing to … 5 /32ins, The outline of this fiddle is very pure and graceful, and every individual part is in perfect keeping with the whole. The margins are full and the edges strong, slightly raised, and beautifully rounded. The scroll is an exquisite piece of work; it is thrown with a masterly hand, and is full of refined strength. The interior is finished as carefully as the exterior. The blocks and lining are faultless, showing not the slightest trace of glue. The mitres of the fiddle examined by me were geometrically perfect, having facets of nearly a millimetre in width. This style, it must be conceded, is more in keeping with the outline than the " knife-edge " facet. The wood is excellent. The curl of the maple is of narrow width and very regular, and running at an angle of thirty degrees to the long axis of the fiddle. The front table has been cut from a slab that obtained a prize for excellence at the 1851 Exhibition, and it has a " reed " of medium width. Mr, Owen was fortunate in being able to purchase a considerable quantity of Exhibition wood, and is thus enabled to put superior material in his higher class instruments. The varnish is an oil one, of the maker's own composition ; colours : yellow to deep red. In the specimen examined by me it was a rich red with a golden tinge, very brilliant and transparent. The chief characteristics of this maker's tone are breadth and brilliancy. It is a tone which, when time has mellowed it, will subdue by reason of its grandiose timbre. The awe-inspiring and the grand are required in the realm of sound as in that of form. Perhaps Mr. Owen claims attention even more on account of his violoncellos than his fiddles. In Mr. Arthur Broadley's opinion, these stand alone of their kind in the midst of modern productions. He says : " The latest 'cello is beyond everything. In workmanship it is perfect ; in tone nothing better could be desired — big, brilliant, and of good carrying power, easy to play on at every part of the instrument." The 'cello to which Mr. Broadley refers is of fine proportions, and slightly higher in model than the earlier ones. Mr. Owen made about two years ago a 'cello for Mr. David Dixon, 'cellist at the Theatre Royal, Bradford. The instrument was very recently seen by Mr. Van Biene, and said to be worth at present £150. Mr. Owen makes bows, violins, violas, violoncellos, and double-basses. All the work is personal. He employs no workmen, but he is assisted in the workroom by his daughter. Ivy. His prices are a trifle more moderate than is usual in these days of high figures. They are : — For violins … from £12 For violas … from £15For 'cellos … from £20 He was married to Miss Jane E. Beresford in December 1879, in York. Their offspring are : — Leonora Beresford, Jenny Stella, Ivy Rimmer, Adelina, and Paulina. In private life he is amiable and blameless. In his art he is an enthusiast. To the outsider he may seem to be crazy on the subject of violin-making. He has a firm belief in his own powers, and has the conviction that he has found his vocation in the making of stringed instruments. This gentle egotism is not to be condemned ; it is a psychical state in which the mind of every born luthier is bound to find itself. And herein lies the test between the born artist and the artist that is made. Mr. Owen has played the violin from childhood, and has also studied harmony and composition from an early age. He gave violin lessons at one time, and enjoyed a considerable reputation as a teacher. He for some time also acted as deputy leader at the local theatres when occasion required. The label is not dated, but the date is inscribed on the bare wood after the maker's autograph.

Show more Hide text

Price History

Type Title Sold Price
Viola 40.8 cm 1921 Sun 1st November 81 £ 1073.00
Cello 76.2 cm Leeds, 1914 n°31 Sat 1st October 11 £ 10200.00
Violin 35.6 cm Leeds, 1924 Wed 1st June 11 £ 1680.00
Violin 35.7 cm Leeds, 1917 n°93 (restorations) Tue 1st March 11 £ 5040.00
Violin 36.4 cm 1930 Sat 1st March 08 £ 2160.00
Violin 35.9 cm 1927 Sat 1st April 06 £ 1440.00
Cello Leeds, 1916 Mon 1st March 04 £ 6600.00
Violin 1916 Sat 1st November 03 £ 2938.00
Viola 40.8 cm 1906 Sat 1st June 02 £ 2760.00
Violin 1919 Thu 1st February 01 £ 920.00
Violin 1920 Wed 1st March 00 £ 1495.00
Violin 1900 c. Sun 1st November 98 £ 2300.00
Cello 1924 Fri 1st March 96 £ 6095.00
Violin 1898 Wed 1st March 95 £ 1840.00
Violin 1900 Wed 1st June 94 £ 1150.00
Violin 1907 Mon 1st March 93 £ 2310.00
Violin 1919 Wed 1st July 92 £ 880.00
Cello 1900 c. Mon 1st October 90 £ 3416.00
Cello 1926 Sat 1st September 90 £ 4620.00
Violin 1898 Sat 1st September 90 £ 1320.00
Cello 1904 Wed 1st June 88 £ 4950.00
Cello 1905 Sun 1st November 87 £ 1980.00

Books by Amati

Amati, in collaboration with leading experts, have published a few key books in the field of stringed instruments.

Explore more