John Priestnall

Highest auction price achieved
£ 1081.00

By William Meredith Morris

He was born at Saddleworth, near Oldham, in Nov. 1819, and died at Rochdale, Jan. 18, 1899. He was originally a joiner and pattern-maker, and noted as an ingenious workman, and the discoverer of several improvements in wood-working machines. He worked occasionally at violin-making in early life, but in 1870 he began to devote the whole of his time to it, and the remaining years of his life was spent as a professional maker. At the time of his death he had completed three hundred violins, thirty violas, six 'cellos, and eight double-basses. His instruments are well finished, and possess considerable originality. His wood is mostly regular in figure, cut on the quarter, with the curl running at right angles to the long axis. The sound-holes are quaint, but pleasing. The scroll is thrown with a decided hand. The edges are full and rounded, and the purfling nicely inlaid. The varnish is an oil one ; colour, deep golden amber. It is transparent, elastic, and tender — rather too tender, seeing that a fiddle which was made in 1884 is not yet quite hard-dry in 1902. One suspects that a varnish which does not thoroughly set in eighteen years will never set at all. Apart from this one defect, the varnish is very beautiful. It is laid on in about half-a-dozen coats, and nicely polished. The tone is large and telling, and possesses much of the Italian oiliness, but it is rather viola-like on the lower strings. I am told this is a characteristic of all his instruments. Nevertheless it is a highly respectable tone, and stamps Priestnall as a maker of no ordinary ability. Had he been more conversant with Italian work of the first rank, no doubt some of the three hundred odd examples of his art which he left behind him would be eagerly sought after to-day by orchestral players. Old Mr. Hill, of Wardour Street, is reported to have said that a good maker ought to be able to make a fiddle with a knife and fork, albeit he himself used the finest tools in his repairing, made from the best metal. Priestnall did not believe in " knife and fork " repairing. He would patiently spend hours over a contrivance that would methodically ensure an artistic finish to a job. There is ample room to-day for more men of his stamp. Artistic repairers are few and far between. There are not above half-a-dozen scientific repairers in Great Britain at the present time, whereas there are at least two hundred makers, professional and amateur, exclusive of manufacturers of the ordinary trade fiddle. Priestnall was a very genial and generous man. He had the sense of humour also if the following tale be true. It is related that he once " faked " an Italian fiddle in order to test the powers of a well-known London expert. He carefully prepared his " bait," clapped a Storioni ticket into it, and sent it up for opinion. The instrument came back with a certificate duly attesting that the fiddle was genuine as labelled. Priestnall was much amused over the credulity of the " big gun," as he called him. The incident is not impossible. I know a maker of " Old Italian " instruments residing at present not one hundred miles from Manchester, who by his cunning and deftness continually practises his black art upon the experts. He recently turned out a splendid Panormo and a Grancino which completely deceived a high priest of the art. Quis judicet ipsos criticos ? Priestnall was an old-fashioned player on the violin, and in his young days was much in request at country weddings, fairs, &c. He sold his instruments at £4, but some of them have been recently sold at double the price. His instruments bear no label, but the maker's name is stamped on the wood with a cold punch in several places, and the number of the instrument is stamped on the button.

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Price History

Type Title Sold Price
Viola 39.4 cm Rochdale, 1889 n°7 Fri 1st October 10 £ 1081.00
Violin 1884 Thu 1st March 01 £ 493.00
Violin 1897 Thu 1st March 01 £ 288.00
Violin 1885 Wed 1st April 98 £ 322.00
Violin 1895 Fri 1st March 96 £ 690.00
Violin 1888 Sat 1st April 89 £ 462.00
Viola 39.1 cm 1850-75 Wed 1st March 89 £ 990.00
Violin 1892 Tue 1st November 88 £ 396.00
Violin 1890 Fri 1st July 88 £ 187.00
Violin 1893 Mon 1st June 87 £ 198.00
Violin 1893 Wed 1st April 87 £ 165.00
Violin 1888 Sat 1st November 86 £ 176.00
Violin 1888 Wed 1st October 86 £ 93.00
Violin 1894 Mon 1st July 85 £ 330.00

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