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VIOLIN MADE BY JAMES TEMPLIN

NORTHAMPTON CO., PA

1780

 

We received the following emails regarding a violin made by James Templin of Northampton Co., PA in 1780. We were excited to receive this information and we wanted to share this with everyone. We want to Thank John Grayless for his time & effort and for finding us.

 

4/23/02

Marvin & Samme Templin,

 

I understand your curiosity; this instrument has woken mine also. Unfortunately, the only physical proof I have of James Templin's existence is inside the violin itself. A label (commonly used by makers to "sign" their instruments) reads:

    James Templin 1780

    Jacobsburg, Bushkill Twp

    Northampton, co. PA

A second label states: David Hoff #4

 

The prior owner, a retired luthier (maker and repairer of stringed instruments), told us that it was made by a cabinet maker for the son of a German immigrant clock maker. He purchased the violin along with several other items during the second world war from an estate sale and spent only a small amount of time trying to restore the violin.

 

This story, the label, and the violin (we have authenticated it for age) is all the evidence we have. We began searching for descendants of James Templin in hopes that someone could confirm his existence and, possibly, that he was a cabinet maker of that period.

 

I have found no records in any luthier directory or catalogue of a James Templin. This isn't surprising since most such records are for Europeans. Even then, over 3000 European luthiers were in business during the 18th century and only a few hundred were known well enough to have their works recorded. There were a few dozen "American" luthiers during that time, but only a handful are recognized and generally for other accomplishments. It would be very surprising under those circumstances to find a luthier record referring to a James Templin.

 

Just to be sure you understand the intent of this research: the violin itself is not well made, doesn't sound very good, has been repaired numerous times, and has been poorly kept. It is not a valuable instrument by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, an unusual piece that has captured my interest simply due to its mysterious origins. I will probably end up donating it to a museum as another obscure bit of American history. It doesn't exactly fit into my private collection of European violins from the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

Thank you again for your assistance and interest in this quest to find James Templin, but, please, don't waste too much of you time on it. The violin is only a curiosity for a man who makes and repairs violins. I have attached four photos of the instrument to soothe and curiosity you may have about it.

 

Sincerely,

John Grayless

docjag@sbcglobal.net

 



 

 

 

4/24/02

Marvin,

 

I appreciate your offer to purchase the violin. However, I am still in the restoration and repair phase with the instrument. The back has separated from the body and there are several cracks that must be repaired before I would feel comfortable about selling it. I'm not sure the restoration can be completed before your reunion date. I will do my best, but don't be surprised if it takes longer. Restoration of such an old instrument can often take six months to a year. If it is at least partially ready, I could always loan it to you for the reunion. In any case, I wouldn't feel right trying to sell it at this time.

 

I also hope you're not thinking this is a valuable antique. The violin itself is certainly not valuable by musical standards. The varnish used in its making was more suited to furniture than violins and has shown its poor quality by blotching and streaking where the brush applied it. (That's another reason I believe that story that James Templin was a cabinet maker and not a professional luthier. The varnish is the typical homemade variety found on furniture of the colonial period. In other words, ugly.) I only paid 200 for it initially and doubt I'll put more than 150 into its restoration. By comparison, European instruments of that same period, average quality ones such as this one, run no less than 600. In my humble opinion, this violin will never be worth that much. To be honest, I'm not even sure it's worth what I paid for it. Perhaps, when the restoration is finished, it will be a better sounding instrument.

 

I have a few suppositions about the James Templin who made this instrument based on my experience with luthiers of that period. These may, of course, be absolutely false, but they might also be a clue for you. Firstly, luthiers capable of making an instrument such as this were generally between the ages of 30 and 45. Older and more experienced makers would have made a better instrument while younger ones wouldn't have the skills and patience. It is possible that the maker was exceptionally talented at copying from an example, but this is unlikely due to the delicate skills required to shape the instrument. Also required are small and specialized tools. This would indicate a certain amount of financial independence you wouldn't find in a young apprentice. From these guesses I would say the man was born no earlier than 1735 or later than 1750. For a skilled craftsman to have the time to make such an instrument would indicate he could support a larger household, possibly with several apprentices.

 

Using these parameters may help you a bit. I did a bit of searching and found a James Templin in the 1790 PA census records who did have quite a few people in his household. Although the Vincent township is not the one listed inside the violin, it is possible that the maker moved there during or shortly after the revolution. I hope this is some helps in your own search for the maker.

 

In the mean time, I'll let you know if I find any other markings inside the violin as I go about making repairs. Hopefully I'll find some other clues as to its origin. You may, by all means use the pictures I sent on you web site. And thank you for your site's reference, I find it fascinating.

 

With many thanks,

John Grayless

 

4/24/02

 

Marvin,

 

I'm glad some of my guesswork may help. Sounds like this violin may be a clue for finding info on the Northampton line though I'm not sure how important this one item might be in your quest. If this James Templin really was a cabinet maker, you might find more information from antique dealers in that area who could have come across furniture he made. There also are the extensive business records of the various non-technology religious groups in that area. It is possible they might have purchased or bartered with this gentleman. But I suppose you've already thought of such things.

 

Anyway, I talked it over with my wife and we've decided to sell the violin to you at cost when the restoration work is completed. I'll even work a little extra on it in hopes of getting it to you before your family reunion if in any way possible. She pointed out that, although this is a point of curiosity to me, this is a piece of your family's history. I couldn't possibly make a profit from that without feeling terribly guilty... and she'd be mad at me too. <grin> Besides, this has been greatly interesting work and very enjoyable research. I enjoy the "profit" of my efforts much more than any money a single violin could bring.

 

I'll keep you informed on my progress with the restoration. I might even take a few more pictures during the process for your records. Please let me know if you think of anything else of interest.

 

Thank you again,

John & Melissa Grayless