Asa White Violins

 
 

This site is dedicated to cataloging the fine violins built by Asa Warren White in Boston and Chicago between 1849 and 1893.  Warren White -- he actually went by his middle name -- is widely regarded as one of America’s finest early luthiers. He made about 400 instruments and he signed, numbered and dated many of them. It’s my goal to rediscover these violins and post photos and vital information on each. I’m equally interested in any history that accompanies these instruments -- prior owners, where they were played, etc. I start this project with my own A.W. White violin: No. 55 dated November 1872. If you own a White, please let me know! This site will only be as useful as your willingness to share the lore of these wonderful violins. You can reach me here. I also run a violin shop called Greenway Violins.

--Randy Barrett


A.W. White History

Asa Warren White was born in Barre, MA in 1826 and worked for instrument dealer and publisher Henry M. Prentiss on Court St. in Boston before partnering with his brother Ira J. White in 1849. He built the majority of his instruments  (mostly violins, some violas and cellos) in Boston in his shop at 86 Tremont St. In 1888, White moved to Chicago where he produced instruments with labels bearing that city’s name. White died in Boston in 1893. During his career, White also imported violins from Europe which he regraduated and then finished. To identify these, White put his own label over the trade label (Stradivarius/Amati, etc.) already inside the fiddle.


Violin No. 55  (Nov. 1872)































This instrument is 23.5 inches long with a body length of 14 1/8 inches, finished in a chestnut brown varnish that is very thin. Upper bout: 6 5/8 inches. Lower bout: 8 1/8 inches. Back, ribs and neck of of medium curl maple. Violin has a big voice and is very responsive through all registers. Back story:  I purchased the violin from the family of Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914-1980) a prominent New Yorker who was a dentist by day -- and an amateur archeologist of great importance. Kazimiroff was a leading expert on native American settlements and burial sites around Manhattan. He collected hundreds of thousands of artifacts gathered from road and bridge construction sites and co-founded the Bronx County Historical Society.  His son, Ted, wrote the book The Last Algonquin, which tells his father’s childhood story of a unique friendship with a local native American. Somehow, Ted Sr. managed to find time to be a fine violinist and fiddler as well. By all accounts he was truly a renaissance man.



Violin No. 63 (April 1873)





















Another classic White in chesnut finish. It’s currently for sale at Stamell Strings in Connecticut.



Violin, July 1873






This  violin is a superb example of White’s work. Label is neither signed nor numbered. The original brown finish is darker than usual and  is in excellent condition. Fiddle  has had several table repairs. Length: 357 mm; upper bout 166mm, lower bout 200mm. It is currently for sale here.



Violin No. 143 (Nov. 1875)



              
           



This violin has had a darker varnish overcoat somewhere along the way but retains its classic A.W. White lines: rounded shoulders, elegant and deeply carved scroll, deep channels on edge of back plate. Label is signed. It sports a highly flamed back, neck and ribs. Measurements: Length 23.5 inches, body 141/8 inches. Upper bout: 6 5/8 inches. Lower bout: 8 1/8 inches. The violin is currently undergoing restoration in California.



Violin No. 188 (May 1877)























This fiddle currently resides in Massachusetts. It has a big, clear voice.  I had a chance to spend some time with this fiddle several years ago when it was for sale at Baker Violin Shop in Dummerston, VT. Proprietor David Baker is a great guy and I highly recommend a visit.



Violin No. 191 (June 1877)






Here’s a beautiful Warren White in light brown.  Signed and dated. It’s currently for sale here.



Violin, 1877

























I had the pleasure of playing this White at Johnson Strings in Newton, MA. The shop has an excellent collection of early American violins (and many others) and the staff there is friendly and helpful. This fiddle is in absolutely perfect condition, with a heavier, darker finish than is normally seen on White’s instruments. The flame on the back plate is gorgeous -- this is clearly a fiddle White wanted to show off, and indeed it won the silver medal at the 1878 Mechanics Association exhibition in Boston. It was owned in the 1950s by Boston Symphony violinist  Francesco Zecchino. The tone is strong, but with complexity to spare in the mid-range, a trademark quality I’ve found in several of White’s violins, including my own.  You can find more information about this violin here. Body length: 355mm





Violin, 1888 (Chicago)





As with many A.W. White violins, this one has been played hard -- the true mark of a good sounding instrument. This fiddle is from late in his career when he lived in Chicago. Label is signed.



 

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