Over the last 5 years I have plunged into the world of violins. One of the biggest surprises to me was that the market for violin bows is much different from the violin market. Like violins there seems to be a market for an every day practice bow and then there is a different market for the personal bow. That is the one that the violinist will use when he wants to play for his pleasure or for others pleasure. The search for this bow is often for the best bow that the violinist can afford. It is more personal and more permanent than the purchase of the violin. A musician will keep a bow through the buying and selling of several violins.
A good bow has 4 characteristics that I can identify. The first is quality construction. The wood of choice is Pernambuco aka Brazilwood. It is noted for its color, its lightness and that it does not warp over time. If the maker of the violin bow makes the effort to use the best wood, the shaft of the bow is almost always six sided.
By lightness of the bow the reference is literally to the weight. Most high quality bows are in between 56 and 64 grams. This is a weight that good violinists find most comfortable. It is a standard in both modern and antique violin bows.
The other technical aspect is the balance of the bow. Most high quality bows have a silver or whale bone wrap just above the frog on the shaft for balance. It gives the bow a nice look as well.
The history of a bow seems to have a huge impact on reflecting quality and thus shows up in the pricing. Three of the names that are well know in the world of antique cello bows are Tourte, Lupot and W E Hill and Sons. Hill bows illustrate best what makes antique bows valuable. To this day the company is noted for producing the highest quality violin bows. Antique examples of these bows have little marks and symbols on the frog, on the shaft and under the tip that identify which employee made which part that was then assembled into the bow. There is a book that reports the complete history of who was employed by this company and what parts he produced from what year to what year.
Quality bows withstand the test of time. It is a fairly simple instrument that has one fatal flaw. It warps. A bow has camber, the natural bowing that maintains the tension on the horse hair. However, the vast majority of bows will warp laterally over time. By that I mean that when you put the frog to your nose and you look down the bow it will bend to the right or left a little bit or quite dramatically. Any warp of this kind reduces that value of a bow.
So what gives a violin bow value? Like every thing in this world it is the forces of supply and demand. The demand for quality violin bows increases with the constant increase in good violinists. However, most violin bows do not survive the test of time. There is a very limited supply of quality antique violin bows and it will never increase. This is similar to the reality of antique violins. However, supply is much more restricted for antique bows than for antique violins. People who do have a quality antique violin bow are less likely to put it on the market so supply is restricted because of that. The second part of the equation is that fewer antique bows survived. In our collection we had over 60 violins. Almost without exception, each of them was in a case with a bow. We were able to repair 50 of the violins. Only 4 bows were in good enough shape to save. Those that we chose to sell were sold in a heartbeat. I suspect that we could have gotten an even better price than we did so we have a couple of very happy buyers. So if you are looking for a good violin bow, expect to pay a handsome price but it is a lifetime investment.
We inherited 60 violins a few years ago. Most folks only inherit one or two. The violin marketplace is like any market niche. You need to know the technical stuff, the movers in the market and how to get full value for your goods. The folks in the violin market do not give up the inside info easily and there is nothing in the form of a violin market guide except buyer beware and seller beware. So one of my missions is to use the new publishing tools to help folks raise their awareness of the violin market [http://www.collectibleviolins.com], how it is constructed and how the internet is opening up this market niche. I hope you find these insights helpful and use some of the resources that I offer up.