Daniel Parker, 1705-1761

Daniel Parker (1705-1761) is one of the greatest English luthiers. His name never appeared in any of the records of his pupils, and no document exists proving when and where he was born or where he lived; therefore, there is not much known now about his life, including with whom he studied. There is still a lot of conjecture and controversy surrounding exactly when he was most active, but the most reliable information says he was active in the early 18th century, living around the same time as the English luthier and publisher Joseph Hare.

Parker’s early works were imitations of Amati models, but eventually he started mimicking the longer Stadivari models, which were not yet popular during the time he lived. A lot of speculation exists as to whom he studied with, but it is usually believed that he had a natural talent, and that the inspiration he received from Stradivari allowed him to attain such an outstanding level of craftsmanship. Parker also possibly interacted with luthiers in London’s St. Paul’s Area.

In 1687, King James II ordered a set of Stradivari instruments, giving Stradivari’s instruments the chance to travel to England. Moreover, a Cremona violinist named Gaspare Visconti, who was very knowledgeable about Stradivari’s violins, was in London in 1702 and 1705, and Parker may have had a chance to become acquainted with the master luthier’s works during that time.

Besides making longer-model Stradivari style violins, Parker was also quite good at making violas. The renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler owned one of his violins, and in 1911 used a Parker violin to play his own concertos. It is unfortunate that the prestige of the Italian violins outshined the value of Parker as a luthier, and the price of his works has never matched their actual quality and value.

Nathaniel Cross, 1700-1751

Nathaniel Cross (1686-1751) was active during the first half of the 18th century in the London area. He became Barkar Norman’s student around 1715, and the quality of his instruments was at its best during this period. Cross follow Jacob Stainer models, displaying prominent arches; however, the bodies are relatively large and the ribs are higher. The corners are blunt and the f-holes are quite rough, and the exaggerated carving of the grooves form deep foundations for the purfling. Although his craftsmanship was not that meticulous, the volume his instruments produce is soft, but the timbre is well-defined and warm sounding. The wood he usually selected did not have repeating grains, and the varnishes he used were light and thin, soft and gentle in texture and with an elasticity to them. Cross initially used yellow or brownish yellow varnishes, but as the instruments age they exhibit a light yellow hue.

Most of Cross’ cellos are smaller than the standard size, and are usually around 27 inches long with wide middles. The features of his violins are quite similar to those of his cellos, as far as the way they were made and the varnishes he used. Many of the instruments have labels inside with his initials and a cross on them. Some of them were even signed using pencil. The instruments have a simple appearance to them, and although his craftsmanship was not that outstanding, the quality of the instruments and their timbre is well-liked by many people.

Benjamin Banks, 1727-1795

Benjamin Banks (1727-1795) contributed quite a lot to English luthier techniques, and was the greatest luthier outside of London during the second half of the 18th century. He was born in 1727 in southern England’s Salisbury. His uncle William Huttoft (?-1747) had opened a luthier shop on Catherine Street there, and when Banks was 14 he started studying how to make instruments with his uncle. Originally he should have studied with his uncle for seven years, but since his uncle died in 1747, his studies were cut short. Afterwards, Banks continued working in his uncle’s shop until he died in 1795.

Banks’ earliest known instrument was a guitar made in 1757, while violin family instruments do not appear until 1760. He was the earliest English luthier to become aware of the value of Stradivari’s longer model violins, and his violins and cellos adhere to the specifications of Stradivari’s instruments. Bank’s violas, however, display a Stainer influence. They are relatively small, with bodies that do not exceed 39.7cm. In selecting wood, he usually chose English maple and pinewood. His varnishes are usually brown, orange brown or dark red.

Today his most popular violins are those that follow the large Amati molds to make improvements. Not only is the structure quite solid, the craftsmanship exquisite, they have elegant arches, rounded full corners, and every detail encompasses the spirit of Amati. It shows his artistic ideals and perseverance. Banks’ varnishes are of superior quality and quite transparent, shining with a golden hue. He used orange and plum brown as well as slightly purple cherry varnishes. The timbre of his violins is quite pleasing and deeply penetrating, making them extremely suitable for string quartets.

Most bows in England in the 18th century were made by the Dodd family, but Banks was the first luthier to put his own label on his bows, which were of superior quality. Some of them have the Dodd family name on them, while some were authorized by the Dodd family and have both of their names on the bow. Banks married Ann Burt in 1749, and they had 10 children. The sixth son James Banks (1758-1831) made excellent instruments, while the third brother with the same name did not exhibit very good craftsmanship.

Barkar Norman, 1651-1724

Barak Norman (1651-1724) was an English luthier. He became interested in learning how to make instruments at the beginning of the early 18th century, and was later deeply influenced by Stradivari. His cellos are thought to be the standard for early cellos in England. They are relatively small, and have prominent arches and heavy brown varnish. Just like on his viols, he would embed his initials into the inside of the ribs of his instruments.

Although he did not make very many violins or violas, they are of superior quality; however, the techniques he used in making the violins were not entirely the same as how he made his viols; thus, some people think they were made by other luthiers working in his workshop. In fact, many of his violins and viols were made by his successors by restructuring his viols.

Norman collaborated with John Hare in their music publishing venture, and starting in 1715 he opened a workshop with Nathaniel Cross (1700-1751), and when Norman died in 1724, Cross took over the shop, continuing to make instruments with both their names on the labels.

Richard Duke, 1718-1883

Richard Duke (1718-1883) is considered to be the greatest and most prolific English luthier of the 18th century. He contributed a great deal to making improvements in how violins were made. Not much is known about his personal life, except that he was born in a town near London called Holborn, and that he was active in London from around 1750 to 1780. Duke’s earliest label is from 1743, and starting in 1752 he successfully replicated Stainer’s instruments. After 1760, most of his efforts were spent researching and reviving the longer model Stradivari violins, and he even imitated Stradivari’s labels, probably because he owned a 1692 Stradivari “Falmouth” violin. Later in life, the Stainer and Amati models became his main styles. At the time, his instruments were worth more than those of Benjamin Banks (1727-1795); however, his most popular instruments today are his replicas of Stradivari violins.

Duke made a large number of violins and 38cm long violas. He did not make very many cellos. Duke labels are the most pirated labels of any luthier besides the Cremona luthiers. During the 19th century, many of the cheaper instrument factories would carve “Duke, London” on the backs of their instruments, which severely ruined his reputation, but from this you can see just how important he was among luthiers.

Duke was a very successful businessman. He hired John Bett, who managed the shop Duke left to his daughter after he died. His son by the same name was also a luthier, but he had poor technique.

Vincenzo Panormo, 1734-1813

Vincenzo Panormo (1734-1813) was born in the Sicilian town of Monreale. He was fond of traveling. At the age of 16 he traveled to Naples, and eventually reached Cremona and worked for the Bergonzi family. Later he went to Turin, Tyrol, and finally Paris. At the time he was only 19 years old. Panormo evidently greatly enjoyed Paris because he lived there for 19 years before once again traveling around. He visited Scotland several times. In 1789 he went to Dublin in Ireland, and eventually settled in London until he died in 1813.

His family name was originally Trusiano, but he changed it to Panormo after he left Sicily. There is one bass he made in Paris which has his signature on it, which he signed as Vincenzo Trusiano Panormo.

In 1791, he started working at John Bett’s workshop; therefore, he had an opportunity to come into contact with the Bett’s Cremona violins. Panormo later endeavored to make Stradivari style violins, and he was highly influential in the history of English violin making. Panormo possessed remarkable craftsmanship and technique. The wood that he used is extraordinary. He used yellow and slightly red varnishes. The timbre of his instruments is gorgeous and his instruments are quite popular. In his early years, Panormo’s instruments were possibly just as valuable as Stradivari’s and Bergonzi.

William Forster, 1739-1808

William Forster (1739-1808) was born in Brampton, and was a relatively well-known violinist. He became interested in learning how to make instruments from his father William Forster. Initially, he learned how to make spinning wheels, and eventually how to make violins. He and his son of the same name were the most famous luthiers in their entire family. Thus, he is called old Forster and his son young Forster to distinguish between the two.

Forster arrived in London in 1759, and was hired by Beck’s music shop. Eventually he opened his own shop. Besides making and selling instruments, Forster started publishing music and became a publisher in 1762. He published Haydn’s symphonies and string quartets.

Old Forster’s early instruments are stylistically like those of his father. The purfling is drawn on the instruments and then the actual purfling is subsequently applied over that. His violas are quite small, and follow Stainer’s models, while his cellos typically follow the Amati style. Forster’s varnishes are usually red or light brown.