Robert Lewin’s instrument collection

In his time, Bob Lewin was one of the most eminent British collectors of and commentators on musical instruments. His knowledge and love of String instruments and bows, in particular, made Lewin well known for his informed, humorous and intelligent reports for the String Instrument bible ‘The Strad’. Lewin was also a formidable force in the sale-room, bidding privately and thoughtfully on only the purest examples on the market, slowly amassing a collection of extraordinary quality.

The first sale

On the 18th November 1998, the London auction house Bonhams were proud to offer for sale the first part of the Robert Lewin collection of fine string instruments. The collection was carefully amassed over 50 years and comprised extremely fine violins, cellos and bows by some of the best makers of Milan, Turin, Naples and Mantua such as Grancino, Fagnola, Eberle and Pedrazzini. The proceeds of the sale went to benefit The Musicas Fund, (now AYM) to help talented young musicians achieve their full potential.

Leading the collection was an important Italian cello by Giovanni Grancino; made in Milan c.1700, it survived in superb condition and achieved a new world record for the maker, previously held by a cello sold by Bonhams in 1995. This instrument has a rich and powerful tone, well suited to a professional soloist, and was bought by an American trust for use by a young Japanese artist.

The work of Camilus Camilli was also featured with a superb violin made in Mantua c.1750. The violin is a strikingly bold example with original, rich, golden-orange varnish and is very much a concert instrument. In 1850 it was considered to be such a fine example that it was shown in the Great Exhibition at South Kensington but, even now, shows little wear considering more than 240 years of use.

Annibale Fagnola of Turin, 1890-1939, specialised in imitating instruments of the famous Turin makers, in particular J.F. Pressenda. Indeed, some of his copies are so exact that they have been known to fool the best of experts.The particular instrument from Bob’s collection was an extraordinary example in a beautiful lustrous red varnish, every detail of workmanship magnificently finished; it was certainly one of the best of his Pressenda copies to come onto the market in over ten years. This violin well illustrates Bob Lewin’s shrewd taste in instruments, as Fagnola’s work had been rising rapidly in value over the previous ten or twelve years. In the 1980’s his violins could be picked up for about £5,000, whereas this superb example fetched considerably more.

Another fine instrument was by Tomaso Eberle, (Naples 1753-1792) who worked and studied under the famous Neapolitan master Nicola Gagliano; consequently their violins are extremely similar with characteristic warm varnishes and splendid workmanship.

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