The ‘Muntz, Bower, Lam’, an exceptional violin bow by François Xavier Tourte

In near mint condition and with an unusually long history of past owners, this Tourte violin bow will be sold as lot 82 in our March 2023 auction in New York.

By Jason Price March 2, 2023

When a bow like this is sold at auction it’s a once-in-a-generation event. In near mint condition, the perfect weight and of the best type, this exceptional Tourte boasts a rich provenance that can be traced back to the 19th century.

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The following is the history of ownership of the ‘Muntz, Bower, Lam’ Tourte.

George H. M. Muntz was a civil engineer and entrepreneur in Birmingham, England in the mid-19th century. His family’s metal manufacturing firm had patented and produced the Muntz Metal, a brass alloy that was used as cladding to protect the undersides of large ocean-bound ships such as the ‘Cutty Sark’. Muntz was friendly with Charles Reade, the novelist and violin aficionado and Muntz published a pamphlet of essays by Reade in 1873 which was influential in cultivating interest in classical Italian instruments.

Muntz owned several important violins including the ‘Archinto’ Stradivari viola, a 1736 Guarneri and the 1736 Stradivari now known as the ‘Muntz’. We don’t know when and from whom he acquired this Tourte bow but he bought the three instruments above from Gand & Bernardel in Paris in 1873 and 1874. The ‘Archinto’ is currently in the collection of the Royal Academy of Music in London and the two violins are in the collection of the Nippon Foundation.

The London dealers W. E. Hill & Sons acquired Muntz’s collection in 1886, a year before he died. Fifty-four years later, the Hills certified Muntz’s Tourte when it was then in the possession of the collector and dealer Robert Augustus Bower.

Born in Chicago in 1867, the son of a prominent architect named August Bauer, Robert Bower later moved to England and changed his name to Bower during WWI. He styled himself as a gentleman dealer, handling only the best examples and often representing himself as a collector when his actions would more accurately qualify him as a dealer. Bower owned no fewer than thirty Stradivari and ten Guarneri over the course of his lifetime including such important instruments as the 1709 ‘Pucelle’, the 1736 ‘Muntz’, the 1741 ‘Vieuxtemps’, the 1721 ‘Lady Blunt’ and dozens of others.

At some point after 1940, this Tourte made its way to America. An inscription by jeweller and bow maker Henryk Kaston handwritten in the margin of the 1976 Jacques Français certificate states that the bow was at one time in the possession of Thomas Fawick, an engineer and inventor. Fawick was a self-taught violinist, owned the 1725 ‘Wilhelml’ Stradivari and had developed a series of assembly-line manufactured student level violins.

In 1976 Jacques Français sold this Tourte to Dr. Steven Wernick of Hartford Connecticut. Dr. Wernick was an orthodontist by profession who surrounded himself with music and art. He studied violin with Harold Berkley and Raphael Bronstein as a child and then, after serving in WWII, he set up his dental practice in West Hartford. Dr. Wernick owned a 1741 Guarneri that he also purchased from Français.

Around 1980 this Tourte was acquired by the businessman and violin collector Sau-Wing Lam whose family has consigned the bow to our March 2023 auction where it will be sold as lot 82. It is accompanied by contemporary certificates from Isaac Salchow and Paul Childs.

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