When it comes to good trade (commercial) instruments, there is nothing better than the output of the large studios in France and Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically the studios of Jérôme Thibouville-Lamy at Mirecourt in France, that of Marc Laberte, also in France and the firm of Schuster in Germany. These large studios reached their Zenith over the period from 1900 to about 1930, when good materials were still easily obtainable and when attention was given, not only to superior craftsmanship, but also to tone quality. With the impact of the First World War hardly over and the threat of a Second World War looming ahead, these studios went into decline and eventually closed shop. In the 50s and 60s it was the Czechoslovakians and Japanese who emerged as the main suppliers of trade instruments, but not of the same quality we saw before the 1930s. Later, until today, it seems that the Chinese are leading the field in the production of trade instruments, producing fairly good instruments at affordable prices.
Today we refer to the trade instruments produced before the 1930s in Germany and France as 'good old trade', a designation reserved for excellent trade instruments of attractive materials, fine craftsmanship and good tone. These instruments still appear everywhere, are much in demand and are greatly respected with a solid price history.
This violin can be called 'excellent old German trade', and is exactly just that - an excellent instrument, very well-toned, of excellent wood, beautifully crafted, dating from a time when the object of producing good and affordable instruments were not yet overtaken by commercial imperatives.
The Schuster family is one of the largest in German violinmaking traditions, going as far back as the 15th century. Throughout history there were many superb makers of that name, spread between Markneukirchen, Schönbach, Würzburg and other places. A large studio/factory got underway around 1862, when a big output of trade instruments were being undertaken for the growing markets in America and England. Around 1902 Raymond Schuster and one of his brothers founded Schuster Brothers in Markneukirchen - a studio producing excellent top-end trade instruments of various qualities. Raymond left and his brother died in 1921, after which the company was taken over by other members of the family.
The Schuster Company always maintained high standards that are evident in their instruments still in use today.
This undated violin was probably made in the 1930s and demonstrates the high quality in workmanship one would expect from this company. It is evident in the superb tracing of purfling, excellent corner work and a beautiful scroll, full of balance and refinement. The general visual appeal of the violin is strong - it has a beautiful two-piece back of nicely flamed good quality maple, repeated in the ribs, neck and scroll. The top is of superb tone spruce with an even fine straight grain. F-hole wings are nicely fluted, with attention to detail throughout. Varnish is a light golden-brown with a tinge of red.
The recent setup includes a lovely palisander tailpiece with matching chinrest. The violin is in very good condition, absolutely free from cracks. The top's edges at the broadest point of the lower bout is somewhat worn, but poses no structural threat.
On the back of the scroll is stamped 'Conservatory Violin' which indicates the model as being for very advanced playing as one would require at a conservatory. I have seen other such stamps, being 'Sarasate', 'Master Violin', etc. all of different qualties and aimed at different end users.
The tone quality of these violins is always good, and this one falls into that tradition. It is well-toned, responsive, balanced with carrying power and penetration. This is a good instrument for an advanced student and even for entry-level professional work. Very little today in the line of contemporary trade violins can compare to this in quality.