I wrote a feature for the Aug. 13 Chronicle about Antique Violins of Augusta, a new business in town that restores, resells and rents string instruments. The proprietors want to make money to help local kids make music.
I found out the next day that when you write about violins, interesting people start coming out of the carefully varnished woodwork.
A very nice lady called me to say she liked the article, and wanted to know how to get in touch with the Antique Violins folks because she found a violin in her attic and wanted to get it appraised.
But I’m not going to mention her name, because I don’t want people looking her up and knocking on her door to pester her over what I’m about to tell you next.
As she was describing the violin, she said if you look through one of the f-holes, inside the violin, you can see the word “Stradivarius.”
That’s the Latinized surname of Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), probably the world’s greatest violin maker. He produced more than 1,100 instruments, and a little more than half still are around today.
And a single Stradivarius once sold at auction for $16 million.
So you can imagine if you found a violin in your attic that says “Stradivarius,” you’d get a bit giddy.
I think the lady said it belonged to her grandmother. And hey, I’m pulling for her. If it turns out to be the real thing, I’m calling her back to snag Augusta’s scoop of the year.
Britain’s Amati auction house, which specializes in vintage string instruments, posted an essay online a while back titled “Is My Violin a Stradivarius?”
The short answer: Probably not. Here’s why.
Pretty much all violins are labeled inside. That’s often how their origins are identified. Beginning in the mid-19th century, German and French factories churned out violins with fake labels inside that read, among other things, “Stradivarius.”
Americans snapped them up. Then they just snapped, after they realized the violins were faked. So many people complained, Congress passed the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which among other things required imported violins to be labeled with their real places of origin.
So if your “Stradivarius” also says “Made in Germany,” you’ve got a post-1890 fake. If your “Stradivarius” mentions no place of origin, you’ve got a pre-1890 fake.
Probably. Hey, it never hurts to check.
A HISTORY OF VIOLINS: And that was just my first violin phone call of the day. The second was from a local man named Ira Schneider, age 75. He wanted to get in touch with the Augusta Violins folks to wish them well and maybe offer some sage advice.
If you’re an Augusta musician in a certain age group, you might remember him as the longtime proprietor of Schneider’s Music Center. His parents, Abe and Anne Schneider, opened the store in 1953 downtown on Eighth Street, about where Strother’s Printing is today. In 1980 the store moved to Broad Street, and closed in 1995. A corner of Augusta Common is where that store used to be.
Mr. Schneider isn’t a string player, but his dad sure was. Abe displayed his talent often with a local symphony, and in the 1940s he even had a peppy little swing band that played in lots of local dance halls and hotel ballrooms.
I told Mr. Schneider where the Antique Violins shop is, at the corner of Second and Ellis streets in Olde Town. He knew exactly where it was. As a kid Schneider used to play in that very same neighborhood. His house was just a block or so away.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: I’d like to sneak in a plug for augustaarchives.com, the website where – for a reasonable fee – you can peruse editions of The Augusta Chronicle all the way back to 1792. You never know what odd, forgotten piece of local history you might come across.
I’ll give you an example.
Last week I was reading the June 9, 1918, Chronicle’s story about the last total eclipse to be seen in Augusta. Next to the article was an ad for a restaurant – “Special Sunday Dinner, 75 cents.”
The name of the restaurant? I am not making this up – Subway. In 1918.
The sandwich chain we all know about started in 1965, and was renamed Subway in 1968. Augusta’s first Subway restaurant is the one in Martinez Plaza on Washington Road. It opened in 1987.
So what the heck was I staring at in a 99-year-old newspaper?
Apparently on Oct. 27, 1917, “The Subway” opened its doors at 958 Broad St. as “Augusta’s newest and most modern eating place.” Catchy. There is no 958 Broad today, but it would’ve been about where Fuji Wigs is now.
Within weeks of its opening, ads for the restaurant shortened the name to Subway – “specializing in steaks, chops, fowls, ice cream and cold eats.”
Some Subway ads also had an odd tagline: “Only Northern meats used.” Feel free to speculate what that could even mean.
Throughout 1918 Subway placed ads looking for workers – cooks, dishwashers, even “three singers, with accompanist,” and later just for a “ragtime piano player.”
After that, nothing. From 1919 on, the newspaper showed no further evidence of Subway even existing. I couldn’t even find out who owned and operated it.
But I’ll keep perusing the archives for other interesting stuff, and I suggest you do, too.
And if I come across a Burger King that operated in Augusta during the Civil War, I’ll let you know.
Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.