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Home > Research Projects > Violin Bow by Sears, Roebuck, 1897

Violin Bow by Sears, Roebuck

Described by Dwight Newton, organologist.

Sears BowSears bowI acquired this bow rather by accident about twenty-five years ago. I was rummaging through an old house in Lexington, Kentucky, that was being torn down. They had left furnishings and other objects in the house and were scooping it all up with a big front loader and hauling it away in trucks. They had taken down most of the front of the house and the workmen had called it a day, so there was no one around. I climbed in and snooped around to see if there was anything worth retrieving.

Sears bow ad

Sears Bow


Sears Bow

Sears Bow

Sears Bow


I got a couple of old telephones that I scavenged for their bells. In a closet among some debris and papers and standing in the back corner was this shabby looking violin bow with what appeared to be an ivory frog. I had been collecting old ragged bows to possibly use in learning to rehair, so I added this one to the stack and thought little about it for the next couple of decades.

In 2005 I was inspired to try again to learn to play the violin and acquired a fine old country fiddle that needed a bow to go along with it. I looked in the stack of nasty old bows and selected this one and another to see if I could get them assessed by a luthier in order to have the better one rehaired.

Completely by coincidence, I happed at the same time to have developed an interest in musical instruments sold in the old Sears, Roebuck catalogs. As I was perusing my reprint of the 1897 edition, I was astonished to see my bow. Rarely does such an unequivocal answer to such a curiosity quite literally drop into one's lap.

I took the bows to Seman Violins in Skokie, just north of Chicago. The owner, Peter Seman, is a friend of my brother, who plays cello in the Grant Park Orchestra every summer. Peter is also closely associated with the Chicago School of Violin Making, which I was also interested in visiting on this trip.

When I walked into Seman's shop, I immediately felt at home. He has many instruments in display cases and on the walls that appear to belong in a Ripley's Museum. Mutant violins of all sorts, including a number of all-metal ones. But what caught my eye was a display case of unusual bows, including three that appeared nearly identical to my Sears bow, each carefully restored. I had obviously come to the right place.

Peter examined the two bows I brought him and quickly dismissed the plain German bow because it had had a bad repair on the tip. But he thought the Sears bow could be made useful again.

As he totaled up his estimate for the work to be done I started to get nervous. I expected to spend some money on this -- after all, the bow itself cost me nothing -- but I wasn't sure I should be spending a great deal of money on a bow that I had proof was originally sold for less than $3.

The total bill came to about $200 and included repairing a crack in the end of the stick, replacing the screw, rehairing, new silver winding and a new leather grip. When I asked him if this bow was worth it, he assured me that it would be worth at least as much as I put into it. He did note, however, that the beautiful snakewood was not real. This is the less expensive $1.55 Brazilwood model that has been painted to imitate snakewood. On retrospect it should have been obvious by looking at the tip. In any case, the bow now looks great a works nicely with my country fiddle.

Updated 12/14/2006


Updated 12/14/2006