Richard Duke was an authoritative English maker who worked in London from 1750 to 1783. Known for being enterprising and hardworking, Duke produced a large number of instruments, and was an influential maker.
In addition to his making, Duke, was a diligent shop keeper, and had premises in various locations within the Holborn area of London. He employed several Luthiers in his shop over the years, with John Betts (1752 to 1823) being the most well-known of his apprentices. Betts went on to purchase the enterprise from the Duke family, and was responsible for continuing the development of the London violin trade into the nineteenth century.
By the middle of the Georgian period in London, the ‘Stainer’ model was very much in vogue, and Duke was the leading exponent of this pattern, prompting his contemporaries to emulate his style. Whilst this imitation was probably quite flattering during his career, after his death he was subjected to a more harmful form of impersonation.
Having always branded his instruments on the back, just below the button. Several large scale workshops, and factories, invariably German, impersonated this practise, in an attempt to elevate their basic and inferior instruments. Sadly, this widely used method of forgery has been detrimental to Duke’s reputation.
In addition to the ‘Stainer’ model, Duke also produced a large number of instruments based on the ‘Amati’ model. His rarest instruments, however, are those modelled after Stradivarius. Whilst this was an innovative departure, celebrated English luthier, Daniel Parker is however, generally considered the first to base his violins after Antonio Stradivari, some fifty years prior to Duke.
Duke’s exploration with the Stradivari model, often encompassed the ‘long pattern’ and shows very clear Cremonese influences. We are currently fortunate to have in our shop a very fine Richard Duke violin of 1760 modelled after Stradivari, and more precisely the ‘Falmouth’ Stradivari of 1692 (pictured below). This is an instrument that Duke had in his possession, and duly made a very close bench copy. He has selected his choice of wood perfectly, to match that of the Falmouth and paid attention to numerous characteristic details. One of which is the distinctive corners, which have quite an abrupt curve, and curl downwards at the end, sometimes described as ‘twitchy’. In our opinion, this instrument is a great example of Duke’s finest workmanship. However, his work does vary in terms of quality, and it is apparent that his less refined instruments were made for him by other craftsman.
This blog post was inspired by having three excellent examples of Dukes work earlier this year. Since our shop opened we have dealt with quite a few instruments by this maker, though these instruments are of particular interest. All three are certified by Charles Beare, and at the time of writing one is still available for trial.