Dendrochronology and the Violin
||Dendrochronology is a scientific technique which allows us
to determine with great precision the age of a piece of wood by analysis of the pattern of
annual growth rings. The width of these rings is influenced by year-to-year
variation in environmental factors such as temperature and rainfall. The history of
the tree is encoded in the pattern of rings. We can break the code and determine the
dates of a piece of wood of unknown age.by comparing its ring pattern with 'reference
chronologies' derived from tree samples of known felling date. Both visual and
computer-based statistical analyses are used to establish the dates of the unknown sample.
The application of dendrochronology to members of the violin family has been
pioneered initially by Professor Peter Klein in Germany, and later by John Topham in
England with whom I have been fortunate to collaborate on a number of research projects.
Professor Grissino Meyer gives a comprehensive survey of dendrochronology and its
appplications in his Ultimate Tree-Ring Web Page.
Our research has produced interesting results which have been published in a number of
scientific journals and magazines. In summary;
- We established reliable dating
procedures which have been successfully applied to English violins of the 17th and 18th
- We extended this work to the classical
Italian school of Cremona which includes the great masters such as Stradivari and the
Guarneri and Amati families.
- We provided evidence to support the
view that the celebrated and controversial Messiah violin is the work of
- We demonstrated that, contrary to
expectation, the great masters such as Stradivari and Guarneri did not consider that long
seasoning of wood is essential In some cases their wood was used within 2-3
years of felling.
- We found that in contrast to modern
makers, the classical masters did not take great care to match the spruce on the bass and
treble sides of the violin front.
Some relevant publications:
1. Topham J. and McCormick D. The Ring Saga. The Strad, 108:
2. Topham J. and McCormick D. A dendrochronological investigation of British
instruments of the violin family. Journal of
Archaeological Science, 25; 1149-1157, 1998.
3. Topham J. and McCormick D. A dendrochronological of stringed instruments of
the Cremonese School (1666-1757) including the Messiah violin attributed to
Antonio Stradivari. Journal of Archaeological Science, 27; 183-192, 2000.
4. Topham J. and McCormick D. The Dating Game. The Strad, 112: