Head Fiddles, circa 1860

Written by Steve Evans, originally published in Night Flying Magazine, December 2013 and in Antique
Trader Magazine, January 23, 2014

NOTE: A few changes have been made to this article since it was printed back in 2014. I have given nicknames to my two violins, “Albert” and “Fonzie.”

Circa 1860 violin, nicknamed “Albert”

Circa 1860 violin, nicknamed “Fonzie”

Known to collectors as “head fiddles,” Albert and Fonzie both feature a carving of Gaspard Duiffoprugcar’s head prominently seen just above the tuning pegs.
Gaspard Duiffoprugcar (1514 - 1571) has been credited with modernizing the medieval viol into what is known as the violin. In other words, he invented the violin. Recent historians have doubted this claim because no examples of violins made by Duiffoprugcar seem to exist today.
An original Duiffoprugcar violin made 450 years ago had several reasons to not survive. It could have been worn down to nothing from hundreds of years of playing, or destroyed by accident or fire, or just disintegrated with the passage of time.
There has been some confusion as to whether “head fiddles” (like Albert and Fonzie) were actually made by Duiffoprugcar. It has been said that Duiffoprugcar did in fact use elaborate inlays and carvings on his instruments, but these head fiddles were made 300 years later (circa 1860). They were plentifully produced and several people do currently own and play head fiddles today.
Albert's carved head looks awesome in beauty and detail, and portrays Duiffoprugcar as the serious violin maker, while Fonzie's gives Duiffoprugcar more of a suave looking appearance. This is typical for head fiddles. They vary by the talent of the carver and also as to how the carver interpreted what Duiffoprugcar looked like.
Head fiddles were not all made to pay tribute to Duiffoprugcar. More commonly found are carvings such as a lion’s head and sometimes a woman’s head.

Albert's head carving portrays Duiffoprugcar as the serious violin maker.

Fonzie's head seems to gives Duiffoprugcar a look of suaveness.

The violins honoring Duiffoprugcar have the old man’s head and usually have a village scene inlaid on the back of the violin. The artistry was formed by inlaying several pieces of different colored woods including maple, walnut, rosewood and ebony, and depicts Bologna, Italy in the 1500's, where Duiffoprugcar’s violin shop was located. Albert appears to have a daytime scene and Fonzie a nighttime scene.
Fonzie has a very intriguing feature not found on Albert. Latin words covering the sides of the violin read "VIVA FVI - IVI SYLVIS DEO VI MORT VA - DVL CE." This translates to: "I used to be alive - I came from the woods - by the power of God I died sweetly." This wording must be referring to how the violin once was a living tree, but was cut down to make sweet music.
Fonzie has no markings or label inside the violin, but Albert does have an interior label displaying the following information hand-written in old-world script: “Gaspard Duiffo Prucard in Milano anno 1680.”

Albert's daytime scene of Bologna, Italy in the 1500's

Fonzie's nighttime scene. Walnut wood was inlayed for the sky and maple, rosewood, ebony and other woods for the rest of the scene.

Several different spellings of Duiffoprugcar’s name have been found on labels of similar violins and may vary as to the origin of the instrument by region or country (France, Italy or Germany).
Duiffoprugcar’s name inside these head fiddles does not mean they were made by Gaspard Duiffoprugcar. They were made to honor him: the world’s first violin maker.
Visit the Jacksonville Guitar Museum in Jacksonville, Arkansas to see these two head fiddles in person.

Label inside Albert reads: “Gaspard Duiffo Prucard in Milano anno 1680.”

Latin inscription on the sides of Fonzie reads: "VIVA FVI - IVI SYLVIS DEO VI MORT VA - DVL CE."

To see this guitar in person, drop by the Jacksonville Guitar Museum, 1105 Burman Drive, Jacksonville, Arkansas, 501-982-4933.

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Copyright 2016 Steve Evans