Let’s Conduct An Experiment Part 2


At the beginning of this month I shared my skepticism about the recent finding of Wallace Hartley’s (Band master of the RMS Titanic) violin. Perhaps it was his violin, only my gut says it was not the one he was playing on the night of the disaster, as claimed by the auction house, but perhaps a second violin he owned as a spare.

I asked for an experiment, and I got one! Ken Amundson of Minnesota sent along the following letter he sent to London Times, and better yet, pictures to document his simple experiment. While the conditions were not identical, it is absolutely stunning to see the damage that water can do to a stringed instrument:

I am Ken Amundson of Amundson Violin in Minnesota, USA. I am 68 years old and have been around the violin as a Luthier for about 55 years as a 3rd generation family business. I was contacted by Daniel Allen Butler for an opinion on this violin, and it’s validity as far as it being the one that Wallace Hartley played on the deck of the Titanic till his death.  This instrument is being offered for auction this year in England as “THE ONE “.  Mr. Butler is an author of 2 books concerning the Titanic and its artifacts. He is also a known and respected author of steam ship accidents in general, throughout the history of such monsters of the sea. I believe he considers himself as being a self appointed guardian of such things and the truth or falseness surrounding the artifacts, including this violin. I believe his concerns are valid on the violin. I believe I have proven that it can’t be the Hartley violin that went down with the man.  I even conducted an experiment which included the soaking of a similar violin, in a similar case over night in 40 degree sea salt water (in a barrel) in an hour it was showing real signs of coming apart. In 4 hours it was coming apart more seriously, and in the morning it was absolutely failing in its structure, and falling to pieces as I picked it up by the neck to take pictures. What was astonishing is that the case did the same.  This is without the benefit of wind and smashing waves. I took clear and concise and timely pictures of this process and have reputable witnesses to this test operation. I’d be glad to go into more detail and send you the pictures if you so desire. I believe that representing this violin as the one is at least a mistake and quite possibly an out and out fraud.   Ken Amundson, www.amundsonviolin.com

Obviously, the famous story of the Red Diamond Stradivarius that was meticulously restored from sea water damage shows it is a possible repair. However, the Red Diamond was not at sea for over 2 weeks in freezing water. Also, had Wallace Hartley’s violin been restored after the disaster, I have a very hard time believing that the person paying for the restoration would have just stuffed it back into the leather bag like auction house suggests it was discovered in.

Generally, after a lofty repair bill and exceedingly complex restoration, one would probably have placed the violin in a real violin case as a type of gesture to insure the violin would be safe.

The violin is going on tour around England instead of being auctioned just yet. The auction for other Titanic items this April 20th does include the concert program from the combined effort of several orchestras and several conductors to help raise money for the dead musicians’ families. Edward Elgar, Thomas Beecham, The London Symphony, and The Philharmonic Orchestra were just a few that participated.

Musicians helping musician’s families; that bit of history seems to be overlooked. To me, that concert program represents a more beautiful statement than that violin ever could. Musicians help people, just as Hartley did with his colleagues as the ship slowly sank.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Conduct An Experiment Part 2”

  1. Isn’t there also a problem here in terms of recorded history? Titanic survivors reported hearing the band playing hymns up to the moment the ship finally went under. Would Hartley not have been playing right along with them, meaning his violin would have been in his hands rather than in his case? It seems likely to me that as the ship split in half, the band would have lost their balance and rolled across the deck to their deaths. I once fell down the stairs with a violin in my hands, and while it survived intact there were some required repairs. Falling from a much greater height with other people and debris to provide plenty of collisions seems like it would increase the likelihood of a smashed violin. It seems very improbable that the violin body would have remained whole and still near enough to its case and owner to be identified under such conditions. I like this experiment. While I think it could have been done better, under controlled temperature conditions (the concentration of warm salt water is greater than that of cold salt water), it definitely shows that salt water does significant damage to a string instrument. I also like the second instrument theory and am not convinced that this is the instrument Hartley played on the Titanic.


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