Leopoldo Franciolini's fake lutes (w/ mandolin content!)
Just for a fun diversion (and yes, there *is* mandolin content), I wanted to call your attention to an article by Lynda Sayce in the latest Lute News (No. 91, October 2009), a publication of The [British] Lute Society. The article is titled "How to spot a fake lute, or Signor Franciolini's shop of horrors".
Leopoldo Franciolini is infamous today as something of a forger of historic lutes. He was a instrument dealer in Florence from 1890 through 1910... and yes, he was eventually charged with fraud in his own time. For those who don't know his work, Leopoldo is know for pawning off a large number of "questionable" historic archlutes... and many of those fakes still haunt museum curators around the world. To a lute player, these instruments instantly and obviously seem "off"... and most are not generally playable in any real sense. Many would likely self-destruct if brought up to tension.
Conventional wisdom has held that these lutes contained parts of historic (16th and 17th century) instruments, with Sr. Franciolini's inappropriate decorations and appendages added on. For instance (or so this thinking went) a lute's bowl might be genuine, while the neck extension might be later, and entirely inappropriate and non-functional. Indeed, through time, historic lutes bodies were often legitimately altered to accommodate later musical styles, and the need for more courses. But the lute had pretty much died out by the 1890s... and Sr. Franciolini's frankenstinean creations were apparently put together for one reason.... to separate money from would-be collectors of (presumably) antique instruments.
Lynda makes an interesting assertion. In her experience, none of the instruments she examined had *any* parts that could be considered truly historic (i.e. dating to the 16th and 17th centuries as claimed by their labels). In other words, the presumably antique instruments were complete fabrications... manufactured to order expressly for Sr. Franciolini's shop, and even seemingly done in production runs to match (presumably unique) instruments that he featured in his catalogs. She posits further (here comes the mandolin content) that since the mandolin was booming in Italy around that time, Sr. Franciolini had no shortage of available luthiers with the skills needed to cobble together a multi-rib body that resembled that of a lute. Lynda even points some similarities in construction between some of these fake lutes, and contemporary mandolins.
In fact, another article in the same edition of Lute News describes the dissection of one such "fake lute", bearing the label 'Costa Agostino de Brescia Fecit Anno Domini 1622'. Up under the table, written in pencil, is the name Gaetano Giannini, and dated 25th October 1887 'per il negozio di Leopoldo Franciolini' ('for Franciolini's shop') along with an address. Does anyone know of a mandolin builder named Gaetano Giannini?
Anyway... I thought it was interesting that some of our golden-age mandolin builders may have had a hand in this little scheme that still confuses museums and collectors today. Work is work, after all. Lynda's thesis certainly seems plausible to me. And it is perhaps a little comforting to think that perhaps fewer legitimate historic lutes were harmed in the process.
"The effect is pretty at first... It is disquieting to find that there are nineteen people in England who can play the mandolin; and I sincerely hope the number may not increase."
- George Bernard Shaw, Times of London, December 12, 1893