A Guitar of the French School believed to be 19th century and from the John Alvey Turner Shop


This is a commission sale from the collection of the private owner who was given the instrument by his then father-in-law who was a renowned antiquarian book dealer. The guitar is unlabelled and came with no documented provenance.


The identification of the instrument is based  on the identification of another guitar, identical its seems in many respects, sold by Bonhams auctioneers in 2007. (www.bonhams.com). The experts at Bonhams described the guitar they sold as

“A Guitar of the French School from the John Alvey Turner Shop, London circa 1835 Labelled John Alvey Turner Manafacturer 19 Poultry London Length of back 442mm (17 3/8in) Rosewoodback and side, with multiple purfling around the sound hole and edges, with twelve frets to the body, with machine heads stamped V R with a crown, in need restoration.”

Fortunately they took 2 photographs which are reproduced here. The 2 differences between the guitar offered for sale here and the one sold by Bonhams are this guitar has been professionally restored and this guitar has a wonderful birds eye maple back – rather than rosewood – and thus harks back to the materials used in guitars of earlier centuries.

The guitar we have has the same machine heads stamped with V.R. and a crown which, even if it wasn’t for all its design characteristics, would place it clearly in  Victorian England.

The guitar we have has been professionally restored to full playing condition. It is currently strung with low tension contemporary nylon strings although it could readily be strung with gut.

There are various playing marks on the guitar and some of the repairs to the body are not invisible. However, this must be among the best examples around of an original nineteenth century instrument still in playing condition.

There is a published history of the John Alvey Turner shop by Alan Francis dated October 2007 (see http://www.johnalveyturner.co.uk/page2.html). An extract from it reads: “John Alvey Turner – Musicseller

The name of John Alvey Turner has been associated with the supply of musical instruments for over two hundred years. The founder of the business, whose full life story is now lost in the mists of time, opened his first shop in the City of London around 1790. His association with the City continued for many years, and it is recorded that he was a member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians and a Freeman, without which qualifications in those days he would not have been able to carry on business there. In the early days (banjos not yet having been invented) he is on record as an importer of “Italian Strings” which included violins and ‘cellos from famous Cremona makers such as Stradivari and Guarneri.

By 1860 it is safe to assume that the original Mr Turner had passed on, but the business was still in family hands and operating from premises at 19, Poultry, near the Bank of England. A label that survives from this era lists the products as “Italian Strings, Harmoniums, Concertinas, Organ Flutinas, Cornets, Accordions, Vuillaume Violins, Violas, Violoncellos, and Resin etc.”. (Vuillaume was a notable 19th Century French manufacturer of stringed instruments.)

In 1871, the London Commercial Directory listed John Alvey Turner as a “Musicseller” with premises in Leadenhall Street.”

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