The Voller Brothers, The Most Talented Copyists

Known for their imitations of fine violins, the Voller brothers have a compelling story that is extraordinary to hear. In this blog post, we will explore the lives and careers of the Voller brothers.

William, Alfred, and Charles, the Voller Brothers were skilled craftsmen who worked in Streatham, London, from 1885 until 1927. They became known for their ability to create imitations of high-quality violins, including the notorious “Balfour” Stradivarius. In this article, we discuss the history of the Voller brothers.

The most talented copyists

Renowned musician Charles Beare once stated that William, Charles, and Alfred Voller were the most talented copyists. The brothers were all accomplished musicians who were acquainted with well-known figures like Wilhelmj and Tertis and had business contacts throughout Europe. 

In 1892, they began working for George Hart and Son in London, and several of their earliest instruments bear his label. In addition, they were tasked with creating copies of instruments that passed through the firm, which were always clearly labelled as such.

Once they established themselves independently and set up their shop in Notting Hill Gate, they produced copies of lesser-known makers and more recognisable names that included some convincing imitations of the Gagliano family. Their work went from expert imitation to almost fraud. With the aid of an immoral dealer, they managed to fool even some of the violin-making experts. Nevertheless, the Voller brothers are regarded as the most exceptional imitators, and nobody before or after them can match their skill.

“The Voller brothers, who worked in England in the late 19th century, were legendary masters of craftiness and deceit – a nightmare,” according to Philip Kass.


The Vollers made high quality replicas of Guarneri del Gesu violins, and their reproductions are considered some of their best work. They created copies of the “d’Egville” from 1735 and various versions of the “Leduc” from 1743. The originals were initially brought to Britain by collector David Laurie and passed through the hands of George Hart and the Hills in 1894.

The Vollers took great care to accurately replicate the original instruments, using carefully matched wood slabs and paying close attention to the unique features of each maker’s work. While some of their imitations were labelled as such, they were considered “honest imitations” that accurately captured the essence of the original pieces. However, some critics noted that specific details, such as the broad edges and less defined head cutting, were slightly exaggerated.

Although replicas of well-documented instruments like these should have been safe from fraudulent use, the controversy did arise over a Stradivari copy that became known as the “Balfour” Stradivarius.

The “Balfour” Stradivarius

In 1901, Balfour & Co. established themselves as violin experts and claimed to have discovered a Stradivari of 1692, the finest in the world for sale at £1,000. However, their expertise was in shipping, passenger, and commission agency, and they actually had little knowledge of the violin world. William Voller sold the violin initially to Balfour for £45, with no fraudulent or mislabelling attempt.

The violin was named after the company that subsequently offered it for sale. The company exploited this discovery extraordinarily, gathering certificates and florid descriptions from experts such as Silvestre-Maucotel, Gustav Bernardel, Nestor Audinot, C.A. Chanot, F.W. Chanot, and the wholesale firm of Beare & Sons. However, George Hart, J & A Beare and W.E. Hill & Sons were absent. These certificates and translations were collected and presented alongside Balfour & Co.’s general guarantee document.

The violin that was initially bought at Puttnick’s was eventually sold privately for £2,500, after an unsuccessful attempt to sell it there. The new owner received an anonymous letter claiming that the violin was a clever fake, signed by someone who claimed to know who made it. This led to civil court proceedings, which were eventually settled out-of-court. However, it was a disappointing turn of events for the new owner, who had hoped to enjoy the beauty of the ‘Balfour’ violin.

The “Balfour” Stradivarius detail

When examining the “Balfour” Stradivarius, some noticeable elements raised doubts about its authenticity. For instance, the purfling is made of ebony, which is not typical of a genuine Stradivari. Additionally, the short scarfed joint in the purfling near the centre joint at both ends of the back is another mistake the makers frequently made. Finally, authentic Cremonese instruments often have a longer overlapping mitre that is placed farther away from the centre line.

The violin has the typical Cremonese-style pins, located at each end of the back and half covered by the purfling itself. Overall, the violin is well-made, but slight stylistic weaknesses are like other Voller works. For example, the scroll is a beautiful piece of carving, but it lacks the lightness and accuracy of a Stradivari head from this period. Additionally, the edges are too evenly rounded off with sandpaper. The sound holes also have some weaknesses, with tiny nicks and slightly jagged knife-cut circles, which are not as precise as Stradivari’s use of a cylindrical cutter.

The Voller Brothers legacy

Their reputation as mere imitators and copycats has been surpassed by their remarkable craftsmanship. Their work has sparked a renewed interest. The British Violin Making Association has even produced a book about them. Owning a Voller instrument is now in style, as collectors and musicians seek out these remarkable pieces. 

These instruments are a testament to the highest level of skill and craftsmanship, rivalling even the finest work of 19th-century violin makers. As a result, these instruments are visually stunning and more than adequate for the needs of even the most discerning first-class players.

The legacy of the Voller brothers is genuinely remarkable. As we look back on their contributions, we can appreciate the beauty and artistry of their instruments and the incredible skill and dedication required to create them. Whether you are a musician, a collector, or simply an admirer of fine craftsmanship, we hope you enjoyed learning more about the Voller brothers and the instruments they made.

Leave a comment