Tim started in the violin business over 45 years ago. He is now an internationally established violin expert and trusted consultant on stringed instruments and their bows.
“Sound is paramount for a player but it is also vital that they can be confident in the provenance, condition and value of an instrument. This is of particular importance in the case of high-value instruments which also become an investment for the owner.” Tim Toft
Tim’s son, Matthew, began in the business over a decade ago and like Tim, he grew up surrounded by violins. He attends many of the major instrument auctions, both in the U.K. and internationally, with the aim of improving his knowledge and expertise.
“I have a particular interest in English bows and am realising that the more I know the more there is to know.” Matthew Toft
Matthew has redeveloped the www.hillbows.com website, a free source of information on bows from the firm of W.E. Hill & Sons.
Meet our team
- Tim Toft – Director
- Matthew Toft – General Manager, head of U.K sales
- Svavar Garri Kristjansson – Workshop Manager, restorer of instruments and bows. Graduate of The Newark School of Violin Making 2016
- Sophie Wohlleber – Restorer of instruments and bows. Graduate of The Newark School of Violin Making 2021
- Oliver Toft – Sales & Marketing
An interview with Tim Toft, violin expert and trusted authority on stringed instruments.Q: Many people will look at your job and think, how on earth do you get be a violin expert and dealer. Was it always your aim to go into the violin business?
Tim: From school I went into electromechanical engineering, graduating in 1982. From there I got a job with GEC and worked for them until 1987. In fact I still have two active patents in that field; unfortunately I don’t get any financial reward from them as I was a GEC employee at the time they were registered.
Q: So where did violins come in?
Tim: I bought my first violin in 1977 while still at school. My father, who had been a violin dealer for some time, would pay me £5 commission for any violin I found and the same for any silver-mounted bow. So whenever I could I drove around hunting for violins and this continued in my spare time when I worked at GEC.
Q: When did it become your main occupation?
Tim: I started working for my father in 1987 when I realised I could make more money from dealing than from being an engineer. I also liked the flexible working hours rather than a fixed routine starting at 8.30 every morning.
Q: How long did you work for your father?
Tim: Just until 1990. I decided then to become a sole-trader. Relations with my father were becoming strained and I wanted the freedom to make my own decisions.
Q: Is that when you started your shop?
Tim: No, initially I worked from home, mainly dealing with other dealers and trying to provide for a young, growing family.
Q: So when did Tim Toft Violins as we know it come into being?
Tim: That was in 2003 when I formed a limited company with that name.
Q: So is most of your time spent at the shop?
Tim: No, there is a lot of travelling involved both at home and abroad. Since the 1990s I have regularly visited France and the US for auctions and to do business with other dealers. The Far East has also been a strong area for sales over the decades. And, of course, nearer to home, London which, since at least the mid-19th century, has been one of the main centres for the violin trade.
In addition I work as a consultant for one of the main auction companies and have also been asked to give talks on violins, notably at the British Violin Makers’ Association and the Violin Society of America.
Q: Looking at your website you seem to have a particular interest in W.E. Hill & Sons. How did this come about?
Tim: From the 1990s I felt it would be good to form a collection from a specific area of violin making and Hill bows seemed ideal. They were relatively easy to come across in the 90s, and they represented a high point in English craftsmanship which appealed to me. As time has gone on I have formed what is probably the finest collection of Hill bows anywhere in the world in its quality and range. It’s particularly satisfying when French and German bow connoisseurs come to see it. The collection has expanded in recent years to cover Hill violins and related objects. This gave rise to my book, W.E. Hill & Sons: Violin Makers 1880-1936, written with Dr John Basford, which has now become a standard reference work.
Q: What about lower down the price change you seem to have a strong link to Jay Haide violins in the student range.
Tim: That came about almost by chance at a music fair, Musicora, in Paris in the early 2000s. I had a Gaibisso violin on my stand which Jay Ifshin (founder of Jay Haide violins) liked and he asked how many student violins I would take in a swap. I ended up with half a container of them and since then have been the wholesaler for the UK.
Q: What about the future?
Tim: The third generation of the family is already involved. My sons, Matthew and Oliver, both work at the shop learning about violins and the business in general. I am also looking into the possibility of a couple more books, one on English bows and one on the Italian maker, the late Luca Primon, who I got to know quite well, and who worked with us over a holiday period here in Stone.
Q: Thanks for letting me sound you out!
W. E. Hill & Sons Violin Makers 1880 – 1936
Get in touch
If you are interested in any of the instruments we have listed then please get in touch. We can arrange for you to come into our shop and try a range of instruments you may be interested in.
If you have any other queries regarding our services then do not hesitate to contact us using the contact form or details below.
Tel: +44 (0)1785 811860
Address: 7/9 Station Road, Stone, Staffordshire, ST15 8JP, UK