Please help me decipher this handwriting.
May 13, 2019 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Please help me decipher the handwriting inside this violin. The instrument was built in 1813, in Vienna by Antonius Thier. The writing may be more recent.

Recently had my violin rebuilt and I asked the luthier to please take photographs of the interior. We had assumed it had never had the face removed, however we discovered some writing on the interior lower right side. It looks like graphite or lead writing, though, and I don't know if people used lead to write that long ago.

I'd give my eye tooth to know what this says. Instrument is originally Viennese but spent a significant part of its life in New Orleans.
posted by Baby_Balrog to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it is a name, Dziembziek, which sounds Polish. The numbers give a date, the 28th of July, the year not sure but possible 91, assume 1891. I will show it to a Polish historian friend tomorrow who i am sure can read it. The implement used for writing is most likely a graphite pencil.
posted by 15L06 at 8:16 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

it looks like it could be two separate words: dziem brik
posted by zippy at 8:42 AM on May 13, 2019

First off, I have the feeling if you showed this to the right person it would be rather easy to decipher. Everything is quite clear--it's just not quite certain what context to put it into, as far as language, place, and time. Someone familiar with that language, place, and time could probably just read it right off. One place to start might be stringed instrument repair studios in Vienna, like this.

Second, there are helpful guides to deciphering various styles of historical handwriting that might be helpful (1, 2, 3) as well as this rather amazing guide to old Austrian letters.

Second, I agree with 15L06 that 28/VII almost certainly means 28th of July. However there is a tradition in Austria and maybe some other countries of writing dates with three digits, like 835 for 1835. See guide to historic Austrian letters for many examples. So 910 would mean 1910.

So best guess, this means 28th July 1910.

The 910 could also possibly be a time like 9:10 (am) or a price like 9 Krone 10 Heller which would have been a somewhat reasonable price for something probably. But the year 1910 is my best guess.

Also, just the general handwriting style and the like really strike my as more around the turn of the 1900s than, say, early or mid 1800s. But I am not an expert on this.

Also according to Wikipedia, pencils were in use by 1800, probably much earlier, so pencil is reasonable and doesn't help narrow down the date.
posted by flug at 12:51 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Now to the word. Like 15L06 my first guess is something like Dziembuk or Dziembiek or the like.

But looking at the guides to German handwriting I linked above, and for example this page showing full alphabets of Kurrent script, I am not so sure the first letter is D and the second z. For one thing I am a bit surprised to see Z with sort of normal latin form "z" rather than with a long loopy descender like a y or g--that is what you more typically see. But looking at some of the historical sample pages, the "z" form does appear. So, z is possible as second letter.

But in something like Kurrent, it is more likely something like A, N, G, H, or V or even M, W, Q, Z, or O + umlaut, or A + umlaut, or O plus a different letter, or maybe a few other possibilities as well. D is actually one of the least likely possibilities--though perhaps just possible.

(One question is whether the small loop to the lower left side of the letter is a pencil mark or a spot in the wood. It looks like a spot in the wood to me. With that gone, this can't be a D.)

Next letters look like "i" (dot is the giveaway) "em". Though it is possible the "i" is just part of the first letter.

Then "b", then "u" or "a" possibly with an umlaut, then possibly "c" or something, then "k" or "h" then a long descender that could be just a florish or it could be a final letter or it could be a descender that goes with the letter before it.

Also there are two marks just above and to the right of the "u" or "a" that make me think it is a "u" or possibly "ü". The little mark above the "u" that is a normal part of Kurrentschrift tends to stray to the right of the actual letter by a bit, and sometimes shows more as two straight marks than the more normal "smiley curve", which makes it look more like "ü" even when just regular "u" is meant.

So all that is a bunch of coulds that don't add up to certainty. Best guesses:
  • Ziembuch
  • Hiembuch
  • Giembuch
  • Niembuch
  • Ziembach
  • Hiembach
  • Giembach
  • Niembach
  • Gembuch
  • Hembuch
  • Nembuch
  • Gembach
  • Hembach
  • Nembach
  • Gembuk
  • Hembuk etc
(An umlaut version like Ziembüch is possibly for all, though I don't think it makes any sense for any of them. Also I'm strongly leaning towards the buch rather than bach interpretation because of the way it is written, though bach is possible.)

Most of those are at least imaginable as names from some part of the Austrian empire, maybe Giembach, Gembach, Hembuch, Nembuch, Nembach most likely?

Regardless of those specifics, I'm guessing it's a string instrument repairer's name and date of repair.

Another possibility is type of repair plus date. I'm familiar enough with technical musical instrument terms in various possible languages to completely rule that out, but it doesn't look too likely. Name + date, best guess.
posted by flug at 2:03 PM on May 14, 2019

>> I'm NOT familiar enough with technical musical instrument terms in various possible languages to completely rule that out, that 2nd to last sentence above should read--sorry!

I would add that everything about the handwriting, notation, letter combinations, etc, is perfectly compatible with this note being written in Austria.

It could possibly be some other nearby countries, too--especially Germany, Switzerland, and so on. Some other countries used the same or similar type script.

But given that the instrument was made in Austria, I would say the highest probability is that it stayed there until at least 1910.
posted by flug at 11:40 PM on May 14, 2019

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