Instrument of the month – James W Briggs, 1924

This month’s featured instrument is a fine Scottish violin by the celebrated maker James W Briggs made in Glasgow and dated 1924.


James Briggs was a maker, an established expert in old violins who ran a shop in Glasgow dealing in instruments. He is recognised as one of the best Scottish makers of the period, ranking alongside the quality of work of Hardie and Smillie and this example made in 1924 demonstrates his skill as a very fine craftsman.

This instrument is his interpretation of the Guarneri del- jesu model, he made both this model and a fuller arched Stradivari pattern, and it’s in an excellent state of preservation. The woods used in this instrument are of fine quality, in fact all the examples of his work we have seen over the years have been made with excellent materials. In his superb book “ Violin making in Scotland” David Rattray mentions a 1908 Viola sold to Frank Davis – Harry Briggs at the time claimed that the table wood had been sourced from reclaimed material from Glasgow Cathedral, whilst William Henley in his reference book “Violin & Bow makers” alludes to wood coming from a very old church being demolished in Warsaw. We shall probably never know!

Briggs was born in 1855 in Wakefield, Yorkshire and was educated at Rawdon. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to William Tarr, an excellent maker famed in fact more for his double basses than his violins. At the age of 21 Briggs set up his own business in Wakefield, married and had 3 children. It is understood that business was slow at this time but fortunately he received a gold medal at the Leeds exhibition in 1890, followed by diplomas from Paris & Vienna which certainly would have given his reputation a deserved boost.

In 1893 Briggs took the decision to relocate to Glasgow from Wakefield, probably a good business decision based on the fact that two prominent Glasgow makers were nearing retirement and Briggs saw a gap in the market. Pictured below is the interior of the shop c1930.


His youngest son Henry went on to become a violin maker, later taking over the running of the business. Henry went to Markneukirchen to study making before joining the business back in Glasgow in 1899 where he became the principal scroll carver, but interestingly he moved over to harp production. It’s well documented that Briggs employed an assistant in the shop called Philip Schreiber, both pictured below standing outside the shop in Sauchiehall Street circa 1900 with Briggs on the right.


Having inherited the business in 1935 Henry ran the shop until 1949 although the address on Henry’s receipt for our violin is noted as 124 Renfrew Street in 1948 so it looks as if he had moved on. Interestingly the first recorded shop was at 99 Cambridge Street between 1894-1898, and then the Sauchiehall shop as pictured between 1898-1903, followed by a return to Cambridge Street 1903-1935, this time No. 8.

Our example was bought from Henry Briggs in 1948 at his shop in Renfrew Street, and although we can find no reference for the address it may have been over Cuthbertson’s piano shop where he continued working with Philip Schreiber.

Our featured violin has been in the same family ownership ever since – we have the original receipt from Henry dated August 9th 1948.

It is quite unusual to find such a good example in such excellent condition with this provenance.

The Guarneri violin model is generally famed for producing a rich and powerful tone and our example does not disappoint. Please contact us should you wish to come and try this excellent violin.


With thanks to David Rattray and his superb book, details can be found here: 

Other information sourced from: