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Victorian Military Campaign Collapsible Trench Cello by WE Hill & Sons, London


An extremely rare Victorian military campaign collapsible cello or ‘holiday cello’ by WE Hill & Sons.

This rare and historic musical instrument is comprised of a pine box with f type holes cut into the base and a sliding lid to the top. The top is removed to reveal all of the necessary component parts to make up the cello including a neck with scroll, fingerboard, tuning pegs, bridge, tailpiece and end pin. In order to play it, the neck slots into the top of the box and the lid is then replaced to create the body of the instrument and is secured in place by means of a brass threaded screw. The fingerboard is then slotted into place upon some screws located on the neck piece and the end pin is inserted into the end of the box. All of the other components can then be placed onto the instrument as normal.

This highly unusual version of a cello seems to have been conceived as part of a growing trend during the period for travelling practice instruments. I have previously owned and sold a collapsible violin that was marked to the famous French violin maker Jules Grandjon who was manufacturing instruments in Paris in the late nineteenth century. The method of manufacture on the violins was of a similar nature with the removable neck piece however, this instrument is far more ingenious in its construction. Perfect for travelling or for military use, where a military musician would have been unable to sensibly carry anything like the size and fragility of a cello, this instrument would have been made to resolve the predicament whilst on campaign or when travelling light over large distances.

The cello contains components such as the bridge and the end pin which are stamped to WE Hill & Sons and the company are known to have sold “holiday cellos” at the turn of the century through recent media exposure.

The Royal Academy of Music exhibited an example of this instrument in 2015 which had previously been owned by a Harold Trigg, who joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1915. He took his ‘holiday cello’ to the trenches and was requested to play at the Corps Headquarters of the Fifth Army at Chateau Lovie in 1917. In 1918, Trigg was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. His cello was sold shortly before his death to Beare violins in London whereafter it was reconditioned and loaned to cellist Steven Isserlis. In 2017, he recorded an album entitled, “The Cello in Wartime” with Connie Shih using the cello. A poignant commemoration of the Great War using an instrument that must have brought some slim joy to life in the trenches.

Media attention was wide for this interesting instrument and reviews and articles were released by The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Gramophone and Classic FM. This is a rare opportunity to own an instrument manufactured by the same company that Harold Trigg purchased his Trench cello from more than a century ago.

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