Victorian Military Campaign Collapsible Cello Attributed to Jules Grandjon
A Victorian military campaign collapsible cello with end pin and bridge by WE Hill & Sons.
This rare and possibly unique 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 is the only one of its kind that I have ever seen and further research has not uncovered anything similar. 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 and I can find records for at least two other violins of this style. 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. Most likely considered for military use, where a military band 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.
Without a maker’s mark on the body of the cello it is very difficult to be sure about the manufacturer but there are two likely choices. The first is Jules Grandjon as his company is known to have manufactured violins of this nature, and the second is WE Hill & Sons of London. The cello contains components such as the bridge and the end pin which are stamped to this renowned company but it is also true that these specific pieces are replaceable and therefore, could have been later additions to the instrument. Given the information to hand, I would likely attribute this to Grandjon although it is not inconceivable that other manufacturers were making similar versions during the late Victorian period.
Whilst a number of mysteries remain about the history of this instrument, its construction and age makes it a rare and interesting oddity from the world of instrument making. It is unlikely ever to be the star of a collection in respect of its tone but a fascinating talking point for the collector of musical instrument or military items nevertheless.