Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Greatest Bow Maker You've Never Heard Of- Nicolaus Kittel

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

Tourte,Vorin, Vuillaume, Hill, Nurnberger, Sartory, Kittel. Wait, Kittel? What's that name doing in the ranks of great bow makers?

Here's another list: Heifetz, Seidel, Vieuxtemps, Elman, Stern, Kochanski, Rosand, Erica Morini, Zimbalist, Kogan, Menuhin, and Vadim Repin. What do they have in common? (OK, besides that most of them are MOTs!) They are all violin soloists that used and loved Kittel bows. And preferred them over any of the French bow makers, including Tourte.

Yehudi Menuhin preferred Kittel bows
Nicolaus Kittel was a German bow maker that worked in St. Petersburg, Russia from about 1825 to 1868. His bows are very rare.

Besides being very rare, a strange thing about Kittel bows is that they vary greatly in workmanship and subtleties of style. But they are truly magnificent bows. Kittel, like Vuillaume and like the Hills, was not so much a bow maker as a bow designer and had an extraordinarily keen eye for superb Pernambuco, the standard wood for bows for about the last two hundred years. He had bows made for him by Heinrich Knopf, Bausch, Pfretzschner and probably other fine German bow makers.

Kittel bows are usually fairly light (under 60 grams) but very strong and very responsive. A great bow can have a "sound" all its own. Kittel bows often give a rich, dark, "chocolatey" sound.

So how rare are Kittel bows? Incredibly rare. Most dealers and makers only see a few in their lifetime. That compares with dozens of Tourtes and hundreds of Vuillaumes and Hills.

Vuillaume & the Hills employed bow makers right in their workshops. They kept tight rein on the look and quality of their bows. Kittel was often one step removed from his bow makers. His shop was in St. Petersburg and his bow makers were in Eastern Germany. Unquestionably, they worked with Kittel in his shop, but they also worked to his designs in their own shop. I think Kittel had a hand in the finishing and fitting of his bows. There are telltale signs of his work on his bows even though the bows also bear the signs of his other makers. A strange way to make bows. But, it turns out, a very good way to make great bows.

What? He wasn't huddled over his bench turning out "one-offs" in his lonely workshop? Not at all. Like Vuillaume, he was busy running a shop. Nicolaus Kittel was a great bow maker and also violin maker to the Czarist court. His violins are also rare and also fantastic!

Heifetz LOC 38890u.jpg
Heifetz:"I prefer my Kittel that Professor Auer gave me a long time ago."

Heifetz' Kittel was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I had the privilege of studying that bow for an hour. Although it seemed like minutes.

Klaus Grunke, Josef P. Gabriel, and Yung Chin have written a fantastic book on The Bows of Nikolai Kittel . Get the book! Great research and unbelievable pictures.
Kittel bows, from the book "The Bows of Nikolai Kitttel"

Think you have a Kittel bow? Probably not. There are lots of bows with Kittel stamps on them that are not real Kittel bows. But, if you did, their values are quite high. In 1999, one of Yehudi Menuhin's Kittel bows with gold and tortoiseshell mounting sold for about $100,000.

If you're look for a quality bow, we have Fine Pernambuco, Hybrid, and Carbon Bows available on our website!


  1. yes I agree. KITTEL bows are awesome!
    I got mine last year, and can't put it down. It was authenticated by Klaus Gr√ľnke and Kenway Lee.

    I am looking forward to the KITTEL book, which I ordered a while ago.
    BTW, the Menuhin G/T sold for £58,650 / US$94,837 with buyers premium.
    Gennady Filimonov

  2. The KITTEL book is indeed amazing!

  3. Hi Andy,
    BTW, Pfretzschner for sure did not make any bows for KITTEL.
    There is an ongoing debate: did L. Bausch in fact produce bows for KITTEL (or not).
    Klaus Grunke seems to think that Bausch did not.
    But for sure Heinrich Knopf made many bows for Kittel and it is known that Vladimir Ivanoff worked in the shop of Kittel in St. Petersburg (making bows and violins). - Gennady Filimonov Feb. 2012