Chapter 8

A Dominique Peccatte Bow

Dominique Peccatte Bow

In my opinion, this is a true Dom. Peccatte. The tip may have been shortened a little by someone who replaced the ivory. This happened to many, even most old bows. The frog is also worn, or probably filed down to do accommodate a musician's thumb. Every old bow is worn to a certain extent. The viewer usually compensates automatically for that when looking at it. The bow gives a very compact impression. That means that every part of the bow belongs to the whole, every part is made by the same hand, and every part is worn to a similar extent. Most of the characteristics one would expect from a Peccatte bow are there, but not all. That is not unusual. None of Peccatte's bows has every characteristic associated with him. On the contrary, if a bow shows every characteristic too obviously, it is probably a copy. Unfortunately, this bow has several hairline cracks, which can not be seen in the picture, but are definitely there. One is about ten centimeters long and so thick that I assume it has been open, and reglued. In fact, considering how many cracks it has, it is a wonder that this bow still plays. The wonder merits a bit of investigation. First, the fibres of the wood are exeptionally straight. Therefore run the cracks absolutely straight along the stick. If a crack is diagonal to the stick, the bow will break immediately, and is usually beyond repair. But in this case, the stick has survived seven or eight cracks, and still playes well. It feels a bit tired in the hand. But there are musicians who like that. There is also a crack in the head, in fact, two of them. This is normally fatal. But it has little effect on this bow. Actually these cracks stand vertically in the direction of the head. Wood breaks most easily at a right angle to the annular rings. So we can deduce from this the direction of the annular rings. They lie horizontally in the head. This is also visible with the bow in the hand. By knowing the directon of the annular rings, one can predict the direction a brake would take. A diagonal break in the head means a total loss. But in this case, where the cracks stand precisely vertical, a bow can survive, because in this case, when the bow is thightened, there is no stress on the cracks. The bow therefore makes an effective case that horizontal annular rings in the head protect a bow against breakage.

I assume that all of these cracks are very old. From the history of the bow, I know that they have been there for at least 40 years. But I presume that they were also in the wood when the bow was made, because cracks of this sort usually occur in pernambuco while it is stored as planks or rough sticks. Perhaps they were scarcely visible, or Peccatte knew they were harmless because of the direction of the annular rings in this stick.

In the argument that follows, the annular rings are also a key to understanding the bow. The second astonishing fact I found in this bow is the cross-section of the stick.

Bowhead 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 cm distance from head
5 6 8 7.5 7.8 8.2 8.4 8.4 mm vertical heigt
4.8 5.9 6.8 7.3 7.6 7.8 8.2 8.4 mm horizontal width

The cross-section is not round at all. The stick is over the whole length higher than it is wide. The cross-section forms an oval in the vertical direction. The difference between height and width is too obvious and regular to think it could be a coincidence. So I presume there was a reason why maitre Peccatte did it that way. The reason, in my opinion, is ...( what else ? ) The position of the annular rings. Every wood is the strongest in the direction of its annular rings, so it is in the nature of this stick to be stronger towards the sides than in the playing direction. It could be that maitre Peccatte didn't like this. It could also be that, while he worked on the stick at a certain point, it was still too heavy, and he had to decide where to take off some wood without weakening the bow too much in the playing direction. So he planed the sides, and the stick became oval. This was apparently not a problem for him. He may even have wanted it this way. In fact, this made the bow evenly strong in all directions. Towars the sides, the strength is based on the annular rings. In the vertical direction it comes from the oval form of the stick.

I believe that Peccatte was very concious of these things, but most people see him as a more intuitive worker. Who knows ? But the outlines of this bowhead also show that he knew exactly what he was doing, conciously or unconciously. Actually one of the main characteristics of his other bowheads is a form which is quite safe against breakage. The classical point of breakage is in the head of the bow precisely in the prolongation of the underside of the stick.

Peccatte cuts the backside of his heads in a relatively big arch in order to strenghten the bowhead against breakage at its weakest point. That must be his reason, because there is no aesthetic advantage in it. This is his usual practice, but not in the case of the bow shown in the picture. Here the line of the backside of the head reaches far into the corner, much further than might be expected in a Dom. Peccatte bow. My explanation is again the same. The horizontal annular rings guarantee a lot of safety against breakage, so this bowhead does not need an especially secure form. Obviously this is the case, because this head has two cracks, and still does not break. Consciously or unconsciously, Peccatte could afford to make a more elegant outline because of the direction of the annular rings. What makes a Dom. Peccatte bow so attractive is its inner logic and harmony. It is the beauty arising from the function that makes his bows so convincing.

Book Index