Violin by Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1704, "Betts" [Full strung instrument, front and back]. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.
The "Betts" is among the most legendary violins from Stradivari's workshop. Part of that status comes from the circumstances of its acquisition. In about 1820, an individual entered Betts' shop at the Royal Exchange in London and offered the violin in its pristine state. A deal was made and the instrument changed hands for the sum of only one guinea. It remained a treasured part of Betts' collection, but after the death of his son in 1852, the violin came into the hands of Hills of London and then a succession of distinguished owners.
By 1920, the "Betts" was owned by R. D. Waddell of Glasgow. In 1923, Jay C. Freeman of Wurlitzer approached Waddell in Scotland and came away with the "Betts" as well as the "Leduc" Guarneri. Wurlitzer sold the "Betts" to John T. Roberts of Hartford, Connecticut, later acting as an intermediary in its sale to Mrs. Whittall.
The "Betts" is one of Stradivari's finest works--marking the beginning of what is described as his golden period. Inscribed inside the top in the upper treble bout are the words: The Betts / Stradivarius; in the lower treble bout the inscription reads: Purchased from / the duchess / of Camposelice / by W. E. Hill & Son / March 1892.
As on the "Tuscan-Medici" viola [see below], the top under the fingerboard is not varnished in an area extending down 5.5 cm from the neck foot. This area corresponds with the dimensions of the original fingerboard giving a clue to the range of notes that a musician could play. The height of the two f-holes varies, which might be explained by a technique that Stradivari used. He drilled holes for the upper and lower lobes and then connected them rather than working from a stencil type of pattern. Traces of the compass points left when he marked the position of the lobes and nicks are still visible and can be seen using a mirror inside the top.