Dawes New England Bass Viol

Dawes New England Bass Viol

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Description (Brief)

This New England Bass Viol was made by Hervey Dawes in Windsor, Massachusetts, in 1793. It is made of a table of two pieces of yellow pine, back of one piece of slab-cut maple, ribs of similar plain maple, original maple neck, peg-box and scroll, and varnish of opaque reddish-brown color. Inside this instrument has a handwritten ink label:

Made By Hervey
Dawes Windsor

[* 1793 in pencil]

In style and execution, the instrument displays very well refined woodworking skills and attention to aesthetic detail. In place of inlayed purfling, the edge is ornamental with alternating yellow and black dots of ink concluding with an inlaid brass pinhead in each of the corners of the table and back. The delicately shaped neck-foot is complemented by an ornamental carved peg-box. The unusual scroll is formed by a lathe-turned series of four volutes in diminishing diameters glued in place on the peg-box. In other respects, this bass viol is typical in construction: i.e., the ribs are inlaid into both back and table, with the neck and top-block fashioned in one piece allowing the body to be constructed “in the air” without specific templates and formal interior mold. The long extended “f” holes have upper and lower wings that remain connected to the table, and the body is without interior linings. The small corner blocks, shaped inside in a half-circle, were glued to the rib miters after the rib and back assembly had been completed.

The modern term for this instrument is church bass. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this instrument was also known as the American bass viol, New England bass viol, or Yankee bass viol. These church basses were used in churches and meeting houses to provide a bass line for maintaining a consistent key by New England congregational singers. The church bass was also used by popular singing groups such as the Hutchinson Family singers.

Currently not on view
Object Name
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Windsor
Physical Description
pine (overall material)
maple (overall material)
overall: 49 3/4 in x 18 1/2 in x 7 in; 126.365 cm x 46.99 cm x 17.78 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Beatrice and Jacques Francais
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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