JACQUES FRANCAIS devoted a lifetime to buying, selling, restoring and maintaining stringed instruments made by the greatest makers. Over the years, in his very elegant premises, Jacques Francais Rare Violins on 54th Street in New York, he handled violins, violas and cellos by Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri del Gesu, and string players both professional and amateur would come from far and wide to seek his advice.
He was born Jacques Francais (he dropped the cedilla when he took up residence in the United States) in Paris in 1923; his family had been violin makers and dealers for over 100 years. In the last years of the 18th century, Nicolas Lupot had set up his shop in Paris, where two of his assistants were Charles-Francois Gand and Sebastien- Philippe Bernardel. They both left to set up their own separate businesses and became leading names in the trade.
In 1866 their sons formed the partnership of Gand et Bernardel Freres and in 1901 the shop was taken over by two employees, Albert Caressa and Henri Francais. In 1919 Henri Francais's son Emile married Caressa's daughter and, when their parents retired the following year, they took over the shop. Their son was Jacques Francais. It would therefore be difficult to imagine a more suitable background for a career in the violin trade.
Jacques Francais was duly apprenticed to Victor Aubry in Le Havre and then to Georges Apparut in Mirecourt, the cradle of French violin-making. Here he had learnt the skills of making, but his father wanted him to be thoroughly trained in the expertise necessary to recognise a valuable instrument; so in 1946 he sent him to work for a year at Rembert Wurlitzer's in New York. Wurlitzer was the leading US authority on stringed instruments in that city at the time, and Jacques Francais was put to work in their repair shop. Wurlitzer took a personal interest in instructing him in how to identify a fine instrument and Francais remained grateful to him …