59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum

EOD2015

Violin

c. 1910

Unknown maker

Probably Saxony or Bohemia

Maple, spruce

Gift of Mildred Huntington

Fiddle Tunes

1800–1802

William Litten

Made at sea

Ink on paper

Gift of E. Gale Huntington


E. Gale Huntington (1902–1993) was a man of many achievements—historian, archaeologist, teacher, and musician. He left his mark on the Martha's Vineyard Museum as the first editor of the Dukes County Intelligencer and as the donor or collector of archives and artifacts that span the breadth of his interests.

Huntington is perhaps most widely known for his contributions to the study of folk music.

In 1977, the same year he published his transcription of fiddle tunes collected by seaman William Litten, Huntington donated the original manuscript to the Museum. Not much is known about Litten except that he sailed aboard ships in the British India fleet in the first years of the 1800s. The manuscript is rough, with many notes and portions crossed out. It was probably brought to Martha's Vineyard by Allen Coffin of Edgartown, whose name is written on the book's inside cover.

According to Huntington's widow, Mildred, he already owned seven fiddles when he traded his scallop boat for the fiddle that Lyman Cottle carried on a voyage around Cape Horn. Cottle was a Menemsha fisherman who had been a whaleman in the 1870s, when he was young. The instrument itself is unexceptional, one of thousands of inexpensive German violins made in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Huntington valued it because of its trip around the Horn.

It is possible, however, that Cottle was spinning a yarn; the fiddle appears to have been made after he ended his days at sea.