One of the greatest icons of American violin making, Abraham Prescott, was born on 5 July 1789 in Deerfield, New Hampshire, US. Prescott’s early association with the church, combined with the influence of his family’s woodworking business, inspired him to begin making musical instruments in this rural New Hampshire community.
As the musical literature of the church grew, so did the demand for accompaniment instruments such as the church bass and reed organ. Prescott became adept at making both such instruments. His first bass of saleable quality was documented as being completed in 1809 and sold to Jonathan R Cram.
However, Prescott’s vocation as an instrument maker was interrupted by other pursuits such as his education, farming duties and a career as a school teacher. While working as a teacher he continued manufacturing instruments, eventually opening a store in Deerfield. He not only completed several basses at this time but also made and sold household sundries. Record books show that his basses sold for around US$15 per instrument.
Prescott eventually established himself more formally as an instrument maker, while still continuing his teaching duties. He sold throughout central New Hampshire, peddling his instruments with such strong and friendly salesmanship that he gained the nickname ‘Deacon’ (a lay officer of the local parish), though he never held that position with any of the congregations he visited. The church bass was an ideal product for these small places of worship, as many could not afford an organ and some congregations were too doctrinally strict to allow one.
The church bass was just what was needed to reinforce the choir- based music of the service.
As demand for instruments grew among local dealers in the Boston area, the Prescott shop continued to expand. James Prescott, Abraham’s relative and later father-in-law, joined the business and took responsibility for varnishing all the completed instruments. In 1822, a young apprentice by the name of David Dearborn, aged only 12, joined the shop. The business continued to grow extensively until in 1825, Abraham retired from teaching and devoted all his time to the shop at which point he hired Dearborn’s brother, Andrew, to join him as well. This time was one of the most prolific periods of completion for basses and cellos.