The Roaring Twenties with all it’s glamour and hype often obscured the realties of ordinary people living in those times. Not every one rode in fast cars with pretty ladies, listening to jazz, and drinking bootleg gin. In the early twenties the enjoyment of music, outside the home was always someplace where there was live music.
Ordinary people did have their musical enjoyment from socializing with local entertainment in theaters, tea- rooms and restaurants. In the early twenties the enjoyment of music, outside the home, was always someplace where there was live music. There was no, yet to be, radio in the background, and movies were not yet talkies. Radio and TV did not exist. Most often the best music was found in the local restaurants.
Any restaurant worth the name then would have music to be provided only one way, from live musicians. None were more popular than the romantic voices of strolling gypsy violinists. From table to table they moved playing and singing the most popular romantic songs of the early twenties as requested by the patrons. The violinists were highly regarded and compensated. They were the American Idols of their day.
Cooper Music had a very busy violin department. Selling and servicing the violins of demanding musicians who spent many a daytime just hanging out at Cooper Music. They constantly tried out any and all violins searching for just the right sound. There was a contempt for new violins, even if finely made. There was a constant search for the only truly acceptable violin which was an old, old, rosin encrusted, fiddle whose voice could bring romantic tears to the eyes of the ladies and generous tips to the gypsy. Money was no objection when the right violin voice was found. John Cooper constantly searched among his suppliers for the right sounding gem.
One experienced traveling peddler told John he might know of such a rich sounding violin that could be available and at a right price. The traveler said he would try to bring it on his next visit. As promised on his next call he brought this ancient appearing violin, dark and mysterious, with the unmistakable encrusted rosin dust on it’s face, and a dark soul sound resulting from being played unmeasured time after time.
John Cooper anxiously had the violin auditioned by several leading gypsy musicians. “Haunting, thrilling, I want it”, argued two of the violinists, one outbidding the other. The violin was quickly sold for the best price. The violin traveler said there might be a twin available at the right price. “When can it be seen?” said the waiting gipsy strollers. “Soon”, the traveler replied.
After an anxious waiting period the traveling peddler returned with the violin under his arm. It showed the unmistakable rosin marks of having been played over countless musical events. The gypsies, after hearing, exclaimed, “A truly old, master work. Played on forever. How much, name the price”? Sold!
John, thanking the violin traveler privately, said, ”We’ve searched every where for violins like these, Where have you found them”?
The old traveler, winking an eye, confided to John that the violins were “Steubenville Strads”. In the wide open Ohio city, infamous for its collection of sporting houses and gambling dens, the cat houses played continuous music from mechanical coin operated violins and other musical attractions. Today they are sought after by collectors and museums for their astonishing entertaining musical appeal. It is easy to see why a mechanical performing violin would be called upon to sing out 24/7 in the many cathouse parlors on the Ohio River in Steubenville.
The old traveler quickly realized how much the value of these seasoned violins would be to the strolling gypsy violinists. These busy violins would be played more hours in a month than a lifetime of normal performance, taking on a rich antique sound so yearned for by musicians. However he needed a contact with a music store that had the clients that would respond to these offerings. The gypsy players at Cooper Music would happily respond. When the gypsy players bought these attractive seemingly antique fiddles little did they know or care where they came from, only that the crying violins would bring appreciation, applause, and great tips from the customers.