Bent and brittle, 120-year-old violin is made like new |

Bent and brittle, 120-year-old violin is made like new

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer
Submitted photo Dennis Butterfield, a string repairman, restored the historic violin in his Reno Maytan Music Center shop. He will play it with his orchestra during the 1864 Governor's Ball tonight at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City.

A special guest will return to the Piper’s Opera House tonight for the 1864 Governor’s Ball.

It’s about 120 years old and 14 inches long.

After a yearlong $700 restoration, Professor Louis Zimmer’s violin will premiere at the Nevada Day celebration ball in the Virginia City opera house, 12 N. C St. The German-made, varnished spruce-top and maple-sided violin once led the Zimmer Orchestra on a regular basis starting back in 1878.

“It’s one of our most important artifacts,” said opera house Executive Director Margo Memmott. “It’s a part of the history of the opera house and it’s wonderful to have it back again. There are many things in Piper’s Opera House that have disappeared through time. Now we can say that we have the violin that was there when the opera house opened.”

The violin was played by Zimmer during the reopening of Piper’s Opera House in March 1885 at a grand ball. According to historic records, 1,500 Comstock dancers attended the event and danced until 3 a.m.

Zimmer later married into the Piper family. Because of his marriage to Louisa Piper, the instrument remained in the family.

Dennis Butterfield, a string repairman and violin teacher for 36 years, restored the violin in his Reno Maytan Music Center shop. The instrument was warped and the bow was in bad condition, Butterfield said.

“The ivory on the tip is brand new and the hair is brand new,” he said. “I also restored the frog (a piece on the bow).”

Butterfield will play the violin at the ball with Butterfield’s Victorian Orchestra. The violin’s public debut will be to the tune of the “Pendulum Waltz.”

The 7:30 p.m. ball is a fund-raiser to aid the restoration and operation of the Piper’s theater. For information about the ball or house events, call 847-0433.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.