Stradivarius in the Attic
April 24, 2012 at 5:25 PM
So you're at Grandpa's house helping him clean out his attic. While cleaning, you stumble across a dusty trunk and inside you find some old books, a quilt, and a violin
. At first, it doesn't look like much, the bridge is missing and who knows the last time the strings were changes. But wait! Something catches your eye inside the f-hole. You take a closer look and see, "Antonius Stradivarius, Cremonenfis, Faciebat Anno 17XX" along with a symbol of an A and an S enclosed in a circle. That name, "Stradivarius," isn't that the one you hear on the news or read about online when a violin
is worth millions of dollars
. Your heart starts beating faster and you immediately begin planning out how many yachts that you will be buying....STOP! Take a breath and read on.
Yes, it is true that a genuine Stradivarius violin, or Strad, can be worth millions of dollars, but that is only if it's genuine. The reality is that there are only about 500 genuine Strads in existence today (depending on who you ask) and they are all pretty much accounted for. There are millions copies out there and some date back to the time when Antonio Stradivari was alive. So how do you know if what you have found is the real deal?
The best thing for you to do in this situation is to take it to a reputable violin maker/dealer for an appraisal. Most places will do this for free. It's important to go in with realistic expectations. There were thousands and thousands of Strad copies manufactured during the late 19th century and on into the mid 20th century which means that you have a 99.997% chance that your "Strad" is a copy.
Strad copies from this time are not worthless though. Monetarily speaking, if there aren't any major repairs needed, most are worth $100-$300 (or more if they were well taken care of). If there are repairs needed, however, the cost to repair the violin could easily override the potential value. Whether or not you repaired the violin would be up to you. If money isn't important to you, why not use this serendipitous find as your chance to start learning how to play the violin? Or, it could be a gift for another friend or relative wanting to play. Besides, there is always the sentimental value that is attached with heirlooms and that is priceless.
I have one of those. It belonged to my grandmother's first cousin, and it was given to me by his widow long after he was dead. I had to climb into her attic by a ladder to fetch it when I was about 13, where the fiddle had resided for about 50 years. The label says "Antonius Stradivarius", and in smaller print, "Made in Germany", which eventually dispelled my illusions about its provenance when I learned a little more about violins. He ran a general store in rural Prince Edward Island in the early years of the 20th century and purchased the violin from Eaton's Catalogue for three dollars about 1902, using it to court his future wife. His violin was called a "Conservatory Model", the words stamped on the scroll, and it has no corner blocks inside. I recently spent far more than the instrument was worth to have it repaired and made playable by a good luthier. It was an act of homage to the man and his times, and I consider the money well spent. I have two other better quality violins, so I'm not reliant on it. It doesn't sound half-bad, however, much better than most inexpensive Chinese violins in fact, and I sometimes play it during fiddle sessions for fun. It has a real old-time fiddle sound with lots of resonance, a powerful projection, and a wolf note that sometimes growls on the C#.
I play a "fake Strad" with a label similar to that. It is quite aged (probably from the 1800´s), has great sound, and is certainly worth over US$ 300. Mostly, it has been a source of joy for me personally for many years.
Just to clear up one error in post.
There isn't a "99.997%" chance that the Strad you find is a copy, there's a 99.999% chance.
Or a 99.999999999999% chance. lol
I worked briefly in a violin shop years ago; this issue came up constantly. It was very sad. My boss even told me about a man who had literally planned his entire retirement around his worthless copy. Not kidding.
Haha! You are probably right about the math. I was trying to give readers a smidge of hope. I actually have a soft spot in my heart for turn of the century Strad copies. We have a lot that come in to the shop. They always seem to have some sort of history. Although, not the million-dollar history that many want it to have. Once we got a Vuillaume copy. I thought it was quite a novelty since it was a copy of a famous Strad copy. It made me think that we could make a copy of that so then it would be a copy of the copy of a copy...I'm easily entertained it seems.
From John Cadd
Posted on April 29, 2012 at 11:29 AM
What was the motive for making so many Strad copies ? Did they sound anything like an original .No. Did customers think they did. No. But by then they had parted with the money. The makers had that bit sorted out. So were they cynical ? Did they care about the customers? Were they no better than Bernie Madoff with his fine suits and expensive life style? Was it a job creation scheme to keep keen woodworkers off the streets? What excuse would you fit to all the false labelling? Did some entrepreneur just change labels and never make any violins at all ? Who made most money by just changing labels? Was there something inherently dishonest in the idea of creating thousands of disappointed players ? Was there a pleasure in the idea of deluding the buyers . A kind of revenge for not knowing how the originals were made . Did those fake copies , in reality , keep classical music afloat ? Did fake labels stop the violin from dying out ? Would a violin be a musical dinosaur if they had never been made ? What reason is most often given for turning down a business idea ? There`s no money in it . An advert selling a violin appeared on the Preloved site last month. "Violin for sale. I bought it for my husband .He tried it twice and can`t do it ". The stuff of Dreams.
I made a violin last year. I play the cello and would like to build one, so this project was to see it I actually could achieve it. I did and it sounds great. What did I put on the label?
Richard K. Williams, M.D.
Northbrook Illinois 2010
No, I didn't call it a Strad!
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