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Corwin Slack


July 19, 2007 at 4:30 AM

This is about violin dealers. None of the dealers mentioned are here in Houston Texas where I live.

A good friend has offered to sell me a violin. It is a modern Italian from the mid 20th century. I am not sure how he came by it but he got a very good price for it from someone who didn't know anything at all about violins. Quite frankly neither did my friend when he bought it but he got interested and found out that he really had a nice bargain on his hands. Most of what he has put into the violin is some money for nonuctural repairs.

My friend came to the violin late. He is a professional musician but not a violinist. He has decided that he was perfectly happy with a cheap violin and if he can get a decent price for this he would use the money in other ways.

He started showing it to dealers. Of course dealers want to buy it as cheaply as possible and mark it up as high as they can. I hardly blame them. They are entitled to make whatever they can but sometimes the dishonesty is galling.

He sent pictures of the instrument to a dealer on the East coast who advertises on his web site "we only sell original instruments".

The dealer declared it a counterfeit but offered to buy it from him. Now perhaps someone can reconcile his offer to buy with his web site statement but I am struggling.

I am learning that it is not unknown for dealers to repudiate the label in a violin when a buyer shows it to them but to write a certificate for the violin if they can get their hands on it to sell it. They will repudiate any certificate but their own. I guess that this is a buy cheap and sell dear strategy but I don't think that it is at all honest.

Here is a thought.

If a dealer offers to buy a violin that they call a counterfeit for a price greater than 30% of the market value for the maker it probably isn't a copy. If he offers more than 30 or 40% of the value ask him why he thinks a counterfit would be so valuable and ask him how he intends to sell the violin in the future. Since he needs to mark it up about 100% he is starting to get into the price range for the real thing.

(You may say that a markup of 20% is more common. This may be true for violins on consignment but it is most certainly not for violins the dealer owns.)

Ask the dealer what measures he plans on taking to make sure that no one is fooled by the label.

Then test everything he tells you with other dealers. If you're really lucky you may get a glimpse of the truth.

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