Horror Stories

October 30, 2008 at 05:33 AM · Hi everyone,

I'm a student at NYU studying Film and TV Production, and I plan on my next project being about violinists and the classical orchestra. So I was wondering if any of you could help me out with some information/stories:

Has anyone had any experience with a shady violin salesperson? As in fraud, or counterfeiting, or anything along those lines?


Replies (31)

October 31, 2008 at 03:32 AM · See two messages before:


October 31, 2008 at 01:23 PM · Yes, there are some bad stories about dealers.

But you could interview also some dealers. They have some horror stories about players too.

October 31, 2008 at 01:56 PM · there are so many interesting topics out there that can use the fine education from the top film school of the country,,,why this?

does nyu carry liability insurance for its students' projects?

October 31, 2008 at 02:45 PM · Even when I was a teenager, 60 years ago, my dad warned me to be suspicious of violin dealers.

A few stories:

My Dad's violin was a Scarampella that I never liked (It had a big, rough tone, it had some notes that drove through my ears like a dentist's drill, I sold it after he died - but now wish I hadn't, I think it had to be played really well to sound good). He had bought it with 2 bows around the time I was born (a N. Voirin and a R. Weichold) at the urging of his violin teacher (Mr. Frizzoli). The teacher said it was one of those violins brought into New York by an Italian sea captain with a "broken neck to be repaired." Of course it never left the city, it was just a way of smuggling. Years later I read in the Southern California AAA (yest auto club) magazine that Dad's old New York teacher was now an old violin maker living in Beverly Hills AND he relatedd who he had aapprenticed in ther Scarampella workshop and how sometimes apprentice's violins got the master's label and how Scarampella violins were too thick in the "table" and how many had to be regraduated to perform at their full potential. So just what was Dad's violin anyway.

The Baltimore luthier/dealer/maker who made what is now my favorite violin was a delightful old man, even in 1950, but it was obvious that hyperbole was part of the sales technique. Still it offered me (a customer) some life-long memories; like when he pulled his N. Amati out of the shop safe so I could compare it with the 5 brand new Strad copies we were sampling to buy from. Even his allowing us to take my new violin home for a year before he would let us pay for it was an interesting technique - as was his selling my father a bow he had made, that he said "Wurlitzers thought it was a Tourte." I mean, please, give me a break!

I've seen dealers who will take in trade a nice modern Italian violin in exchange for another nice modern Italian violin, and charge the buyer half price, in other words, offering them only half the retail value of their violin, which needs nothing more than some setup work to bring to equal or better condition than the one they bought. I consider that shady, although it is really what the business is about.

I looked at a $2,000 violin labeled as a "J(something) Rocca"** in Columbus OH some 36 years ago. I asked the dealer if it was a real Rocca, and he replied, "that's what the label says." I was ready to use the new-house-down-payment fund until he said that. (I thought at the time it was shady that a Guiseppi Rocca would think of himself as "Joe" but apparently he really did label instruments with a "J".)

In fact, the only dealer I've ever known whom I would trust completely as a human being is a personal friend who took up violin making as a hobby a few years before he retired from his life-long engineering career and eventually became his town's "luthier" who has now made and sold nearly 100 instruments. I know there are others, but I'm never sure.

Buyer beware!


October 31, 2008 at 02:40 PM · May I add that there are unethical practices that go on in which a seller tells you that the violin is labeled by so and so(often with a lesser known but highly repsected luthier of the recent past)but they omit that the word "labeled" for them as the seller is significantly different than "actually made by". If you read what the seller has either written about the violin or if you could transcribe the conversation they have with you about it, they are very careful never to say actually crafted by, etc. They will tell you that the name is good, the label is one of note, but never state that the person you believed to have made it actually did not. To those who practice this sort of thing, no matter how much side stepping you do and no matter how you rationalize that you only used the word label, we all know that you did it purposely with the intent to defraud. Courts tend not to be sympathetic toward your cause and fraud is fraud not caveat emptor. An example of caveat emptor would be buying what you believe to be a Stradivarius for $10,000 and it is not. Then the court could ask you, did you honestly think you were getting a $2M violin for $10,000?

A perfect target for the unethical seller is a very enthusiastic person who does not have much experience. I would not recommend looking for a $20,000 violin when one you are currently playing more than satisfies your needs. When you gain more exoerience and if you outgrow your current violin, then go shopping.

October 31, 2008 at 04:17 PM · emil, not trying to defend knowingly unethical dealers, there are violins out there with a label or two that "regular" dealers may not have all the expertise to identify one way or another. so, if someone says "it is labelled as" it can mean the dealer is truly not sure who the maker is. of course, it will be better if the dealer says: labelled as this but i am not sure myself. but do you see car saleman tell you,,the acceleration is great on this model but govt testing suggests the crash protection is not ideal?

the world is not black and white in that not all dealers are that devious and not all buyers are that pure and innocent. i don't have any extensive personal experiences to validate such but the law of average rules:) for instance, a buyer hears the label by phrase and starts dreaming that it is possibly made by. (from the number of disappointed buyers out there, i assume this theme is quite popular) can we totally blame the dealers for planting the seed of greed into the buyers? i think the seed is in the buyers already...the dealers just put on a little tender loving care, hehe:)

for starters, name just one other sales profession outside violin dealing where you can claim that it is really much different. you can't. marketing will be used or abused everywhere.

with your analogy of the 10k violin sold and bought as a strad, they should send both the seller AND the buyer to jail and make them share the same cell.

on the film,,,it can be a funny show where our poster goes around interviewing people, and on the film their faces are covered and voice distored... the lowdown on violin!:)

October 31, 2008 at 04:39 PM · I suspect buying a violin is just like buying a car. The best way to buy a used car is to show up with printouts of other used cars in the area. You tell the dealer that another lot has the exact same car for less. You have a list of questions and you write the answers and observations down. Telling the salesman that you did not bring your check book because you don't make impulse buys and need to sleep on it is the nail in his coffin.

I bet the people with violin horror stories were so excited at the prospect of upgrading to a beautiful new product that they forgot to haggle the price. They allow the fear that the one they like will be sold overnight to push them into a rash decision. They get seduced into something more expensive than they really wanted or can afford because of their desire.

Making music must involve passion, but purchasing anything is a business transaction. Straight out tell the other shop that you're looking around. It's not rude, it's business. We all need to take our time avoiding the temptation to get one right now! We all need to shop around, talk to different places and see what they have available. Maybe one shop has higher quality violins for hundreds less than that other shop. I think taking anything home on loan the first day is dangerous. Keep looking and come back if it really is what you want to take home for a trial period.

It may still be possible to get screwed this way, but it is a lot less likely if your careful, cautious, and make sure to check things out before you buy.

October 31, 2008 at 07:34 PM · "I've seen dealers who will take in trade a nice modern Italian violin in exchange for another nice modern Italian violin, and charge the buyer half price, in other words, offering them only half the retail value of their violin, which needs nothing more than some setup work to bring to equal or better condition than the one they bought. I consider that shady, although it is really what the business is about."

Sorry, but I don't consider that "shady." It is quite typical in a wide variety of businesses, whether you try to sell a gun to a gunshop, an antique to an antique shop, or a bike to a bike shop, to be offered around 50% of the retail value. Obviously a dealer has to be able to make a profit.

An example of "shady" would be: a well-known Cleveland dealer who sold a local and well-known conservatory a violin. Later, a student fell in love and wanted to buy it from the school. Asked for a value, the dealer (who apparently didn't recognize the violin) stated the value as being far below what the school had paid him for it.

October 31, 2008 at 11:05 PM · I would suggest the original poster might like to start his research at: http://www.fritz-reuter.com/

Plenty of interesting stories there!

October 31, 2008 at 11:17 PM · Here is a tale of how a thief can fall into their own trap, when they don't consider all of the possiblilties of covering their tracks: Around 1976, My very first violin teacher presented a violin one day to me, it an "exceptionally fine" quality instrument that was offered to me at a very discounted price. Not really knowing at the time what it was really worth, my mother bought the instrument from the teacher and I was quite satisfied with the violin. Shortly afterwards, I was experiencing a problem with the violin, which I cannot recall what is was now, and took it to a local luthier. When he saw the fiddle, he immediatly asked where I got such a fine instrument. When I told him, he said it was his. I was taken back in confusion for an instant and then he explained that a customer, apparantly my teacher, has taken the instrument out on a consignment basis, as well as 3 others. He was expecting to hear some sort of contact from my teacher, just about the time I brought it in. The luthier was very understanding about the circumstances and let me keep the instrument. Meeting me, he was able to finally track down the teacher, who thought he was in the clear and had a small business of his own going. I understood that he may have "borrowed" instruments from all over town.

November 1, 2008 at 04:50 AM · I found a decent 18th Century Viennese violin at a big outdoor rural flea market. I knew enough about violins to be pretty sure that it was authentic. I took it to a well-known Midwestern dealer in another town to get his opinion on value, and to see about putting it up for sale. This dealer flat out lied to me about its origin and condition, things I knew about from research, and from years of fine antique restoration. (He even went so far as to tell me that the ribs had been raised, when they clearly hadn't been.)He totally lowballed the value. Needless to say, we didn't do any business.

I eventually consigned the violin to another dealer, who wholesaled it to the first, dishonest dealer for about five times what he had originally told me it was worth.

I came out OK on the deal, but I wonder how many other people this guy bamboozled and ripped off over the many years he was in business.

Our business absolutely depends on happy customers, repeat business, and good word of mouth. I wonder how people like that survive in business. I know he didn't get any recommendations from me. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I have to add that the vast majority of my dealings with other people in this business have been great, and the number of bad apples seems to be about proportionate to the rest of the business world.

November 1, 2008 at 12:32 PM · as i am munching on a piece of kitkat (the only candy i can tolerate these days) stolen from my kid's 10 lb candy bag, i regret i did not point out that this trick or treat topic was timely,,,:)

ok, peanut m and m is also ok.

November 1, 2008 at 03:35 PM · A new story: a teacher, violinist and an ex Karajan pupil was arrested in Rome for selling fake violins:


As I just read in an Italian site, he commited suicide. A sad story.

He was the father of Masha Diatchenko, a 13 years old prodigy who is very famous in Italy.

November 1, 2008 at 01:41 PM · The worst story I ever heard was of a violin shop that sold a woman what was supposedly an old Italian

for around 100K. It turned out that they had sold her a copy, albeit a good one that appraised for about a third of that value. I believe the woman won the court case, because it was determined that the seller was willfully fraudulent.

I guess that if I ever buy a truly nice instrument, it seems only logical to have its provenance verified by one or more outside sources. If you have the money to buy a 100K instrument, you can probably afford another appraisal.

November 1, 2008 at 09:26 PM · That's a remarkable story Michael Richwine- you're calling the dealer dishonest for not giving you a fair price!!! I assume he was offering you at least as much as you paid the seller. You have some expertise, you knew what you were buying, one could argue that you took advantage of the seller's ignorance in the same way as the dealer tried to take advantage of you. By your own logic aren't you just as dishonest?

November 1, 2008 at 09:38 PM · Actually, that occurred to me, too. If I find a valuable instrument at a yard sale and then make a big profit selling it, am I being any more ethical than a dealer who sells to me for a huge mark-up? Not that I've ever found a violin at a yard sale, but there's always hoping.

November 1, 2008 at 09:47 PM · Dealing is full of grey areas. From a purely business point of view, which doesn't take into account each individual purchase, the good deals/large profits are required to balance out the bad deals/losses.

Most players have an idea of what their instrument is worth. This is usually based on a number of factors; what they paid for it, what it has been insured for, what the record auction price is, what it might sell for if it was in perfect condition. Perhaps the player should consider what they would be prepared to risk paying for it in order that they can sell it for a modest, say 20% profit. Now the player is in an interesting position- if the player sells it he or she must be prepared to stand over it's authenticity, and be prepared to refund the selling price if someone suggests it's not authentic. You, assuming you're receiving full retail value (whatever that is) must also guarantee the condition and offer a free repair service for a year or so after you've sold it. You've also got to be prepared to keep that instrument for an indefinite period of time until a buyer turns up- and entrust it to the buyer until they decide they want it (after showing it to God knows who for their qualified of unqualified opinion), or smile and take it back when the prospective buyer eventually decides to offer you the courtesy of returning it.

Don't expect any sensible dealer to offer you anything like what you think the instrument is worth!!

November 1, 2008 at 10:53 PM · A recent story, one month old.

Back in the 70's my first teacher brought her 1750's Italian violin to a shop to be assesed. They gave her a valuation of about 7k due to a apparent replaced scroll and top. Offered to buy it of course.

Fast forward to 2008..

Now in her senior years and ailing she took the violin to a well established shop she trusted for another evaluation and to put the violin on consignment for sale. the price offered after commission was in the 70k range.

I sensed something stunk to me and I called the shop to enquire and was told they had no such violin.

I called the family and suggested they retrieve the violin and get additional evaluations. Once the shop realized what was happening significant back peddling began and all of a sudden the violin value jumped up to 300 to possibly 400k

I don't trust shops anymore. I just got a first hand peek into that world.

My advice to anyone buying of selling violins or bows is to get at least 2 separate evaluations.

November 2, 2008 at 01:07 AM · That, Mr McClean, is why I can't be a dealer.

The whole point of dealing is to buy for as little as you can, and sell for as much as you can.

But the ethics in between is a nightmare.

I knew a music shop keeper who had a visit from the proverbial "little old lady". She brought in something beautiful, and he knew it straight away. She said she wanted, let's say, £300.

He said that the fiddle was worth more. She said, that that was her price. He looked around in the case, and found a receipt from several decades earlier, saying, from a known dealer, 'a violin made by (some named great Italian maker) received the sum of £300.'

He tried to argue again, but the lady said, "that's what I paid, that's what I want".

He sent her away,saying he couldn't afford what the fiddle was truly worth.

I would put money on the outcome being that the next dealer probably beat her down a bit.


November 2, 2008 at 01:07 AM · Hi Graham,

my point exactly.

I can't be bothered with the dealing side of things. Too much negative energy, too many posibilities for bad feeling and arguments. I make violins and it's much simpler, but I sympathise with the honest dealers....

If a player wants to sell an instrument he or she is in a difficult position. They could offer the instrument to a reputable auction house, but then they'd have to sell it for a 'wholesale' price minus 17% (approx) plus VAT.

Players should be glad the standard of making is so high.

I'm playing divil's advocate of course...

November 2, 2008 at 01:15 AM · If the violin shops all went out of business, we who play would be in trouble. A shop owner needs to pay the mortgage, pay the electricity, pay a wage to his employees, etc. Being specialized, the shop owner has a limited client base.

He has to mark up strings, mark up bows, and mark up violins to even stay in business. There is no way his shop could operate if he only took fees from repair work. Of course there are dealers out there who are shady, but most of them are probably just trying to stay above water.

If any of us buys a beginner violin for $2000 and want to upgrade in less than 5yrs, we can't expect to see some huge increase in value. In fact, we should expect to get less in trade-in than we paid. The fact that we got 5yrs of daily pleasure and enjoyment out of it and the fact that we got a discount at all should be enough.

A lot of these so called horror stories seem to be people who just don't understand the reality of the market place. If you want an investment, buy gold. If you want a musical instrument that you play, buy a violin.

November 2, 2008 at 04:29 AM · >>>- you're calling the dealer dishonest for not giving you a fair price!!! I assume he was offering you at least as much as you paid the seller. You have some expertise, you knew what you were buying, one could argue that you took advantage of the seller's ignorance in the same way as the dealer tried to take advantage of you. By your own logic aren't you just as dishonest <<<

Not at all. If the dealer in question had merely offered a low price, or if he had declined to buy at all, I wouldn't have any problem whatsoever.

The fact that he flat out, blatantly lied about the instrument is what bothers me. There's no question that he knew better, as evidenced by the fact that he paid several times more for the instrument wholesale when it was offered to him by another dealer. He was the best-known expert in my part of the county at the time.

I went there with the idea of consigning the instrument, not selling it outright. The dealer in question was accepting consignments at the time. One would think that consignment would be a transaction where both parties had similar interests, not an adversarial one.

I bought this particular violin from an antique dealer at a rural flea market, and paid the asking price. She had bought it at a public auction and just wanted to turn it for a quick profit. I didn't tell her any lies, or make any representation whatsoever. I don't think that it is a buyer's obligation to do free appraisals on merchandise they are buying; in fact I think it is unethical. Appraisal associations don't allow their members to do any appraisals where there is a chance they might be buying the article in question. They see is as a conflict of interest. You are either appraising or dealing, never both. I agree with that approach and try to conduct myself accordingly.

The business seller prices their merchandise at what they think it's worth to them, and they have the same opportunity to do research that anyone else does. When I bought the violin I wasn't positive of its authenticity or actual value, although I did believe that it might well be authentic. Just about everybody in the antique business knows the rules of the game.

November 2, 2008 at 06:19 AM · I am reading all this discussion of valuation and seeing the humor in it.

Value is relative; when someone sells a violin at a flea market, they are very possibly only interested in the money it can bring, not in the qualities of the instrument. They set a price they think the instrument will bring, and that price may also be an indication of how quickly they wish to sell it (If they don't mind waiting for the perfect purchaser, they may could have the instrument for sale for a year or more).

When a musician sees a violin in this circumstance, should they adjust the selling price to what the purchaser thinks is a fair value?

IF the same violin is in a shop, presumably with some level of guarantee, should it not carry a higher price?

When the shop purchases a violin, part of the decision is based on what the shop can resell the instrument for. This may be improvements (repair) or setup, or it even could be exposure to a wider or more targeted customer pool than the original seller. Therefore, when I walk into a violin shop, I may not be able to provide the additional resources of that shop, so the same violin is actually worth more when purchased from the shop, all other things being even.

when something is placed on consigment, the owner should perhaps first read 'Freakonomics', to recognize that it is in the best interest of the shop to price the unit in such a manner that it sells fairly quickly, not necessarily at the best price. even a larger section of a pie is smaller than a lot of pie sections; the faster they can turn over their consignment inventory, the more money they can make.

so, dealers are not necessarily dishonest when they provide a lower price for consignments, but the economic pressures often make it look that way.

If they are going to purchase it, and then resell it at a significant price, integrety should dictate they use the same valuation for the purchase as the sale, however only offer a percentage of that when buying; the do need a profit, after all or they can't pay their espresso bills. The issue is they may be more motivated to investigate and find reasons for a higher value when selling, rather than buying. Dishonest? No, only human.

That said, there are some seriously dishonest sellers out there, however I do not think you can label someone by a single transaction; it has to be their processes that indicate dishonesty, because any individual transaction can have too much variability, and the individual selling a violin nover has the frequency of sampling to get a clear picture of the processes.

So, maybe never get an appraisal from the sealer you are going to sell through? Take the instrument to someone for an appraisal, but indicate clearly their purpose is the appraisal, and the instrument will not be available for them as a transaction. I suspect most dealers will then perform the task they are paid for fairly, as long as there are no competing self-interest motivations.

November 3, 2008 at 04:30 AM ·

Thanks everyone for your stories.   By all means, keep them coming!

-- Luis Manfio -- Thanks for the tip.  I am on the lookout for violin shops in NYC.  Do you have any horror stories about players?

-- Al Ku -- After reading everyone's posts, I am tempted to try a documentary about this.  Maybe as an extra.  And yes, NYU carries liability insurance for student projects, and yes, the topic was luckily timed to match Halloween.  I was pleasantly reminded of it just as I was about to post.

-- Rosalind Porter -- What a great site!  Totally what I was looking for.  THANKS!!!

-- Martin Mcclean, Joy Laydbak, Michael Richwine -- you bring up an additional aspect of this business that I didn't really think about before.  Which brings me to my next point:

As a bit of clarification, my original intent was to find a set of circumstances that would fit in with my lead character's father being one of these shady dealers; when he gets caught, the character renounces her musical talent; and the rest of the story is about how she comes to terms with her father and returns to what she does best.

However, reading these stories, not to mention the more abstract discussion of ethical sales practices, has turned me to expand the father's role, which has also opened up a whole host of new questions.  The main one I am wondering about is about the difference between luthiers and dealers.

Just as a violinist can be fleeced on a buy, can a luthier also be scammed by a buyer?  Or will it usually be the same person, making and selling?

It seems like now I am looking for horror stories involving the sale/purchase of violins in general....

Thanks again, everyone, for your help so far.

November 3, 2008 at 04:53 AM ·

That said, there are some seriously dishonest sellers out there, however I do not think you can label someone by a single transaction; it has to be their processes that indicate dishonesty, because any individual transaction can have too much variability, and the individual selling a violin nover has the frequency of sampling to get a clear picture of the processes.

This brings up a very good point.  Can someone truly be dishonest when only looking at a single solitary interaction?  Honest mistakes happen.  The opinion of value is highly subjective.  A shop may be going through hard times and raise it's prices accordingly, which leads the buyers to percieve greed where there is only a desire to survive. 

As well, with such a tight knit community, a shop that is repeatedly dishonest isn't going to last very long.  Unlike buyers who can rip shops off by giving stolen credit cards to "borrow" violins and bows only to leave town and sell elsewhere, a luthier or shop owner has roots.  I've already heard, here in Seattle, high regard for two different shops and I've only been playing for a short time.  I'm guessing my teacher and the other violinists I've met would warn me against a shop that would deal unfairly with me.  This leads me to wondering if a luthier or shop owner really could be dishonest and stay in business for long.

On the same lines... if I was a luthier and some fool was throwing money around my shop without having done their research and wanted to buy something really expensive without caring if it played well... I just don't think I'd stop them...  There is also a difference between dishonesty and just letting a fool be a fool.

November 3, 2008 at 07:34 AM ·

A violin dealer cannot keep his shop open and feed his family if he doesn't make about a 100% markup on low end violins. On violins from $10k-$250k he probably needs to get a markup of 60-70% and perhaps can get by with 50-60% for the highest value violins. If everyone understood that they would probably think better of violin dealers zand have a more satisfactory experience but the dealers won't admit to those kinds of margins so they are forced to subterfuge instead.


If you want a real life horror story follow this link and use it to start your Google search. A famous Chicago based dealership figures prominently in the story but they got off the legal hook. You decide if they are off the ethical hook.

November 3, 2008 at 10:45 AM ·

Have you heard the one about the little old lady who dies and goes to heaven with her old violin. St Peter takes her over to three men who happen to be Stradivari, Del Gesu and Vuillaume. She shows it to Strad who scratches his head and pronounces it to be a Guarneri, she shows it to Del Gesu who rubs his chin and tells her it's a Voller brothers. She then shows it to Vuillaume who glances sideways at it and then asks her, "are you buying or selling?"

November 3, 2008 at 02:33 PM ·

josh, my bad that i did not consider that you were originally planning a film with fictional characters.  just make sure you let us know how to watch your production when it is done! 


here is a clip on youtube...



November 4, 2008 at 01:01 PM ·

One of the most comMon horror stories for dealers and makers has a simple plot: the player takes the instrument for a trial period and disapears....   


November 5, 2008 at 04:23 AM ·


al, I am a Kit Kat fan. When I first came ot Japan the first night I wa sstresse dout so I went shopping for  the aforesaid bar. Unfortuantely the nes they sell here are tempered for Japanes etaste buds (somewhat similar to cardboard). The lable was the same and the price wa sexorbitant. Have I ebeen swindled even in this basic food group?



November 5, 2008 at 10:39 PM ·

Bizarrely enough, I want to put in a *positive* word for violin dealers.  Sure, they can come across as hoity-toity stuffed shirts who think they're doing you a favor by selling you an instrument or as sleazy used car salesmen who are trying to make a buck at your expense--but sometimes, they also "do the right thing."

In 1990, after my violin was stolen, I had a fairly fixed budget for a replacement instrument and limited time to travel to different dealerships.  New to the Washington, DC area, I looked around at the inventory at some smaller shops before ending up at the biggest name dealer in town.  The proprietor came across as a real used car dealer, and I had a particularly sinking feeling when he brought out a fiddle that, with a straight face, he claimed had been used as a spare instrument by a little old lady who only played in community orchestra and in her quartet.  No, I'm not making that up.  The line was hokey, the sales pressure was high--and yet, he offered me a really good instrument.  I ended up taking that instrument home for about a month, comparing it to instruments at 4 other dealerships, including a couple up in Philadelphia (Moennig's and one other whose name I forget) and playing it for anyone who had time to listen.  In all that time, I couldn't find anything that came close to that instrument's quality within the price constraints that I had.

18 years later, I'm still playing that violin.  It's made by a lesser-known maker in New York, so it hasn't increased in value as much as a vintage Italian instrument, but I bought it to play it, and it still gets compliments from colleagues and is competitive with instruments selling for twice and three times its current appraisal.  I hated the sales process, but I ended up with something that turned out to be a great fit for me.  And I know I wouldn't have picked this instrument without a push from the "evil" dealer.

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