Violin appraisers, how do you determine country of origin?

November 22, 2008 at 06:55 PM ·

I have come across a violin which according to the appraisal it comes with was made in Germany "ca. 1940" but it was actually made in Bohemia which is the Latin name for Czech lands. The Czech part of what was Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany during WWII then this violin was made, but does that justify to say that the country of origin is Germany? If that is justification enough, how many Italian instruments would have to be relabeled French and how many French ones would have to be relabeled German as the territory in which they were made changed hands between warring powers in Europe? Are there any set rules for appraisers? Or do they simply go by their own view of history? BTW, the appraiser in this case is a German.

Some will say I should judge the instrument by its tone and playability not the country of origin on the appraisal certificate and in principle I agree. However, I am looking for an interim instrument to bridge the time it takes to finish a custom instrument. For this reason I am concerned about resale value. I happen to live in Japan and would resell this instrument in a year or two over here. The Japanese are generally well educated when it comes to geography and credibility is everything. If they question the judgement that Bohemia was part of Germany even during WWII, then this will destroy the credibility of the appraisal, the appraiser and the seller, alike. The violin would then be unsellable because the buyer (me) is tainted with a lack of credibility. 

Thus, I'd like to know from those members here who do appraisals, how they go about certifying the country of origin in such a case. Thanks in advance.

Replies (27)

November 22, 2008 at 09:27 PM ·

I am not an appraiser, but I do not think they necessarily certify by country of origin.  First they try to identify the maker or the workshop.  If they cannot I think they normally speak more of a style of violinmaking related to a country or place rather than an actual country where the violin was made.

November 22, 2008 at 09:38 PM ·

November 23, 2008 at 01:34 AM ·

Does country really matter?  I would have thought sound or pedigree would be more important for value.  I am curious to hear more views.  Thanks.


November 23, 2008 at 02:31 AM ·

"Up until the end of WWII, many Germans lived in Bohemia alongside Czechs, so do you know if the maker was Czech or German by nationality?"

You are confusing ethnicity with nationality.

Did you know that ethnic German Americans are the largest ethnic group in Michigan? Most of them are descendants of mercenaries who fought in the services of the British in the war of independence in the 1770s. There's bound to be at least one violin maker in Ann Arbor today who has German ancestors. Would you say that his instruments are of German origin? Would they be considered German if Michigan had briefly been occupied by Germany and all ethnic Germans illegally stripped of their US nationality so they could be drafted into the German army? I have to say I find your view rather offensive.

"Does country really matter?  I would have thought sound or pedigree would be more important for value."

It is quite obvious that you did not read my post.

As I had explained, it is important to me that I can sell the violin again in a year or two. Since I live in Japan, potential buyers would be Japanese. The appraisal that comes with the violin says "country of orgin: Bohemia, Germany" which is likely to cause a prospective Japanese buyer to question its credibility. If that happens, both the appraisal and the buyer (me) will be tainted and render the instrument unsellable. At this point the quality of the instrument no longer matters.

On the other hand, if somebody here can point me to some sort of codex of violin appraisers or some international law text, which I can obtain a copy of and which clearly states that violins made in Bohemia between 1938 and 1945 are legally considered of German origin, then I could get a certified translation and offer it along with the violin and appraisal. This would restore the credibility of the appraiser and the buyer (me) and solve this problem.

November 23, 2008 at 03:38 AM ·

Sounds like you disagree with the appraisal.  You may have good reason...  or not.  I don't think I've seen the fiddle in question, so it's difficult for me to say.  Appraisals and certificates are opinions...  and no appraiser or expert is perfect (though some are certainly better than others).  In this particular case, though the world was rather hectic during WWII, I think I'd personally have avoided blending the German occupation with the country of origin. 

Frankly, the difference in value between a Bohemian and German fiddle from the '40s is probably not all that significant, but you seem to be more concerned with the accuracy of the attribution on paper.  If that's the case, why not just get another opinion?

November 23, 2008 at 03:55 AM ·

"Sounds like you disagree with the appraisal."

Well, I personally disagree with the view that Bohemia ever was German, but this isn't really the issue for me. If there is a standard in the violin trade that says instruments made in an occupied zone during occupation are legally considered to be of the occupying country, then I am happy to accept that standard.

Basically, I am just trying to find out if there are any such standards and I thought it would be a good idea to first get some background here on this forum as opinions stated here by other appraisers might be helpful when making direct contact with the appraiser in Germany.

But since you said "I think I'd personally have avoided blending the German occupation with the country of origin." it would seem that there isn't any such standard and it is more or less up to the individual appraiser.

"Frankly, the difference in value between a Bohemian and German fiddle from the '40s is probably not all that significant,"

Well, here in Japan there is a difference. With the exception of instruments by a few well known Czech makers, e.g. Jan Spidlen or Tomas Pilar, German instruments are considered of higher value than Czech instruments and that is part of the problem for a prospective Japanese buyer, because the buyer might then conclude that the appraiser was trying to make the violin look worth more by declaring it German where in fact it would have been worth less if it had been classified Czech, considering that the name of the maker of this violin is not actually known.

In Japan you have to be upfront and honest about what you are selling. One thing that would strike you immediately when you look at Yahoo Auctions Japan (we don't have eBay over here) is that sellers are very eager to show the defects of the things they are selling. This is so because Japanese are concerned to make sure that nobody will have the feeling that they were tricked into buying something or tricked into paying more than what it is worth by withholding information of by misrepresentation. Thus, declaring a Bohemian violin German, and thereby making it look worth more, even accidentally, runs counter to Japanese business etiquette.

"but you seem to be more concerned with the accuracy of the attribution on paper."


"If that's the case, why not just get another opinion?"

Yes, I was considering that, but I wanted to gather some opinions here first. In fact I was thinking it may be possible to get the appraiser to reissue the appraisal with a changed country of origin, say "Bohemia, present Czech Republic, German protectorate from 1938 to 1945" or something like that. Yet, in order to convince the appraiser to do that I felt it would help to know what other violin makers/appraisers/experts think about this. So, thank you for your comments, they were helpful.

November 23, 2008 at 04:21 AM ·

If the appraiser was of the opinion the instrument is German, and the maker of the instrument is not known, then what makes you sure it's Czech?


November 23, 2008 at 09:22 AM ·

In a book  on violins quotation  (prior to WW2 and possibly before WW1) Europeen violins was classified by schools not by countries.

The french school included Belgium  and Nederthlands

The italian school was divided into  sevrral italian schools (Cremona,Brescia,Napoli ,Venice,Florence ,Roma)

The German school united austria ,poland, russia,czech republic,slvakia, but also some french,belgian ,spanish and  dutsch makers.

The english school was of small importance.

Inside those  "national" Schools  some local schools  stand out :Mirecourt  for the french ,Amati  for the italian and Klotz for the german schools.


Some violinswith marked rounded body  are said typically german .I am not sure that is true.


caution :do not trust the label . I have two Stradivarius (it's carved) made in France in the 19 th century  One is a well made violin the other is a  cheap industrially  made fiddle

November 23, 2008 at 09:56 AM ·

"If the appraiser was of the opinion the instrument is German, and the maker of the instrument is not known, then what makes you sure it's Czech?"

Michael, your profile says you live in New Jersey, so please allow me to give you an analogous example within your own geographic context: What would you think if you stumbled across a violin with an appraisal that said "Country of Origin: New Jersey, Cuba"? Would you accept this or would you feel that something is not quite right?

"In a book  on violins quotation  (prior to WW2 and possibly before WW1) Europeen violins was classified by schools not by countries."

Well, the appraisal explicitly states "country of origin" if the appraiser wanted to classify the violin by school and not by country, would he have used that phrase?

"caution :do not trust the label"

This violin doesn't have a label and the maker is not known, but the appraiser was of the opinion that it was made in the 1940s in Bohemia.

November 23, 2008 at 11:49 AM ·

November 23, 2008 at 01:24 PM ·

"This violin doesn't have a label and the maker is not known,."

now i see why you are concerned, that others may not find the "bohemia under german occupation" explanation reassuring, or straight forward.  some posters earlier did not have that info,,,

if the first appraiser will not be helpful,  i guess the only way out is to get a second, helpful one then. 

hopefully, the selling point will be the sound, possibly something that had attracted you to this particular violin in the first place. 


but,,,new jersey, cuba??? :)   hey there!

November 23, 2008 at 01:27 PM ·

I wonder if some get confused and switch Bavaria with Bohemia?????

November 23, 2008 at 01:19 PM ·

"Would it be proper to call the violin a Czech violin if its maker has nothing to do with Czechoslovakia and Czech customs/style of violin making just becuase of the fac that that is where he happens to reside?"

The term "country of origin" refers to the product, not to the maker.

If a German violin maker who has legal residence in Germany happens to work across the border in Luby making violins there, then the violins he makes will be products that would and should be labeled "Country of origin: Czech Republic".

I found your earlier post offensive because it seemed to justify the German demands leading to Munich 1938. Just because people of German ethnicity formed a large part of the population in the Czech border regions with Germany did not and does not justify Germany laying claim to those territories.

In any event, I stated that the purpose of my post was to find out if violin appraisers have a different set of rules than what would be standard for international trade when stating the country of origin of a product, so far nobody has been able to answer that.

November 23, 2008 at 03:02 PM ·

Benjamin - I think the answer to your question is provided by the person who said that appraisers tend to speak in terms of schools.  While those are closely related to countries, I do not think they are necessarily coextensive.  Someone making violins in the style of the German school could theoretically have a workshop in Bohemia.  However, Jeffrey Holmes, who posted earlier on this thread and does this sort of thing for a living, could answer this better.

November 23, 2008 at 03:19 PM ·

November 23, 2008 at 04:09 PM ·

 "btw there is nothing in any of my posts in any way stating or implying that the ethnic make-up of Bohemia before WWII was justification for Hitler to invade and take over a country.  I am sorry that you are reading something that isnt there."

Well, I see that very different. In my view, arguing that a product's country of origin should be determined by the ethnicity of the guy who made the product instead of the territory it was made, that is tantamount to questioning the sovereignty of the country over said territory. And once you question that sovereignty, you open a pandorra's box which leads all the way to Munich. Chamberlain fell into that trap and we should have learned from that.

November 23, 2008 at 04:26 PM ·

So a violin in the French style by a French maker living in England is a English violin by an English maker? Or a violin made in Turin by an Italian maker on one of the days it happened to be in France, is a French violin by a French maker?

What about Cremona and Strads, then--are they Spanish violins? Would you pay less for one because it's not Italian?

I think you've just crossed Godwin's law, by the way, and I formally declare this thread trashed, based on Dodds Corollary.

November 23, 2008 at 05:05 PM ·

Michael, you say:-

"So a violin in the French style by a French maker living in England is a English violin by an English maker? Or a violin made in Turin by an Italian maker on one of the days it happened to be in France, is a French violin by a French maker?"

Just think about how instruments are attributed

Here are some names to conjure with:-

Boullangier, London maker born in France

Paul Bailly - Paris and London, but even his London fioddles are called French.

Langonet, again, a Frenchman in England., but his are called English

Panormo, moved from Italy to Paris to London. Are his "Italian" violins worth more than his "English"?

A.E. Smith, English Maker living in Australia. His violins are definitely thought of as Australian.

Lorenzo Guado. He is British and lives and works in Cremona, but has Italianised his name to increase the desirability of his fiddles)

Lupot, born in Germany, but thought of as (arguably) the greatest French maker.

Peresson. Are his fiddles Italian, American, or Venezuelan? I say it depends where he made them.

Then you have the Tyrol. Are fiddles from here Southern German, Austrian, or Northern Italian? That depends, of course, on whether you are buying or selling.

How do we clear up such a mess?



November 23, 2008 at 06:50 PM ·

And what about Vincenzo Panormo (1734 - 1813): Italy, France, Ireland, England?

Are they all Italian violins?


November 23, 2008 at 09:39 PM ·

I didn't realise Panormo had lived in Ireland as well.

Then of course, you have to ask, was Szeryng Polish or Mexican? Menuhin - American or British? Or is it more important that both were Jews.

All that matters to me is that they were violinists.

After a while, these questions become meaningless, apart form the monetary value given to the answers of fiddle attribution (which was the main point of the original question, alongside the integrity of seller/appraiser).

I suspect that unless a violin is in the higher value brackets, such attribution doesn't matter a great deal. Sell it as a "player's violin, provenance a little dubious, but sounds great."


November 23, 2008 at 09:27 PM ·

According to Henley, Panorma did some work in Dublin.



November 23, 2008 at 09:47 PM ·

While researching a little more, I came across this site:-

Only three of these players were born in the US, and at least four lived for some time in London. Menuhin was a naturalised British citizen

How can they all be called "American"?




November 24, 2008 at 01:54 AM ·

I don't know if the term "Italian violin" matches exactly the term "country of origin: Italy", maybe it does not mean the same thing. However, the term "country of origin" is defined by where a product was made, not by the style or design, nor by whom it was made.

Like I said, the appraisal only uses the term "country of origin", it does not state any terms which relate to styles or schools or the maker himself, there is no such reference whatsoever.

Are you guys seriously suggesting that "country of origin" has a different meaning for violins than for all other products? If, so, then please would somebody show me the relevant documentation that says so. Thanks.

November 24, 2008 at 02:57 AM ·

Am I the only one who thinks this discussion is approaching the absurd?

Maybe you should either buy a different one, or sell this one somewhere else?


November 24, 2008 at 03:49 AM ·

Yes, Bob, quite absurd, but only because folks read more into the term "country of origin" than there is to it. I am not even sure what the ratio is of those who actually do appraisals and those who don't. I wasn't even interested in opinions from those who don't, which is why the title of the thread starts with "Violin appraisers ...", maybe people didn't notice that.

November 24, 2008 at 02:47 PM ·

Well Benjamin your appraisers in the thread are Jeffery Holmes and Michael Darton (from what I can see). good luck!

BTW, I do think your reaction to Elizabeth's simple comment is a bit over the top and uncalled for. Why get upset at people who are simply trying to help you by responding to an inquiry for help that you made on an internet forum? Statements like "I find your view rather offensive" and "it is quite obvious that you did not read my post." are not reasonable responses to people who are trying to help but might be misunderstanding what you are really asking.

Stating this sort of thing: " I wasn't even interested in opinions from those who don't, which is why the title of the thread starts with "Violin appraisers ...", maybe people didn't notice that." doesn't work in a public internet forum for violinists. If you want free advice, you can't get upset at the non-professionals who are trying to help. It's counter-productive to the whole point of a forum like this. 

November 24, 2008 at 11:42 PM ·


I think you are trying to use absolute terms on something that isn't. Violins are a different world then other items, they are in reality craft items (I am leaving factory violins out of this, though even they are more craft like then a production item like an automobile.)

In terms of country of origin, as others have pointed out, it may not mean much, and here is why. Instruments are  valued by the maker of the instrument, or if not known, the construction method/school of the instrument, along with the sound of the instrument (though there are strads out there that are dead, that have the sound quality of a 100 buck student violin). Appraisers are giving you their opinion, and they often have to base that on little more then the style and craftsmanship of the piece, they compare the design, the wood, the varnish against known makers and try to play detective. Labels in the instrument mean very little, just ask any appraiser how many people come in with the strad from granny's attic that  is a german factory model made in the19th century that is worth 500 dollars, but the person insists it is a strad.

In the case of your appraisal, you should ask the person who wrote the appraisal what that means. Did he mean a craftsman who was either german or studied in a german luthiers shop but built the instrument in Bohemia in 1940 (which he might tell, for example, by the type of wood used in constructing the violin; perhaps the luthier used local woods that are identifiable as being from Bohemia, as opposed to wood used in German shops of the same period). I am not an appraiser or luthier, just someone who has talked to people about this, and what they tell me is that a variety of factors go into the valuation of an instrument, and a lot of it could be guesswork in lieue of certified documentation (strads, for example, because they are well known, are easy to trace and have been well known for a long time, whereas the violin played by the third violinist of the Vienna Phil in 1890 might not be so well known).

 It might make the world of difference, good or bad, if a violin was made in a particular school (let's say  German, or Cremonese) but was built by someone trained in that school but working in let's say switzerland where he didn't have good wood to work with, so would be worth less then a violin made by a german school luthier working in Germnay proper (or Cremona, or whatever).

In the case of your violin, the appraiser might have been saying it was made by someone trained in the German school (or even guessing ethnic German) but made in a workshop in Bohemia. Without  a label or any other clue as to its origins, that may be the best you can do. I also have to add that a violin like that comes down to opinion, and even in Japan, if you are trying to sell it to someone who is a violinist and has bought instruments before they know the score with that, that most violins rarely have iron clad assesments on what they are, it isn't the norm from what I can tell unless they are by fairly famous makers, and even then assesments can get dicey. Keep in mind that the country of origin itself doesn't guarantee that an instrument will sell for a good price; besides playability, there are a lot of German, Italian, French and so forth Violins that fetch relatively little money, even though they were made in the country and labelled, because the person doing it wasn't particularly good at it, or they represent a poor example of a good maker, so the country of origin isn't a marker alone, as others have pointed out.

I would ask the appraiser what that means on his/her report, why did he say that, so if someone asks you can explain about what that meant (or better, ask the appraiser if they would be willing to write up something backing up the  assesment).

I will add that if you are going to sell this instrument at some point, that you realize that you may end up, no matter what, getting potentially less for the instrument then you paid for it. Not only the lack of an iron clad pedigree, but the fact that unlike high level instruments like Strads and Guaneris and so forth, that have attracted collector attention, it could be when you try to sell it that there is a glut of violins on the market, perhaps with better known pedigrees, and you may lose money on the deal. On the other hand, you may find a violinist who loves the sound and doesn't care about the relatively sketchy pedigree and is willing to pay your price for it, you never know.:)

As far as the law goes, appraisals are generally regarded as matters of opinion and unless someone can show that an appraiser deliberately lied (like, they have an e-mail between the seller and the appraiser colluding to say it is X), that he knew what he said was false, it comes down to opinion with most instruments, and if someone is looking at an appraisers report as an iron clad guarantee you may not want to sell to that person, because they could get another opinion, get pissed off and then start claiming you cheated them because it meant you sold it to someone who knew nothing about viollins or appraisals.  Personally, I would ask the appraiser what  he meant by the German/Bohemian appraisal, maybe get more in writing, and then if you decide to sell it try and find a buyer who understands how  violin prices work and is buying it because it plays in a way they like, and try to avoid the person buying it because they think it will go up in price, people who see the prices on Strads and such and think there is some magic to violins, they will give you nothing but heartache IMO. There are a lot of people out there like that, who try to collect violins like limoge teacups or cars or whatever,and when they find out they bought something that isn't worth what they thought it was, they tend to get mean, because they thought they knew more then they did.

Anyway, my 5c worth (in a 5 dollar bag)


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