How do you obtain an appraisal/verification of authenticity if the shop doesn't provide nor wants to provide one?

January 24, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

First off, I want to make sure nobody gets this wrong: My number one priority for my next violin purchase is NOT tonal quality, my number one priority is resale value. I want to resell it again in 1-2 years without any financial loss.

The situation I am running into quite frequently is that I find something that looks interesting but when I ask how certain the authenticity of the instrument is, the shop (usually online shop) tells me they don't have a certificate and they do not do appraisales/certifications.

In many cases, the instruments I am looking at might be workshop violins of famous makers, for example, the instrument might be advertised by the shop as a Collin-Mezin Jr. violin, but when you ask how they established this, you may get the impression that it might just be a Collin-Mezin workshop violin, not necessarily made entirely by CM himself. Note that I am not talking about instruments which are advertised as "labeled XY" or "attributed to XYZ", but those advertised with a strong attribution, not a weak one.

In any event, if a violin is a CM workshop violin, I would still consider it as long as the authenticity has been established and as long as such workshop violins also have a good resale value, which in this particular example would be the case. What I am worried about is fakes, where some maker unrelated to the workshop has faked the style and the label to fetch a higher price.

For that, it would obviously help to get an appraisal that says something about authenticity. However, if the shop doesn't have one and they don't seem to have a mechanism to get one upon request of a potential customer, then how do I go about it?

If the shop is not interested in getting an appraisal or offering to get one if the customer pays for it or pays half of the cost or whatever arrangement may be made, is that a sign that they already know that their merchandise is not authentic? Do you guys simply stay away from such shops? Or do you have some "secret formula" how you convince them to get an appraisal? Or do you simply bite the bullet, buy it, get an appraisal and either be lucky or not?

If so, what do you do if the violin turns out not to be authentic? Do you then do the same as the shop did and sell it on without mentioning the appraisal that established it was not authentic? I try to live by "don't do upon others what you don't want done upon yourself" so this approach doesn't seem appealing to me.

 

Replies (20)

January 24, 2009 at 06:21 PM ·

Ask the shop to send the violin to an expert whose expertise you trust for an evaluation.  Agree to buy the violin and pay the full fee for a certificate from the expert, but only if the violin proves to be what the shop claims it is.  The certificate will belong to you and will be part of the value of the violin if you buy the violin, so you should pay the entire fee for the certificate, but the shop should agree to pick up the charge for a simple oral evaluation without a certificate if the violin doesn't turn out to be what the shop is claiming it to be.  Of course you shouldn't pay more than the original asking price for the violin if the expert agrees that it is what the shop claims.  The shop should be willing to go along with that; if not, then by all means do not buy the violin and do not do business with that shop.

I wouldn't be comfortable with a shop that doesn't stand behind its merchandise.  Just remember that there are lots of violins out there, and, yes, there are many shops that deal fairly and squarely with their customers.  Don't become so attached to a particular violin from a particular shop that you let your guard down when negotiating a purchase involving a sizeable sum.  

January 24, 2009 at 07:04 PM ·

I have a little experience with this, and basically I would say that a shop that can't provide expertise is one that essentially (and this should be obvious) really doesn't quite know what they're selling. If you're buying for investment, stay away--it's as simple as that. I have personally checked out some things in this category--things at unknown shops selling for prices a bit cheaper than I would think, that I could have made money on in my own shop--and they've without exception been wrong.

Just say no. Otherwise, you might as well be buying "Italian violin" on Ebay.

January 24, 2009 at 07:28 PM ·

Excellent wise words from Michael.  I'd also add that surely if you are treating this purchase as a serious "investment" - you'd want to take the violin out on trial for a week or two before making a final decision and during that time get one or two people with expertise you trust to take a look at it for you?  

January 25, 2009 at 12:38 AM ·

  • a "reliable" violin shop sells for top dollar, understandably...they are doing the work for you, and they have bills and overhead like any other business enterprise..."It is customary that violin dealers will pay you 50% of its appraised value if you choose to sell it to them". This was stated to me by Jacques Francais
  • you will NOT recoup your money, much less realize profit in a couple years...not buying retail
  • auctions; ie. Sotheby's or Skinner's are a rather safe avenue if you are well versed on what you want and know the costs
  • private purchases and other auction venues, internet or otherwise; may or may not be a good thing...I have had both success and failure
  • items listed "from the workshop of" mean just that, and not by the name on the door
  • items advertised "labeled as" "branded as" are a red flag that they may indeed NOT be genuine, not meaning the instrument or bow is junk by any means. It means the seller is not guaranteeing such to be genuine.
  • For nstruments or anything else to appreciate in value takes a wise initial investment and time...my Millant fiddle now appraised at 25-30K began as a $600 purchase by my grandmother in 1962  Thanks Nana!!!

You get what you pay for...do not expect a written appraisal certificate which costs a couple hundred dollars itself and a bargain basement price, and a guaranteed profit...only happens with Bernie Madofff; oh wait, that didn't work either!!!

January 25, 2009 at 01:16 AM ·

Sam's right, and I should have said this too: you are not going to be able to sell at a profit in two years unless you do something very unusual, something which is virtually impossible for someone not in the business with connections, to do.

Run the numbers out, and see what's necessary for that to happen, then ask yourself how that's possible.

January 25, 2009 at 02:09 AM ·

 

plus, you never mentioned the price area...even decent "shop" violins are now somehat pricey...look at the Shar catalog. Will an instrument that can be replicated 5-10 years hence ever retain or appreciate in its value...NOOOOO

 If you are a gambling man, try your luck with ebay as long as the seller is willing to offer a trial period of a few days. This will stop the shifty,unscrupulous seller in his tracks. But be prepared to pay for

  • an appraisal...$50 (verbal) - $300 or so if written
  • possibly some minor repair/maintenance work...???
  • shipping costs if you choose against it... @$40.00
  • initial shipping costs... @$40

***CAVEAT  EMPTOR***

January 25, 2009 at 03:37 AM ·

Thanks for the responses.

In summary, a shop that doesn't seem to like the idea of cooperating on getting an expert to determine its authenticity should be avoided. Pretty much what I had assumed.

As for ...

"you are not going to be able to sell at a profit"

and

"you will NOT recoup your money, much less realize profit"

Well, I didn't say that I intended to make a profit. I intend to avoid a financial loss.

As for recovering the initial cost, it may be difficult to do that in the place you live, but it is possible in the place where I live. I could name quite a few examples of this happening, where non-experts buy overseas and sell locally at significant profits, I don't need to make a profit, I only need to recover my cost because this is going to be an *interim* instrument for myself. The key to a successful private sale over here is documentation that confirms the authenticity.

January 25, 2009 at 04:29 AM ·

so, are you talking importing or retail sales?

oh well, I was merely offering friendly advice as requested in your discussion topic based on my experiences ... good luck

January 25, 2009 at 04:49 AM ·

Sam, I appreciate your advice. Thank you. I also sent you a mail.

Yes, import from the US or EU, use and eventually sell locally over here. I have done it before by accident, this time I want to put in some "resellability planning" ;-)

Anyway, it seems to me that there are quite a few violin shops (online) which advertise their instruments in such a way that you would have to conclude their authenticity has been established, but when you ask how they did establish the authenticity, whether they have or can obtain a certificate, then they drag their feet, giving an answer along the lines of "We are selling at wholesale to dealers who can do their own appraisals, so we do not provide any". From the responses here, it almost looks like they are preying on customers by exploiting uncertainty.

If they have not established the authenticity of an instrument, in my mind they should be advertising it as "labelled XYZ" or "probably by XYZ", but not as "XYZ". I guess I was right to be suspicious and ask for documentation.

January 25, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

OK, I understand the concept now.

Let me remind you of one thing, though: the dealyers' saying "ONE violin never sells". Meaning a particular violin, especially the one you want to sell. Ask anyone who's had a violin on consignment somewhere for five years.

Individual violins are notoriously il-liquid investments. I have a great example: we have a violin in our shop right now that is mine. I bought it because it was the best of that maker I've ever seen, and the maker is one of the best in his class; I bought it from another dealer, I've had it for about 10 years, and I hadn't set it up on purpose, because I didn't want to sell it. Over a year ago my partners convinced me to set it up because we needed stock in that price range, and it's a fabulous playing violin. Great looks, great tone, great response; can't sell it to save our lives. Now in this instance, I don't care, because I really do want to keep it, and maybe I'll just give it to my wife to play, but it does have us wondering, but if I were in a hurry, or trying to close an investment, I'd be unhappy.

January 25, 2009 at 05:03 PM ·

If I read this correctly, you want to buy a violin simply to resell in the hopes of making money. Is that right? If that's true, you shouldn't be jacking around at the low end of the market for an instrument of questionable authenticity, and paying retail for it. If you want to make money, even in a few years, you need to look for something way undervalued, like a violin in someone's attic, or an estate sale; some kind of undiscovered gem, and then have the heart to screw some old lady by underpaying for something worth much more. That's how a dealer I know got his big break.

If you really want a certificate, you will be able to find someone who will do it, but you will pay dearly, thus wiping out any profit. Also, you should pay attention to tonal quality. If a violin has an obvious defect, such as a very small sound or bad wolfs, you may not be able to sell it. Sound is a personal thing, but I think violins do languish in shops because many shoppers reject them for the same reasons.

If you really want to make money, I'd buy GM, Ford, or Nortel stock.

 

 

January 25, 2009 at 05:22 PM ·

"If I read this correctly, you want to buy a violin simply to resell in the hopes of making money. Is that right?"

No. Where did you get that idea?

January 25, 2009 at 06:26 PM ·

Well, you said this:

"My number one priority for my next violin purchase is NOT tonal quality, my number one priority is resale value. I want to resell it again in 1-2 years without any financial loss."

Now granted, you didn't specify you wanted to make money, but it is implied. Why else would you buy a violin without regard to tonal quality intending to sell it 2 years later? Perhaps you haven't explained why you want or need this violin in the first place, and why you know you want to sell it so soon.

January 26, 2009 at 01:31 AM ·

I said I want to recover the cost when I sell it again. The reason I said my number one priority is resale value and not tonal quality was to make sure that the thread stays on topic and I don't get 99 replies of the kind "don't worry about resale value, tonal quality is the only thing you should want".

It should be self evident that I don't mean to buy an instrument with bad tonal qualities, simply because such an instrument would be difficult to sell again. In the price range I am looking, whatever I buy will have better tonal qualities than the one I am using now. That is not going to be a concern.

The reason I want to buy an instrument that I expect to sell again is that I expect to commission an instrument which will take some time to be finished and I do not wish to use my present violin for as long as that will take, hence I am looking for an interim instrument that I will want to sell again and I want to select it such that it is in all likelihood resellable without incurring a loss.

Anyway, I don't think I have to justify my objectives, I was simply asking about documentation in respect of authenticity.

January 26, 2009 at 02:37 AM ·

I've had  some correspondence with Benjamin which suggests that he has a workable strategy.

It might not work in my business environment, but it might work in his. Documentation seems to be the key. That's what he's asking about.

January 26, 2009 at 12:24 PM ·

Ok, I found this online store in the UK (West Country Violins) which has a policy of providing documentation for all the violins they sell, friendly and knowledgeable folks, too. They ship worldwide and they've got instruments within my budget which seem interesting to me.

However, if anybody knows any shops like this, it'd be nice if you could share the info.

Thanks, for the comments again.

January 26, 2009 at 01:13 PM ·

,

January 26, 2009 at 03:01 PM ·

Wow.  Sorry to come to this late, but I’ve been away from the computer for a few days.  Looks like some good advice has already be offered, but I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents anyway.

Most good, professional, shops have the capacity to ship instruments, Benjamin.

I completely agree with the notion that if the shop isn’t willing to provide documentation, then you really shouldn’t be working with them.  Service (making sure the instruments are in good condition/playing order, etc.) and assurance (accurate valuation and documentation) are two VERY important reasons to deal with a retail shop in the first place.  These days, especially, I would think consumers would want to consider carefully who getting their money (who they are supporting)...  and how reliable that firm is.

The example given: Collin-Mezin; I believe should be clarified.  Collin-Mezin instruments WERE made in a workshop setting.  So were Vuillaumes (he employed a bunch of makers), E. H. Roth instruments…  and many, many others.  Someone telling you that “Charles J. B. made this himself” is probably  full of, well…  better stop there… this is a family site, right?  As long as one understands the process (how they were made), calling a Vuillaume a Vuillaume, or a Collin-Mezin a Collin-Mezin is fine...  as that is the product that bore these maker's names.

When not dealing with the old, classic makers, the designation “workshop” is often used in this industry as a statement of “quality” rather than, or as much as, a designation of different hands being involved.  Unfortunately, this becomes rather confusing to the consumer.  In addition, many of these workshops made more than one quality of instrument… so in this case it’s probably better simply to speak of quality. 

The earlier C-Ms (19th century) are, on the whole, much better than those made during and after the late 1890s…  the workshop was well run, the varnish was not as brittle, and the models are (for the most part) quite workable.  Those made in the second-through-fifth decade of the 20th century become quite commercial.  The signature (actually, there are often 2 in the earlier ones) in many of the later, 20th century, C-Ms is actually a facsimile on an oval paper label.

Also, probably good to keep in mind that the opinion of any shop, or individual, is only as good as their reputation and experience.

 

January 26, 2009 at 04:17 PM ·

Thanks. Yes, I do very well realise that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to establish who exactly in the workshop made an instrument, unless there are records by the workshop that specify this and those records are available. Yet, in order to be able to resell an instrument, it will suffice to have a document from a qualified expert that says the expert has concluded the instrument originated from the workshop in question. It doesn't need to say who exactly made the violin and that's not what I was asking for, still there are some shops out there who don't seem to like the idea of having to submit their merchandise to evaluation and documentation.

Anyway, Bill Walderman's post was extremely helpful explaining how to go about an arrangement with a shop to obtain documentation prior to a purchase. Thanks again.

January 26, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

One thing I would add:  even if the shop is willing to provide a certificate, make sure you can rely on their expertise and make sure that their expertise will be recognized and accepted as reliable by potential purchasers when you go to sell.  If you're not confident of this, then ask them to procure a certificate at your expense from a party with recognized expertise (and, of course, don't buy the fiddle unless the expert is willing to certify the instrument as genuine).

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