The Vieuxtemps thread has apparently breathed its last, but it generated so much interest that it seems a shame not to resurrect some of the questions it raised. I'm just an observer of the market--I'm not wealthy enough to own an old Italian violin and I don't play well enough to deserve one--but here are my thoughts:
Two or three dealers enjoy a shared world-wide monopoly for instruments in the highest price range--where else would you go to unload your 1739 del Gesu or your "golden period" Strad? To maximize their profits, they've deliberately pushed the finest instruments out of the reach of even the most successful musicians by aggressively marketing them to very high net worth individuals as investments. But the dealers still need to maintain a favorable reputation in the community of musicians because they want to be able to sell instruments in other price categories too, and musicians are their market for instruments in the intermediate price ranges. So they pose as generous and altruistic patrons of art by setting up arrangements where the wealthy owners of the top-level instruments flatter their vanity by loaning them out to deserving musicians.
Maybe that model is the only way the market would allow access to the instruments by musicians--maybe market forces would have rocketed the prices of the instruments up to stratospheric levels even without the dealers' efforts to market them as investments. (But a market for the instruments as investments wouldn't be possible--investors wouldn't be able to buy them with confidence--without the expertise that the dealers bring to bear.) And you can't blame the dealers for ruthlessly seeking to maximize their profits by any means--that's just capitalism. And you can say that the dealers are only acting in the best interests of their clients, the sellers of the instruments, many of whom are undoubtedly musicians reaching the end of their careers.
But it strikes me that there's a certain amount of calculated hypocrisy on the part of the dealers in question in the "owner-horse-jockey" model. The dealers in question are themselves responsible for the situation that makes it necessary for top-flight musicians to place themselves at the pleasure of wealthy patrons--they've brought this situation about to maximize their profits--and the dealers' unctuous efforts to present themselves as benefactors of the musical community strike me as more than slightly disingenuous.
And there's at least one flaw in the "owner-horse-jockey" analogy: you can't put the Vieuxtemps out to stud.
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