Violin Authentication

July 9, 2013 at 03:32 PM · Can anyone recommend some people to me for reliably authenticating a violin? And, what this might cost? I have an old Italian violin, unlabelled, and I wish to know if it has a pedigree. Thank you.

Replies (23)

July 9, 2013 at 04:19 PM · This is a very tough question. The first thing you have to understand is that violin dealers (who frequently authenticate instruments) make their money on margins. They, like everyone else, want to buy cheap and sell dear. They have a certain incentive to withhold correct authentication in order to acquire it cheaply. On the other hand when selling they are very generous with "authentication". It is hard to be in both positions so some dealers have acquired fine instruments that they withhold authentication on then have other dealers sell them with "authentication" and share the margin.

Authenticators who are not in the sales chain typically charge a fee that can be a significant percentage of the appraised value. But you could pay the money and take the certificate to another dealer who would only sneer at it.

Search the Internet for violin authentication fraud.

July 9, 2013 at 05:23 PM · Try this search

July 9, 2013 at 05:36 PM · All this is true. The clearest, most straightforward way of going about this is to go to a top expert and get their certificate. This way you're getting information outside of a sale. But you pay handsomely for it, usually 5% of the value the expert gives the instrument.

July 9, 2013 at 05:58 PM · Seems to me that a %fee encourages over-estimation. Surely there is no more work to valuing an expensive instrument than a cheaper one and the fee should be fixed?

On the other hand, if there is a liability - potential for law suit - then I guess the risk is higher according to the value of the instrument.

July 9, 2013 at 06:06 PM · Authentication is most important for insurance purposes. My experience is that most reputable expert luthiers will give you an oral opinion for nothing, at least in the US. If you then want one of them to commit the opinion to a signed piece of paper, you pay. However, there is no harm in asking one or more of them to tell you what they think the value and provenance of the instrument is. Then you can decide if you want to pay the freight for an actual authentication.

July 9, 2013 at 06:10 PM · Of course 99% of the violins that a dealer sees are shop copies of "strads" from German workshops. He can spot that in your case but he may humor you and let you show him the back. All my discussion above is about decent "name" Italian instruments.

July 10, 2013 at 03:46 AM · Great discussion about fraud.

But, my question is whether anyone can point me to an honest, expert authenticator.


July 10, 2013 at 06:15 AM ·

July 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM · You can take it to Peter Prier and he will give you his opinion and certificate but don't think that every other dealer out there will stand and salute when they see it. And you can substitute any dealer name you want and this statement will be true. Some of them may be more recognized than others but when they die the long knives come out for all of them.

July 10, 2013 at 11:15 PM ·

July 10, 2013 at 11:24 PM · Chris Reuning in Boston is one expert who's certificates I am told are respected, can't speak for Mr. Prier as I have no dealings with him. Getting a written certificate that will stand up to peer review of an unlabeled anon Italian violin is actually one of the more difficult things in the business to do. Sure you'll get people that might say this is probably an Italian violin, but to put it in writing with their reputation on the line that it absolutely is Italian, very difficult.

July 10, 2013 at 11:41 PM · Mr. Hall, whatever your allegiances may or may not be to Peter Prier (and I may have some too), I think Corwin brought up some really good points, verging on those from someone who kinda' knows the business.

July 11, 2013 at 12:23 AM · For modern Italian: Eric Blot.

Also: Bruce Carlson.

July 24, 2013 at 03:32 AM · Hi Ron,

I have submitted my information to John & Arthur Beare in the UK. My thoughts are if the company does a lot of business with known high end instruments, they have more of a reputation to protect, so there evaluations should be more true/realistic. - My two cent

September 10, 2013 at 05:06 AM · I wonder if there was any update on this - what was the Italian violin diagnosis?

September 10, 2013 at 07:16 AM · No appraiser is going to give your violin a pedigree, either it has one already or it doesn't, now an appraisal of who or where it was made, that's possible.

September 11, 2013 at 12:22 AM · It seems that appraisers are valued inversely to artists on the life/death divide. When an acclaimed painter, or sometimes, not always, a highly regarded violin maker dies, their work almost immediately goes up in value. When an appraiser dies, the value of his opinions seems to sink quite quickly. This seems to be what happended with Dario D'Atilli, who for many years was considered one of the pre-eminent appraisers.

I think that politics also play a role in who's hot and who's not. Of course, knowledge and expertise is not and should not be a static thing. Recently, Jason Price of Tarisio auctions stated that we've come to a point where everybody knows something, but nobody knows everything. But when a reputation plummets so fast, it seems suspicious. One moment you're an expert. Then you kick the bucket and you're suddenly an ignoramus!

Also, sometimes there seems to be a dividing line between who is semi officially high in the stature meter but isn't necessarily that knowlwedgeable, and who doesn't have too much cachet yet commands a lot of respect along the grapevine. When D'Atilli was still alive and still prestigeous, I heard from more than one maker/dealer that there was a fellow by the name of, as I recall, John Rossi(?) who was even more knowledgeable about modern Italian makers. Some have both the big reputation as well as respect of people in the business.

My understanding is that in Europe, Beare has commanded the major stature, while in the USA, for violins Christophe Landon seems to have the big name. For bows, Isaac Salchow and Paul Childs.

September 11, 2013 at 01:24 AM · A violin would have to be VERY obviously by a certain maker to get a certificate. If there's any doubt, then I think the more prestigious the appraiser the less likely the certificate. There is too much risk to their reputation (I'm talking certificate, not appraisal). In the case of just an old and possibly Italian violin, I'd be looking for consensus from several well-known appraisers. It's likely that three famous appraisers will give you three very different opinions. Kind of like the way that all the compasses in a camping store are pointing in slightly different directions...

Don't expect a definitive answer to your quest.

September 11, 2013 at 02:32 AM · Good point Scott! For a possibly very valuable violin, a consensus of a few or several appraisers would be a very good idea, especially if the owner had an eye toward selling it. If the OP just wants to get some preliminary idea of what he may have, one may do for a while.

September 11, 2013 at 02:41 AM · Hi Ron,

You could try taking some really good pictures and put them on Maestronet Auction blog or Pegbox blog.

The level of expertise of the commenters varies a lot but some very knowledgeable people like Bruce Carlson, Jacob Saunders and others could give you some good ideas.

Regarding Dario d'Atilli: his earlier certificates are much better than the ones towards the end of his carrier as he started to really lose his touch later on.

Kenneth Warren's certificates were well regarded and I second Christopher Reuning.

September 11, 2013 at 03:00 AM · Yes, I also heard things about D'Atilli towards the end. Whether he lost touch, or didn't care so much, I don't know. But my impression - perhaps erroneous- is that his life-time body of work was quickly downgraded by others when he died.

September 11, 2013 at 04:19 PM · This is a great discussion.

I would like to add that dealer's verbal appraisal often results in lower estimated value than the written.

It is really difficult to get a reliable appraisal from the appraisers with conflict of interest, as Elise pointed out. In that sense, the appraisal issued by the seller is useless, except for insurance purposes.

What matters the most if the violin is genuine or not; the market value will change over time and depends on many factors.

September 11, 2013 at 11:24 PM · One of the main reasons reputations plummet when you die, is the dead can't respond to criticism. That and they can no longer run any PR campaign they had going........

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