Slow season in the violin trade?

July 12, 2013 at 07:23 AM · I've noticed that some auctions on eBay for violins are ending with lower prices than normal. Does your business slow down at this time? Do you do anything to compensate? Arrange more staff holidays? Offer incentives to buyers?

On the consumer side, all I've seen so far is that auction prices are somewhat lower, which makes it a good time to buy a violin or bow on auction. But another place, where I would have bought some accessories is closed for most of the month. Do you know of any other opportunities or effects?

Is this a good time to engage in discussions here which might otherwise have too much traffic and conversely bad time to discuss topics which might have too little?

Replies (29)

July 12, 2013 at 10:43 AM · June auction settlements at Tarisio were not down. In fact, many items went over the high estimates. Difficult to understand why bids could be overall lower the following month.

July 12, 2013 at 02:01 PM · I would say it all depends on what portion of violin market one is sampling.

It would be interesting to find out the correlation between the price of gold and price of violins of the top class. My hunches are telling me that there is a hidden connection.

July 12, 2013 at 08:00 PM · I would not rely on ebay as an indication of the state of the violin market.

July 12, 2013 at 11:28 PM · There's no gold in the violins I've been looking at. The ones with gold in them probably don't suffer much from a short-term decline in the number of potential bidders.

July 13, 2013 at 01:59 AM · I would think the overwhelming majority of violins are now sold through ebay and amazon, with ebay offering the largest number of used, antique and rare instruments, although very rarely violins of the highest quality. I would agree with the original post, that sales of most auction style listings and buy-it-now violins sell for way less than they did even a few years ago. An overabundance of supply is partly to blame, but so is a weak economy, and the nature of internet sales, where there frequently seems to be a race to the bottom, and lowest price is the only consideration for most buyers.

July 13, 2013 at 02:11 AM · "I would think the overwhelming majority of violins are now sold through ebay and amazon, with ebay offering the largest number of used, antique and rare instruments"

I'm thinking you're wrong.

And anyway, many of those violins go unsold month after month, and for good reason. No possibility of return, blatantly incorrect info on the maker, blatant over- or under-pricing.

To people that know the market, ebay is just a tiny side show, a triviality.

July 13, 2013 at 02:45 AM · Ebay has hardly any genuine antiques and if they do they're usually in very poor condition and overpriced.

July 13, 2013 at 03:40 AM · Even still, search completed listings, used, sold items only... with these filters, I show 3,832 violins, I believe from past 30 days. These do not include Europe only sales. Not a bad number, and most buyers leave positive feedback. Many but not all ebay vendors are honest, reputable sellers.

July 13, 2013 at 03:56 AM · and about 10% of those violins are playable!!!!

July 13, 2013 at 05:01 PM · Many old-violin dealers on ebay are also luthiers, some quite good, others merely adequate. If you include our beloved new Chinese violins (*GASP!*) on ebay, the number of playable violins for sale at auction and buy-it-now is mind boggling. Yes, many can benefit from string upgrades, bridge re-fit, new post, etc, but I think what J Ray is referring to is that ebay is a major player in both new and old violins, and the fair market value (the value of a thing is the price it will bring!!!) is reflected in these numbers.

July 13, 2013 at 06:34 PM · "...ebay is a major player in both new and old violins, and the fair market value (the price of a thing is the price it will bring!!!) is reflected in these numbers."

Zillions of people may buy the absolute crappiest violins on ebay (and get what they deserve), but ebay is not a "major player" in fine instruments and does not reflect a "fair market value" because the definition of such a thing changes with the circumstance and tends to reflect the amount of risk and service involved.

Do private sales reflect "fair market value"? What about Taurisio or Sotheby's auctions? What about a large retail shop? With each you get a certain level of confidence and service and you pay accordingly. If you wish to have no service, no return, and little confidence in the stated maker or real condition, then buy from ebay. But I don't see how anyone can consider them a player in the antique/fine instrument market.

I think it reflects how people get most of their information these days: They google and accept the first thing that comes up as the truth. I'm sure that many people will check ebay completed listings on their phone and show it to an antiques dealer to show what the "real" price should be in attempting to bargain.

Boy, I'd hate to be in that business these days.

July 13, 2013 at 06:45 PM · There is definitely a season to instruments. The summer is traditionally a bit slower.....younger players on vacation from school and the like. Once 'back to school' time starts, however, things pick up quite dramatically. Then, it's holiday time, then it's tax return time. I work in a shop, and it has been that way ever since I started.

Yes, the most recent economic situation affected things quite a bit, but the 'seasonal' activity was still there. Most of the people who are answering this question are players themselves and do not think about who is buying the majority of instruments these days.

For people who are professionals or collectors (yikes!), there is no 'season' to instrument selling or buying. In the retail world, however, there most definitely is!

July 15, 2013 at 02:22 AM · Scott-- The original post does not single out rare, collectible or fine violins, but rather inquires about the violin trade in general. My experience with big violin auction houses indicates nearly everything is sold as-is, all sales final (with a few rare exceptions for select violins costing more than a house.) My experience with retailers is mixed, but last time I checked, most primarily sold Chinese imports from the same exact factories that sell directly through ebay, only better setup. A few better "high-end" retailers offer rare collectables and fine professional-grade European and American instruments by well respected luthiers-- but at very high prices. You are unlikely to find this type of violin on ebay, and it would be unwise to purchase one from an unknown vendor. For the rest of us who live within a budget, or do not play quite like James Ehnes, ebay is a fine choice to shop for fiddles, both old and new.

July 15, 2013 at 02:37 AM · Did you vote for Meg Whitman for governor, Evan. Ebay is the reason for most of the problems in the violin world today, the shops that sell Chinese violins are not necessarily buying from the same sources as ebay violins, and more than half their investment is in the set up that the "great" Chinese makers just cannot get right, no matter how much you pay them.....

July 15, 2013 at 03:15 AM · I agree with Lyndon. Most of the workshops that produce the actual good Chinese violins only sell to authorized retailers and luthiers - and they're almost universally reset with a new bridge and post (and many of them are shipped without the fingerboard installed, so that has to be done as well) before being shown to customers. There's also price checking - from what I hear, Snow and Jay Haide violins cost the same no matter where you buy them from because of a manufacturer's policy preventing any one shop from undercutting their rival(s).

July 15, 2013 at 03:22 AM · "Ebay is the reason for most of the problems in the violin world today"

...and the internet is the reason for most of the problems in the retail world... but it's here to stay. 20 years ago before ebay existed, cheap student violins from massive German factories were $300.00. Today's equivilant Chinese violin on ebay is about $60.00. Intermeidate level violins were $600-$1000 through fancy shops, while similar quality Chinese is now about $250. Ebay is no worse, and probably far better for a musician looking to purchase a decent violin than the "good old days" when brick-and-mortar retail was our only option.

July 15, 2013 at 04:25 AM · Rubbish, ebay has nothing to do with the drop in prices, cheap Chinese labour has everything to do with it, and your assesment of Chinese value is a bit overrated to put it mlldly, if there was no ebay they'd sell em at walmart!!

July 15, 2013 at 02:06 PM · Lyndon--"if there was no ebay they'd sell em at walmart"

China to Walmart, vs China to consumer via ebay... either way, cheap labor is ruinous for the economy, but at least the musician can pocket the savings instead of a top CEO.

Again, the original post was about slow sales on ebay and at auction--and in the real world of affordable violins, internet sales outnumber local shop sales by a wide margin. Similar for non-violin items such as electronics where retail stores were forced to lower their prices to compete with direct-from-China imports.

July 15, 2013 at 07:58 PM · "Scott-- The original post does not single out rare, collectible or fine violins, but rather inquires about the violin trade in general."

Yes, but I was answering very specific assertions that followed. That is why I began my posts by quoting the assertions.

Surely you realize that we often answer statements that are made by those that post after the original?

July 17, 2013 at 03:04 AM · As several have mentioned here, seasonal changes in the market may effect some segments of it, but not others. When at "the firm", we saw seasonal variations for less expensive instruments, but little to none for more expensive instruments or bows.

The market for less expensive instruments has a wholesale cycle as well as a retail cycle. Mid to late summer, many shops "stock up" in anticipation of students returning to school in the fall.

My own business is specialized; middle to high end. I notice very little variation throughout any given year... and what there is is due more to my wish to teach and carve out a holiday during the summer.

In terms of larger (long term) curves, the rare instrument market is not immune to cycles. Though historically a very stable market, it does follow a gentle curve of usually about 5 to 7 years in which appreciation rates/demand/price does illustrate peaks and valleys. Easier to detect these long term curves in hindsight, however, as they seem to often lag behind other economic indicators (not in sync).

I would disagree with the concept that Ebay offers a significant outlet for truly "rare antiques". Not a reliable source or indicator for that market... and indeed probably as much of a cause (having an effect on the market) than an indicator of demand for fluctuations in the more modest price range trade.



July 17, 2013 at 07:35 AM · I would think a single large high end violin shop in a big city would have more quality antiques in their inventory than you might see in a year scouring ebay. Ebay's only forte is cheap Chinese..........

July 17, 2013 at 12:40 PM · This very issue is of interest to me, as I excavated my Joseph Hornsteiner, 1799, Mittenwald, from a dusty closet. I am, by identity a performing pianist, but seriously studied violin in NYC (Samuel Gardner) and at the Oberlin Conservatory (with Stuart Canin)So now that it's time to sell the instrument to give it a living, breathing musical life, I decided to do my research. The piano seems to inhabit a wholly different universe as was emphasized by a principle at Ifshin violins in El Cerrito. Everyone knows how age is cradled with violins but not pianos. But I was astounded that appearance alone woos auctioneers rather than tonal considerations. I certainly would not embrace such if evaluating a piano. I was also told that a few PICS are either compelling or not. Lacquer and other superficial considerations are at the fore. I did notice a Hornsteiner 1800, going on Ebay for $14,000 with one bid posted. I will follow. As to pricing my Hornsteiner I was told to leave it in a safe at Ifshin since a fellow from a big auction house was soon coming to look at a stash of vintage violins. It will be interesting to find out what mine is worth in the auction market, at least. The other thing I learned is that certificates of authenticity are extremely hard to acquire given the litigious atmosphere. I was told, since no one is alive from 1799, that the preferred term of art is the violin is "from the school of." Any way here's the link to my post on Ifshin with the embedded you tube interview I conducted with "Richard." Just click my NAME and the LINK will pop up.

July 17, 2013 at 12:42 PM ·

July 17, 2013 at 12:42 PM ·

July 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM ·

July 17, 2013 at 02:58 PM · Yes, Lyndon... most of the 11,000 violins currently for sale on ebay are low grade Chinese, but perhaps 500 are mid and high-grade Chinese, with an ever replenishing stock. At least as many old/antique instruments, some in need of repair, but others offered by reputable violin dealers with proper setup. Ebay is NOT the best place for rare and valuable instruments perfectly restored. I would not recommend buying a genuine Gagliano, or Del Gesu from ebay. Incidently, I have seen brick-and-mortar violin dealers proudly displaying a fine violin that I recognized from ebay months earlier. Perhaps even you have owned a violin that at one point has been listed. A great many fiddles end up on ebay at one time or another... it doesn't mean it's junk.

July 18, 2013 at 03:17 AM · Thanks to those who have kept on topic regarding the questions of seasonal variations, even those who have simply reported that they don't see one in the markets they deal with. I do think that it's a potential opportunity for some to take advantage of, though not for everyone of course.

As to the eBay vs. other concerns -- it's understandable, I think, that some people feel enthusiastic about eBay, but on the other hand, there are the obvious limitations of not really knowing what you're getting and not being able to examine it personally before bidding, which naturally has a negative impact on potential price and consequently expected quality level of the goods, limiting that market for most people to play money -- what they're willing to risk entirely, and not for purchases which are personally substantial. So I think that debate is largely misplaced.

July 18, 2013 at 04:30 AM · If I were to see a "high grade" Chinese violin on eBay going for $250, I'd probably buy it without question - that's less than the cost of three sets of PI strings.

What can you expect for that kind of price, though? I've seen Chinese violins selling from reputable dealerships for $6,000 that had to be returned within two months because the necks started curving. The setups were beyond awful and had to be replaced right away (in most cases, the fittings as well), some of the violins had to be opened for bass bar work or changes in graduation, and many of the necks had to be reset, which of course added to the end cost. Neck replacements (for the violins with necks that warped) were out of the question for violins in this price range, though.

The last bridge I got from a top notch luthier ran me about $340 by itself. Some people here in New York City charge up to $600 just for a violin bridge. This may sound steep, but some feel that they have to pay for the best possible sound (and many are correct about this assertion, whereas others are searching for a magic bullet) - quite a lot of people do do this for a living, after all.

July 18, 2013 at 04:58 AM · The rule is caveat emptor. Unscrupulous people exist everywhere in the violin trade, and thus the Chinese should not be scapegoated. For price, here in China, no decent Chinese-made violin sells for less than $1500, and the better ones go for +$3000. These are very well made for woods and build-quality. Here, as elsewhere, you get what you pay for. From what I have seen on e-bay, IMHO 99% of it is junk and from dubious sellers. From my experience with online auctions, the suspcious coincidences and irregularities I encountered cause me to say these are also dubious. There are no short-cuts, no magic wands, no hidden gems. If you want a violin of quality and value, you will need to visit the reputable dealers and pay the price. This will, in the end, be a lower overall cost than travelling for a year or more trying to find a hidden gem somewhere in the world.

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