Point of origin

March 27, 2015 at 02:35 AM · Hi everybody

A shop owner told me that my violin isn't worth much because it's American made. The fact that the maker was already making instruments in Germany before he emigrated to the U.S. at the beginning of the twentieth century doesn't matter. So, here are two questions.

1) If a violin maker packs up their tools, varnish, and some wood, rents a room in

Italy and builds a violin, can they then sell it at five times their going rate because now it is "made in Italy"?

2) If it was discovered that Antonio Stradivari took a working holiday for six months in Germany, would the violin he made now be worth only a fraction of it's previous value because now it's "made in Germany"?

By the way. The dealer then proudly showed me an instrument that he had made,(a very fine instrument), and seemed a little put off when I said that it was too bad that it's only American made. (I only meant it as a joke).

Replies (20)

March 27, 2015 at 07:42 AM · Shop owners seem to LOVE talking down the violin you yourself own. They will then try to sell you something from THEIR stock that sounds worse !

(Am I getting cynical in my old age?)

To be serious, I have auction catalogues going back 40 years, and the new Italian-made fiddles seem to have appreciated in value more than most others, apart from J.B. Vuillaume. Surely not all the buyers could have been infected by some kind of dogmatic self-delusion, like lemmings rushing to commit suicide by running over a cliff ?

Maybe someone can remind me of where I read this tale. It was reported that one of the many English violin enthusiasts of the 19th. century (they all seemed to be clergymen !) got some wood sent over from Italy and had a fiddle made. The result didn't sound Italian. Then he sent some wood from England over to Italy, had a violin made, and, lo and behold, it sounded "Italian".

Have a look at that Smiley Hsu blog; in search af a fresh violin he tried many but settled upon a relatively inexpensive Italian one, by Laura Vigato.

I have seen an auction catalogue in which the auctioneers were at pains to establish that a viola by an Italian maker was in fact made in Italy but not in Switzerland, where that maker had lived for a while. The viola fetched a very healthy price.

However, IF one happens to find an Italian-made fiddle that seem to have a better "ring" to the sound then others made elsewhere, the danger is to argue from the particular to the general !

Ther MIGHT be some method in the madness in some folk such as myself who prefer new Italians to my locally-made fiddles, but who can ever be entirely sure ?? Some folk will say a Burgess or a Zyg trumps all others - but I don't live in the USA so cannot comment.

March 27, 2015 at 07:54 AM · While it is easy to generalize a range of values, especially if you are considering the bulk of their famous output historically (Italian, French, German, then everyone else), globalization has made that distinction less of a distinguishing characteristic. People learn lutherie skills from a very diverse pool of makers!

March 27, 2015 at 10:35 AM · Gene Wie is right to have written " globalization has made that distinction less of a distinguishing characteristic."

Anyone can get hold of Balkan Maple and Val di Fiemme spruce and regional stylistic quirks have dwindled. These days it's hard to tell by looking alone where a new fiddle has been made.

Usually, by now, David Burgess will have posted to the same effect !

However, I find my local makers find it trickier to reproduce the ringing brightness of the best ancient Italian fiddles than have some actual Italian makers I have encountered. Why, I don't know.

Go back about half a century and at Boosey and Hawkes shop in London one could buy a new Pedrazzini violin or a similar Louis F. Milton of Bedford fiddle for much the same price. But the Pedrazzini would now be worth £30k and the Milton peanuts. Both well made.

March 27, 2015 at 01:09 PM · I would say that, if you see an instrument as a tool for making music, sound and playability are the most important things. If you see an instrument as an art object than origin and provenance counts.

Globalization is not a new thing, mainly when speak about Italian Art. There were many foreign artists working in Italy during the renaissance and even prior to that. Many classic Italian makers were not Italians, Venice had a strong link with Germany, Matteor Goffriller was German, the Kaiser family, etc. Not to mention del Gesùs wife, Catarina Guarneri, that was from Austria and made violins too.

Instruments were imported from Germany to Italy too. Charles Beare mentions that:

"In 1733, after the death of a minor maker of stringed instrument, Andrea Sopran, whose shop was in the stringed-instrument maker's street, Calle degli Stagneri, an inventory was taken of everything in his shop. One hundred German violins were found there. It just so happens that the person who did the stock-taking was none other than Domenico Montagnana. if I remember rightly, Montagnana valued each violin at one and a half liras! There was stiff competition in cheap violins in venice, because the real stringed-instrument makers in the city demanded too high prices."

I remember reading a more precise version of the same story in a Strad article, if I'm not wrong. German ready made lute parts were found in Italy prior to that too, and in a large number.

Sacconi is considered an American maker, as well as Sergio Peresson and Luis Bellini.


March 27, 2015 at 02:30 PM · Were you showing your instrument to the shop owner with an eye towards possibly selling it or trading it in at that shop? In that case, the shop owner had an incentive to lowball your violin's value.

It's true that Italian>French>German violins, at least with the older instruments. But any instrument is worth what people are willing to pay for it. I have the use of a modern American violin that is really excellent. New instruments by the same maker, located in California, sell for $35K, and in my opinion they are worth it.

March 28, 2015 at 12:34 AM · Obviously, WHO makes the violin is the critical factor, not WHERE it is made. This has always been to some degree true. Today, however, there are brilliant violin makers all around the world, and nation or locality is no longer a significant factor. Knowledge and materials are not limited to any single place. A lot of b.s. floats around in popular opinion, like the notions of that shop owner which Leon mentions. It's mysticism to imagine for example, that Italian violins are better or of higher ultimate value simply for the fact of having been made in Italy. Or, for that matter, in the United States. If you're looking for a fine instrument today, you can't afford to pay attention to such nonsense. We live, as it is often said, in a golden age of violin making. And apart from the more famous contemporary luthiers, there are many others, less well known, who make outstanding violins. If you want a good fiddle, you have to keep yourself free of out-dated prejudice and learn to judge the instruments on their own merits, wherever they are made.

March 28, 2015 at 08:04 AM · Leon, I guess you were lucky in a way when the shop owner made conflicting statements, because it allowed you to assess the situation very quickly.

Nationality of a maker, and national origin of a violin don't mean much any more among contemporary instruments, with the ease of travel today. Regional differences have become very blurred. What matters a lot more is the training a maker has, and what they have been exposed to. Some of the best makers today have a variety of exposures in their background. For example, a German may attend the Newark violin making school in England, and get continuing training at the Oberlin workshops in the US. Oddly enough, these workshops which take place in Ohio (of all places!) have one of the best track records for producing good makers. Another example: What we judges thought was the most interesting instrument at the recent Moscow Competition was made by a US citizen, German born, who has been living and working in Japan. Is that instrument German, American or Japanese?

The magical era of Cremonese making ended about 250 years ago, and the tradition did not continue unbroken. At one point, the Cremona violin making school even taught a style of making which could be said to be closer to French, than to traditional Cremonese. And contemporary Italian instruments haven't seemed to stand out at international instrument making competitions, any more than those from many other countries.

March 28, 2015 at 08:36 AM · David Burgess posted at last !

"1) If a violin maker packs up their tools, varnish, and some wood, rents a room in

Italy and builds a violin, can they then sell it at five times their going rate because now it is "made in Italy"?"

Actually, the workshop prices of a good many of those Cremona luthiers are very reasonable as compared with some European & UK fiddle-makers. A lot less than I've seen quoted on violinist.com for the top USA men.

In 1992 I ordered a violin from one Guido Trotta, exhibiting at an RNCM event in Manchester, UK, encouraged by the fact that he quoted a fraction of the price of a local maker. A gamble. The instrument turned out well - I still have it.

However, as posted, with the passage of time the prices of some middle-aged Italians such as Bisiach, Garimberti and Pedrazzini have rocketed, and it's difficult to assess the BS content of the underlying reasons here.

The PR folk in Italy do like to suggest an unbroken tradition from way back. This is VERY tenuous. And, yes, in Cremona there are 2 camps, "Inside Mould" e.g. Morassi (Olde Italian method) and "Outside Mould" e.g. Bissolotti (French method).

[EDIT] Apologies, early morning senior moment. Bissolotti is INSIDE mould (Cremona method) and Morassi is OUTSIDE mould (like the French method). Dunno how I could have gotten this wrong !

March 28, 2015 at 10:39 AM · Hi David, it is the contrary, Bissolotti inside form (Cremonese system), Morassi outer form (French).

March 28, 2015 at 12:05 PM · In classic Cremona, the families of Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari had their respective homes and shops on the same street, as I understand. One got the idea to put out a sign in front of his shop, "best violins in Europe" so one of the others put up a sign, "best violins in Cremona". Finally the third put up a sign, "best violins on this street!" Well as the Italian expression goes, "se no o vero, il ben trovato". (Whether true or not, it makes a good story.) Then there is the one where a dealer says of a Panormo (an English maker of Italian descent) violin: "If I'm buying it, I call it English (to try to get a better deal for myself); if I'm selling it, I call it Italian."

It began with the maker. Then if a few or more from the same country and/or city developed a big reputation, the origin became significant and lesser makers to some extent could ride on their coat-tails and enjoy the general cachet. So if it's between a mediocre older violin that's Italian or a comparable mediocre one that's French, let alone German, the Italian has more commercial value. Similarly, and with exceptions, all things being equal, French bows have the most cachet. There are outstanading exceptions: in France, Lupot, Vuilliaume and others immediately spring to mind. And there are some wonderful English and German bows. There are further exceptions in bows, for example: Generally, a violin or bow that is what it says it is has more value. Vuilliaume didn't make bows, but had makers - with big reputations themselves - make them for him, and those would bear V.'s stamp. All things being equal, a Peccatte bow branded "Peccatte". has more value than one branded "Vuilliaume". But when we get to "The Russian Tourte", Kittel, he developed such a reputation (even though doubt has been raised as to whether he ever made ANY bows) that a bow made by say, Bausch but branded "Kittel" would fetch more than if branded "Bausch"!

As David has said, when it comes to contemporary work there has been a great leveling and an international standard has developed - although all things being equal, I think there is still a whiff of the Italian cachet, deserved or not. But individual makers who have developed big reputations will dominate more in the market. When it comes for example to makers like our own David or Sam Z. I don't think they could have any higher a reputation if they were Italian or anything else.

In view of that maker/dealer's remark, I don't think that the OP was out of line.

March 28, 2015 at 01:00 PM · Leon,

do not believe just everything coming from dealer's mouth.... yes, the violins made by American makers in 20th century are under priced, but the quality of instrument can be surprisingly good.

Not the best position if you are selling, but great if you are buying and do not care about the label, or investment potential, but about the sound.

Raphael said it all; this is just an echo.

March 28, 2015 at 01:33 PM · @ Luis Claudio.

"Hi David, it is the contrary, Bissolotti inside form (Cremonese system), Morassi outer form (French)."

Oops. Yes. I cannot believe I made that stupid error.

Apologies. Quite inexplicable senior moment. Wlll correct the original post.

March 28, 2015 at 04:28 PM · I didn't want to spend more than $10,000 the last time I shopped for a violin. I bought one made in Poland by Wojciech Topa. My teacher convinced me that it "needed something" in the bass, and this small flaw was largely corrected by a slight repositioning of the sound-post (done by David Truscott, a luthier at The Potter Violin Company).

I hope I will be able to buy a fine American-made modern violin someday.

I have to wonder if an American or Chinese maker could move to Italy and increase his or her income significantly by making what would then be Italian violins.

March 29, 2015 at 11:55 AM · There's a reason why there are about 200 mostly non-native makers today living and working in Cremona!

March 29, 2015 at 03:34 PM · I understand that the Cremona maker Stefano Conia was originally Istvan Konya from Hungary. After training in Italy and then working there for a while I understand that he moved back to Hungary. When there he found his fiddles didn't sell well. So he returned to Cremona and his sales shot up. Good maker !!

The Cremona maker Tonarelli told me that foreign makers who train there will often find themselves in the same boat when returning to their native land. Sometimes they will try boosting sales by pretending on their labels that their fiddles are made in Italy when they are not. The authorities in Cremona are insistent on makers issuing certification of origin when selling their instruments. For example, my 2003 Daniele Tonarelli violin has 2 certificates, one from the maker along with another one from the Consorzio Antonio Stradivari. Belt and braces. They also keep the bits of wood cut from the "C" bouts on file so that authentication later can be checked.

Though location of manufacture would SEEM to contribute something to the eventual value of a vioiin, either by intrinsic tone-quality or market-place BS, all is lost if the maker has little by way of ability or training ! A decent old German fiddle can easily out-perform a poor ancient Italian.

March 30, 2015 at 03:38 PM · Hi everybody

Thank you for your replies. The differences between one shop and another is amazing to me. I went to five different shops around the Chicago area looking to upgrade. Two of them offered $4000, Two offered $1800, and one offered $500. Quite a difference.

The three who offered the least amount also came on like used car salesmen. Unfortunately for them, I learned a long time ago to never listen to a salesman no matter what they are selling.

I have only been playing (if you can call it that) for about five years now. The whole mystique of the violin is fascinating, very addictive. I can't think of another instrument that even comes close.

March 30, 2015 at 05:06 PM · @Leon,

"The whole mystique of the violin is fascinating, very addictive."

Yes. Here's the link to Smiley Hsu's interesting blog (to which I referred) :-


March 31, 2015 at 02:42 PM · Hi David

Thank you for the link. I picked up the violin after retiring from 30 years of playing guitar. Acoustic guitars have the same quality in that no two sound exactly alike. Some factory made, like Martin, will sound like completely different guitars even though they are the same model. I find that where violins differ is that with guitars you are still playing a guitar, with violins, it is more like a different experience with each one. They have their own quirks and personalities, almost humanlike. It's difficult to describe. (They are also hard as hell to play). I love it!

April 3, 2015 at 02:40 PM · About 20 yers ago I went to a local Chicago violin dealer looking for a bright sounding violin for playing with my 15 piece dance orchestra. I found a very bright Amadee Deudonne violin made in 1950.

The price was $5600 and I offered the dealer $4000 for an immediate sale. The offer was refused. I then came back about 6 months later and found out that the same violin was still there at the same $5600 price.

I offered the dealer $3000 and was refused. I then told the dealer that I would be back in approximately 6 months and my offer then would be $1500. The dealer was annoyed and we parted.

I came back 6 months later and we settled upon a purchase price of $1600. This violin was perfect for playing lead fiddle only it took almost 2 years of haggling to complete the purchase transaction.

April 4, 2015 at 03:32 PM · Leon,

Your two examples at the beginning of the post are interesting, but only in the manner of law school "though experiments." Kind of like

"is it moral to torture a terrorist who know where the earth-destroying nuclear bomb is hidden?"

However, Stradiuari didn't rent a room in Germany.

The problem is, you didn't really define the circumstances under which country or ethnicity of the maker could matter. What time period? What price range? Are you the seller or the buyer? It's now PC to push American makers and bash the "Italian Myth," but there are circumstances for which the myth holds true. Or it wouldn't persist. At this point, the Chinese are certainly CAPABLE of making very fine timepieces if they wished (and maybe they do now), but no one looking for a fine vintage watch would consider anything outside of Switzerland.

People seem to forget that in making these generalizations, we are talking about broad statistical trends, and not individual instruments. If, for example, you have $100,000 to spend and you want a violin with some age on it, you may very well be looking at Italian violins for several decades after 1890. You won't, as a GENERAL rule, be finding much competition from French, German, American, or Chinese instruments in that time period or at that price.

Also remember that we may be buyers OR sellers. You can bash a shop for undervaluing your unknown instrument that "doesn't look Italian to me," but of course you will be trying your best to sell it as Italian to anyone who will listen (especially yourself).

It depends on who is likely to benefit. If you go to purchase a violin, you will denying the seller's violin is Italian if it gets you a better price.

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