An unusual 1920s Italian violin

February 8, 2016 at 05:52 PM · My 15 year old daughter is working hard to become a great violinist. She has outgrown her starter violin and has saved her own $ cleaning houses. We have been to four violin shops so far, trying out violins. This past weekend we visited a shop in Chicago where a young man helped her for nearly three hours (first shop out of 4 that actually had someone who played!). Her price range was up to $6k and in the end both of their favorites was a consignment violin. It has no label and the shop believes it is an antiqued 1920s Italian violin. However, it has one peculiarity he pointed out...the inside rib corners do not have visible blocks, it is smooth all the way across. Almost like there is a veneer around the whole inside that covers the blocks. The outside of the violin looks as one would expect. Any thoughts about this? We are in the process of educating ourselves about violins in general but have not handled hundreds yet. She wants to make a wise purchase with her hard earned $ and loves the violin's balanced sound.

Sorry, cannot get a pic inside the violin near the rib corners.

We took the violin on a week trial and have yet to show her teacher.

Replies (30)

February 8, 2016 at 09:18 PM · Maybe the corner blocks were just really precisely carved and matched to the ribs so looks like they aren't even there?

I personally wouldn't put $6k on an unlabeled violin unless I had fallen absolutely head-over-heels in love with the sound and the feel of it.

February 8, 2016 at 11:01 PM · That is a possibility although I have looked at it carefully with a flashlight and see no seam. The price for this violin would be in the $4500 range. She tried it against 15 other violins and it sounded the best, even against a 1920s Roth.

February 9, 2016 at 12:09 AM · Well, if she loves the sound and feel of it, then label or no label, that's the one to get! ;)

But make sure her teacher gets to check it out before you make a final decision, because the teacher should be able to tell if that violin will be suitable still later down the road as your daughter gets more advanced with her skills.

February 9, 2016 at 12:20 AM · There was an American factory company that produced ribs and corner blocks routed out of a single piece of wood, it might have been Gibson, I'm not sure, doesn't sound Italian, but I can't see your pictures because the links don't work.

February 9, 2016 at 01:29 AM · The phrases, "violin would be in the $4500 range" and "Probably Italian" don't really go together. Unless, perhaps, it has a post crack in the back and has a replaced scroll and has been refinished.

I had a friend purchase an Italian violin for about that, and I came to me in a shoebox. It will be well worth the time and effort once it is back together.

Labels and nationalities shouldn't really be a concern in this price range. Does it sound good? Does it play well? Does your teacher think that it will help you reach your next level of playing?

Despite what you may have been told, or have read, instruments in this price range are not investments. They are tools of the trade.

February 9, 2016 at 01:48 AM · This is a reputable shop in Chicago and that is their opinion of the violin. It's not too old and without a name, hence the lower price. They have $5500 on it...we are just hoping to make an offer since it is consignment. But we won't until her teacher plays it and also her teacher's husband, who plays a Becker violin and between the two of them hopefully advise us. I will look up the Jackson co. Thanks everyone.

February 9, 2016 at 01:52 AM · I will work on the pictures tomorrow. The shop says the violin is handmade.

February 9, 2016 at 01:55 AM · If you copy paste the links they will work.

February 9, 2016 at 02:46 AM · Isn't it funny how every unidentifiable violin is called "probably" Italian by shops?

If it's not in writing, it's a meaningless phrase. Kind of like a used car salesman idly describing every car as having had "just one owner"...

February 9, 2016 at 02:48 AM ·

February 9, 2016 at 02:53 AM · Based on photos, this violin was re-varnished at one point in time. Assuming that it is indeed almost 100 years old, it is possible that original varnish was gone, but my hunches are telling me it is not that old at all.

If it comes with no papers, such as bill of sale, certificate of origin or written appraisal from a reputable expert (other than the seller! ), I would say that the price is open for negotiation.

Try not to succumb to "tunnel vision" and state of mind that this is the last violin on Earth for that money.

February 9, 2016 at 02:56 AM · I agree that in this price range, a violin is not an investment. Incidentally, it is possible to get a quite nice student violin for that price--I wish I could remember the make of my son's double bass (they also make violins)--we paid about that much for it, and are very happy with it.

If I were violin shopping with a budget of under $5000, I'd be looking at new or newish high-level student violins from known sources.

February 9, 2016 at 03:00 AM · BTW, even reputable dealers have been known to make mistakes with attributions, or even to **cough cough** stretch the truth a bit. Please, please remember: violin dealers are essentially car salesmen. They are in it to make a profit. I don't begrudge an honest dealer an honest profit; after all, they have to eat too. And there are honest dealers, just as there are honest car salesmen. But that's what they are--they are salesmen. They are NOT your personal instrument guides.

Take it from someone who is taking a bath on an "Italian" violin bought from an honest dealer who was wrong about an instrument.

February 9, 2016 at 01:06 PM · My husband remembers that they said it was definitely not German, French, or American and that if it wasn't Italian, they would call it rustic European, maybe Dutch.

February 9, 2016 at 01:43 PM · That's alarming. "Italian" and "rustic European" do not go together.

If it isn't in writing and signed by a recognized expert, it doesn't matter anyway.

February 9, 2016 at 03:59 PM · At that price range, you could be looking at very good contemporary violins aimed at advancing students like your daughter. There should be lots of options in Chicago.

You mentioned it's a consignment. That means that the price is *definitely* going to be negotiable, because it's an individual owner that has placed the violin with the shop to sell. That owner may have ambitiously instructed the shop to try to sell the violin for significantly more than it is worth. The shop has a duty to them to try to sell the violin to you for that much, but if you make a counteroffer, they will present it to the seller and possibly explain to the seller that the counteroffer is very reasonable and that they should take it, or otherwise facilitate a realistic negotiation. (The shop will probably take a 10-20% commission on the sale.)

February 9, 2016 at 04:57 PM · Lydia,

As the owner of a violin shop, consignments are not always "*definitely*" negotiable. The owner of a violin doesn't "instruct" me. If they want too much for it, or I don't agree with their evaluation of what it is, I won't agree to take it on consignment. I simply tell them that I can't help them and direct them to another shop.I sell what I can identify and sell them at prices that I believe in and are supportable from other sources.Sometimes you do end up with strange birds that you can't identify and you can't secure a good, reliable opinion on, and those are often the bargains. No name, no or spurious label, sound really good. Don't forget that price is mostly determined by who made it and condition-not tone.

If the violin is worth what the consignor wants, I don't take all offers to the owner. If I only made 10-20 percent on a consignment sale, I wouldn't be in business. 3-5% for the use of a CC, taxes, ect. Sometimes a consignment is from an estate, and you are bound by a third-party evaluation. Consignments aren't that simple. The owner hasn't placed a violin with me to dump. If they wanted to get rid of it at a liquidation or salvage value, I'd probably purchase it and market it myself.

It seems that your ideas regarding "realistic negotiation" and mine might require a Arbitrator to sell a violin!

I would call many 20th c violins from Italy rustic. Many self taught carpenters making instruments. Kinda like many 20th c American violins...

February 9, 2016 at 06:47 PM · Duane, you seem to have had an oddly extreme reaction to my phrasing. I am not insulting sellers, buyers, or shop-owners.

My point is that very few consignment instruments (and for that matter, shop-owned instruments for sale) have absolutely hard-and-fast prices. My assumption is that the buyer is going to make a reasonable offer, even if that offer is below the price that they've been quoted.

In my experience, a shop that agrees to take an instrument on consignment will discuss three figures with the seller -- what the shop will likely quote as a price, what it will probably sell for after negotiation, and the least amount of money that the seller is willing to take (i.e., if an offer isn't at least X, don't bother calling them with it).

I've also bought two violins and a bow that were from consignments. In each case, I negotiated. For one violin, I got a significant price reduction (several thousand dollars, in which I made an offer and the seller met me halfway with a counteroffer), for the other violin the seller agreed to be paid in installments, and for the bow, the price was firm (but it was already a great deal, so the ask for a lower price was kinda pro forma).

I should probably clarify for the folks who don't know: consignment fees are normally a sliding percentage of the value of the item in question. Student instruments, being less expensive, often have higher consignment fees (more in the 20-30% range, likely, especially if the shop will process credit card payments for these).

February 9, 2016 at 07:11 PM · Lydia,

I wouldn't call it oddly extreme, but your suggestion that consignment prices are definitely negotiable is a bit naive and plays into the game that we are expected to play.

Purchasing a violin or bow should be a transaction, not a game. Sometimes it does seem too much like purchasing a car.

Regarding consignments, I regret to say that many, if not most, shops discuss what dollar amount the customer will be paid for the instrument. What it is offered at or sold for will usually be unknown.

Also, I hate to pad prices for the purposes of negotiation, but that is what must be done, it seems.

February 9, 2016 at 09:01 PM · We were advised by the salesman to negotiate the price. He understood that to a 15 year old, her $ are a fortune.

February 9, 2016 at 10:28 PM · The finish on that violin is a bit rough. And it does look like it was revarnished.

Be absolutely sure it sounds great and is responsive to the bow, because for that amount of money you can get a great sounding, easy to play, recently made violin of known origin with meticulous finish.

I would give zero weight to descriptions of its origin at this price, even if made by a well intentioned and reputable violin shop. The price should be determined strictly by performance compared to new violins being marketed by well established companies.

February 9, 2016 at 11:21 PM · Duane,

I agree with Lydia... for many reasons, primarily because what she wrote resonates with my own experience.

This could also be a matter of perception and what is appropriate in a certain culture. Some cultures expect bargaining as a part of any trade, some not.

A violin is worth only as much as the buyer is willing to pay. This market is not regulated and anything goes. So I really do not understand why we as buyers would not have a say in a financial transaction we are engaging in?

February 10, 2016 at 12:26 AM · Rocky,

I don't disagree with you, but there is, in most cases, a significant knowledge imbalance with regard to the transaction.

Case in point: Thinking that one can purchase an Italian violin that is about 100 years old for $4500. Any knowledge of the violin trade will lead you to understand that this isn't possible.

You must try to find someone who you feel that you can trust. I understand that bargaining is culturally expected in some places, and I have lost sales to individuals of certain cultures for my lack of desire to do so.

February 12, 2016 at 02:34 PM · Just to report that she is pretty sure she is not going to buy the violin with the doubtful heritage. She found a violin by a local luthier, Scott Tribby, which has a pleasing sound, beautiful woods, plays nicely, and is in her price range. Guess we can't ask for more than that!

February 12, 2016 at 04:17 PM · I think that would be a great choice! Do let us know which one you end up purchasing and how it works out!

February 12, 2016 at 05:50 PM · Scott is a great guy, a gentle giant, and a wonderful violin maker. She will be pleased in the long term.

February 12, 2016 at 08:20 PM · An interesting story since I recently dealt with a sixteen year old girl facing the exact same dilemma. While in a small Winnipeg music shop recently, a particularly beautiful looking new violin caught my eye. I tried it out and it had a lush, smooth, rich tone with great volume and it just wanted to sing. It turned out to be a $1600 Chinese fiddle. Regrettably I resisted the temptation to buy it. The girl in question ended up paying $6000 for an older fiddle of dubious origin which she brought to me to try out. To say the least this fiddle was nothing special, and was almost dead on the A string. I could not help thinking she would have been much better off with that $1600 Chinese fiddle. Next time I'm Winnipeg I will not be able to resist the temptation to go see if it's still there and try it out again. Recently I read an article in which a Cremona violin maker asked the question "how did the Chinese get so good so fast". I now completely understand his concern.

February 13, 2016 at 12:38 AM · Getting a violin from a local luthier is in my opinion always the best! We need to support our local craftsmen, there's people out there making some fantastic new violins!

(including the Chinese, yes)

February 13, 2016 at 05:21 AM · Yeah?? You need to support your local craftsman that restore antiques, too!!!

February 13, 2016 at 12:53 PM · Her teacher finally got to try both violins yesterday and agreed wholeheartedly that the Scott Tribby was a great sounding violin and much better than the rustic European. Scott gave her two weeks to play it so her teacher advised her to take those two weeks and make sure she is in love with it. Tonight she gets to play the "pre-music" at a ball for a fundraiser at our new Harbor Shores golf course Inn. She is going to play the Tribby and see how it goes!

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