Violin Auctions?

June 24, 2016 at 06:28 PM · I'm interested in hearing from people who have consigned a stringed instrument to a violin auction house. What are your experiences? Are these houses usually honest and provide a useful service or would I be vulnerable to "getting taken"? When an auction is held for moderate priced instruments, who attends? Just dealers or would orchestra players and students attend an auction to find an instrument? Is anyone glad they consigned their instrument to an auction or is it a last ditch alternative?

Replies (23)

June 24, 2016 at 07:04 PM · Nice questions, I'm really interested in this topic.

June 24, 2016 at 08:26 PM · Back in the '50s my cello teacher would go to a London auction house once or twice a year specifically looking for cellos for his pupils. As a professional performer as well as being a very good teacher he knew exactly what to look for. He'd bring two or three cellos back to Bristol and, having the necessary skills, he'd set up each cello as if he was going to use it himself. He'd sell a cello to a pupil for no more than what he had paid at auction - no extras.

The cello he got for me in 1951/2 for £15 (about two week's average wages in those days) was an anonymous mid-19th century French instrument that I used all my life until a couple of years ago when I passed it on to my daughter in Belgium.

June 24, 2016 at 08:42 PM · What do you mean by "moderate priced"?

June 24, 2016 at 10:25 PM · Auctions are where dealers go to buy instruments at a wholesale price. Occasionally you get one that flys, but usually the price realised is many, many times cheaper than a shop would charge retail.

Cheers Carlo

June 24, 2016 at 10:46 PM · Moderately priced is probably not the right term, but I'm thinking of instruments that advanced students or orchestral musicians would buy, not the violins that go for stratospheric prices at the big international auctions. Carol seems to be saying that an auction would not be the best place to sell my violin, if a dealer expects 30% off retail and the auction house takes another 30% that leaves me less than half of what my violin is worth.

June 24, 2016 at 10:58 PM · I doubt a dealer would be interested in 30% off retail at auction. Buying at 30% or less, of retail, is more the norm for less expensive instruments. Second hand jewelery anyone?

Giving it to a big dealer to sell on commission is not the answer either. Dealers like Beares, in London, charge 50%. A smaller dealer will charge a significantly lower percentage, and would be more likely deal in your level of fiddle. However, a private sale may realise the best price for you.

Cheers Carlo

June 24, 2016 at 11:55 PM · The appeal of the auction is , although you'll probably get substantially less money than retail, you'll presumably get it more quickly. Putting an instrument on commission has no guarantee of when it might sell, it might take years, or even not sell at all. And 50% is way high for dealer commission, 20-25% is more normal, even 15%, I believe, on high ticket items like Strads.

June 25, 2016 at 12:15 AM · @Lyndon, Beares was always conscious of profit, in my opinion. They do sell instruments for higher prices than smaller dealers, so their higher commission might balance out. However, I don't know the rate the new owners charge now that it has changed hands.

Glenn, you could try putting up notices at music schools, secondary schools, and local orchestras. You may get a few tyre kickers, but you may also get a good price if you stick to your guns.

Cheers Carlo

June 25, 2016 at 02:20 AM · I think the question I was asking on "moderately priced" was whether you were thinking, say, sub-$10k, or sub-$20k, or more like the $20k-$100k range.

If you're talking in the $20k-100k range, as far as I know, players do attend auctions by Tarisio but it's still mostly dealers and collectors. Basically in that price range, you are trading a quicker sale in return for getting less money. Consignments can take forever.

June 25, 2016 at 02:25 AM · I wrote a blog about this subject in my website, called "An Auction Adventure" You'll see "blog" in the table of contents on the first page.

June 25, 2016 at 05:05 AM · Just once have I consigned a violin to an auction-house. Probably as a result of dealer rivalry in my area I'd begun to suspect the authenticity of a violin I owned. It was labelled Francesco Guadagnini and bore a "certificate" from the dealer from whom I bought it. One local dealership said he'd be lucky to get £2k for it. At Sotheby's it sold for £6k. This was some years ago. I expect a dealer would have sold it on for much more than £6k, but I was happy at the outcome.

I have never attended a violin auction but have once or twice gone to view and try bows. All my commissioned bids failed because the items broke records ! Dealers predominate amongst the attendance at the auctions, I understand, but the auction houses try to encourage direct sales to players, who, if they are knowledgeable enough, can save cash by buying at lower prices than they would pay at a dealership.

BTW there's a Bromptons auction coming up next Monday in London, and if you click on the link you can watch and hear some of the instruments being played.

June 25, 2016 at 07:29 AM · Regarding Beares in London - I stopped using them in the mid 1960's for reasons I won't go into, but in 1981 I did have a viola out on trial. It was pretty awful sound once I got it into the real world and a theatre and away from the flattering room they had. It was French about 1920 and looked brand new. I estimated it to be worth £2,000 max at the time, but they wanted £7,000 +!!

I've failed to sell instruments in auctions, but I've had a lot of success with bows and antique furniture (once). It's a dodgy world inhabited by a lot of dubious characters wanting to make a fast buck at your expense.

Perhaps the best thing is to buy direct from a maker, which many on here have done successfully, or from a trusted dealer, of which there are very few.

June 25, 2016 at 07:40 AM · In London, Tom Blackburn is a smaller independent dealer, a gentleman, and is trustworthy. His prices are fair. Tom is based in South Kensington.

Cheers Carlo

June 25, 2016 at 11:29 AM · @Carlo

You are preaching to the converted! I know Tom and would recommend him. He is a violinist trained at the RAM and he is a good repairer/restorer. With a lot of experience. Apart from that he is a very nice genuine bloke. He does not deal in bull****.

I've bought an instrument and a bow from him.

June 25, 2016 at 01:53 PM · Great topic.I'm considering this route when the time comes.Your observations make me shudder Peter ( i.e "dodgy world", "dubious characters").

June 25, 2016 at 02:03 PM · "Perhaps the best thing is to buy direct from a maker...."

Yeah, but tricky if your favourite maker is e.g. Stradivari ! Seriously though, I have had many very good experiences buying both violins and bows directly from makers, whereas one or two of the items I bought from dealerships turned out to be disappointments. Unforseen snags !!

But even so not all new fiddles will turn out to be "keepers" and it's as well to be clued-up as to the various ways of selling the remainder. All those commission percentages either if selling via an auction-house or on consignment at a dealership do add up alarmingly and often induce sales-resistance.

June 25, 2016 at 03:28 PM · I've got a student fractional violin that I'm going to sell on eBay. Lets just say I'm planning to take a considerable loss vs. what I paid at the dealer. That's life.

June 26, 2016 at 01:09 AM · @David. I think Stradivari is still making. He was in Czechoslovakia for a while, now I think he has moved his workshop to China. Maybe someone on this site has his email?

Cheers Carlo

June 26, 2016 at 06:57 AM · His email is

June 26, 2016 at 11:53 AM · Plenty of "Antonius Stradivarius faciebat.." fiddles on ebay but if it's the maker himself selling them then he's using pseudonyms.

June 26, 2016 at 02:39 PM · @David. Not content with making the best fiddles, he also has the secret of eternal life. That is why he uses a pseudonym, and has moved country. I not sure his heart is really in it, as it once was, quality control now is a bit haphazard.

Cheers Carlo

June 27, 2016 at 12:53 PM · Once on the "Antiques Roadshow" a lady came in with a Strad that she felt was extra special because Strad's wife, "Anno Facibat" was written on the label. The expert tried to let her down easy, explaining that it meant "made in the year" and that this fiddle was in fact very cheap.

June 27, 2016 at 05:09 PM · My OTHER violin's a Faciebat.

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