Great Grandfather's Violin

March 16, 2017 at 10:38 PM · I have just found out that my great grandfather (Ralph Edward Hutchinson 1885 - 1971) had a violin and a viola. I am only interested in the violin. I currently live outside of Dallas, TX. The violin is in Seattle, WA.

How should I get the violin from Seattle to Dallas? I am planning on flying out and picking up the instrument. It is at least 100 years old, but I will try to find an exact year. I want to get it priced in Los Angeles where I used to live. Then, I want to take it to a luthier in Dallas to get it repaired.

Should I ship the instrument to Los Angeles and then have it shipped again to Dallas. Or, should I go myself. If the instrument is destroyed, it would be a great loss to our family and it would ruin us. We need to have it intact when it arrives.

Can anyone help me figure something out?

Replies (28)

March 16, 2017 at 10:51 PM · (1) I'd get someone to take a lot of pictures of both the violin and viola and (2) post them here, and then (3) figure out the shipping process.

Why are you appraising in LA but doing luthier in Dallas? Do you know if the violin is actually worth a fair amount? There are a lot of old violins that are around that are worth close to zero. I found my wife's grandmother's violin this summer, but it's heavy, sounds bad, and probably would need a professional set-up that might bring it's value up to a couple of hundred bucks.

People here can probably advise on whether it's worth it to ship. Unless it's something very valuable, I'd probably have it boxed well and shipped directly to Dallas. I'm also curious why you're ignoring the viola--someone here recently posted that older violas seem to be fewer in number.

March 16, 2017 at 11:42 PM · I know an appraiser in LA that is used to handling multi million dollar instruments and I don't know any appraisers of that quality in Dallas. Also, I will try to get the photos. I do not want to take the chances and ruin the instrument because it has high sentimental value and my relatives are only willing to give me the violin. They would like to keep at least one of the instruments. I chose the violin because I play the violin more than I play viola and I intend to play my great grandfather's violin if it is in the right condition. I don't have high hopes because they said that they took it to a luthier and they thought it was "meh" due to the repaired pegbox. Is that a big problem and if so, should I just replace the neck?

I didn't mention it, but it was used for fiddling. Could there be a possibility that the violin won't be as great of a classical instrument as it was a fiddle?

March 17, 2017 at 01:06 AM · If you are flying to Seattle, I would consult Duane Lasley of Lasley violins. He can advise about shipping, anything else violin-related, and he's a thoroughly honest man. His shop is in Ballard, open Tues-Sat. On the web. Give him a call, is my suggestion.

March 17, 2017 at 01:12 AM · If your grandfather were an accomplished classical violinist or a well informed collector of classical violins, this instrument may be worth all these effort. Otherwise, you could just have someone in Seattle take a look at it and then go from there.

March 17, 2017 at 01:15 AM · I've never heard of a LA shop appraising million dollar violins, all the top LA violin shops got out of the appraisal business after one of their members was bogus sued for appraising a violin correctly, Only Weishaar in Hollywood does insurance evaluations, not appraisals.

March 17, 2017 at 01:29 AM · I'm confused--you don't have high hopes but you want to get it appraised in LA because that's where the multi-million dollar appraiser is? A 100-year-old fiddle owned by an amateur musician with a peg box issue probably won't be worth more than $5k, right? Or am I missing something? Seems getting it shipped to Dallas makes sense. Surely there are good luthiers in Texas.

March 17, 2017 at 02:10 AM · You don't want an appraiser who's used to handling multi-million dollar instruments. You want an appraiser who's used to handling grandpa violins, and who can tell what's a quality workshop fiddle from the pure junk, and give you good advice as to what's a worthwhile repair if it needs restoration.

"Meh" because there's a repaired pegbox crack suggests that this is not a quality violin, or the crack was a really serious one / really badly repaired. On a valuable violin, a pegbox crack wouldn't elicit that "meh".

Whoever has it in Seattle should take it to a reputable luthier in Seattle, of which there are plenty. (Duane Lasley, one of the luthiers who posts here, is in Seattle.) If it turns out to be valuable -- which I kind of doubt -- Rafael Carrabba, an extremely fine restorer, is based in Seattle.

I'd consider having all the work done in Seattle, and then going out to collect the violin once it's finished.

March 17, 2017 at 02:23 AM · Great advice above. If you need to rehome the viola, I would be interested. What is the cost to ship to Milwaukee?

March 17, 2017 at 02:36 AM · Sorry Erin, but the viola isn't for sale. It's the only thing left of my great grandfather's and the family that own it wouldn't be able to sell it emotionally. It holds too much sentimental value to my family.

March 17, 2017 at 02:38 AM · Don't discard the viola yet. One of the two instruments may be worth thousands, and the other one $100 bucks, but you don't know which is what yet. Will your relatives let you pick one after an assessment of condition/origin? Unless your great grandpa was a serious musician or a serious collector, these may just be average trade instruments for folk fiddling (Mittenwald for the trade?) with more sentimental value (assuming you have great respect for or memories of your great grandfather) than economic value.

March 17, 2017 at 03:08 AM · I have a violin like that. It was left to me by a great uncle, used for fiddling, made in Germany circa 1900. Worth today about $400, maximum. I spent considerably more than that on having it repaired and made playable, because it has sentimental value. I don't regret the expense. Sounds better than a Chinese student violin. It's fun to bring an old family fiddle back to life. Enjoy it. But don't get your hopes too high!

March 17, 2017 at 03:38 AM · Ryan, thank you for answering; I did not realize the viola was spoken for. I am glad to hear that. I play my grandfather's violin, and wonder about its history every time I use it.

March 17, 2017 at 03:32 PM · Ryan, I have difficulty understanding your rationale. If the instrument has such high value to you, why risk loosing the instrument by shipping it to LA only to have it appraised? You're afraid it will "ruin" your family if lost, do you really think you've got a stradivarius there? (you have not mentioned what the label says, but I'm guessing it has the word Stradivarius on it) I don't think so. All the value is likely sentimental, and that cannot be replaced, nor insured, so shipping it needlessly doesn't make sense from a risk stand point. There are more than enough shops in Seattle that can provide an assessment and valuation. My recommendation is to follow Lydia's advice.

March 17, 2017 at 06:22 PM · You don't need a "multimillion dollar appraiser" because they are not worth millions. Any competent shop in Seattle can appraise it and box it up for shipping.

Fedex has been very reliable for shipping instruments safely if the instrument is competently packed. It's not rocket science and thousands of instruments are shipped daily, even expensive ones. You don't need to get on a plane. That's a waste of money.

You are more likely to win the super lotto with one ticket than to discover a big find in a relative's violin.

March 17, 2017 at 10:00 PM · The OP hasn't said anything about the violin, except that it belonged to his grandfather, yet all our "experts" have decided its a cheap violin, not worth much of anything, while that may well be the case we have absolutely no evidence of it.

March 17, 2017 at 11:00 PM · Lyndon, the OP has already stated that the instrument has to him and his family the utmost "sentimental value", and that a local unspecified luthier wasn't particularly exited about it, suggesting a "limited" financial value. Based on these two statements the forum members who are generously willing to share their thoughts to assist the OP in deciding what he should do, are recommending not to ship it to a 3rd location (the OP doesn't live in LA) for appraisal purposes, but rather deal locally in Seattle, where there are a number of qualified shops to pick from to get at least a rough order of magnitude value. Obviously the OP has no intent on selling it, so why risk loosing/damaging it in shipping just to get an appraisal that could just as well be done locally? Don't need to be an "expert" to come to that conclusion even with the limited information the OP is providing.

March 17, 2017 at 11:14 PM · Ryan, if it were me I'd wait for an opportunity for myself or someone else to bring the instrument to Dallas. I wouldn't fly just to get it. Though proper shipping and packing is generally safe, I'd ask myself if I would be willing to live with the remote possibility that the instrument is lost or severely damaged. Odd are slim, but present, hence why we generally insure shipments. A local appraisal should be good enough to give you a range for the insurance, but don't ship without having some reference on the value of the instrument in hand in case you need to make a claim, which is another reason not to ship it to LA first.

March 18, 2017 at 01:28 AM · Hmm...odds of winning Super Lotto are 1:18,000,000. I think the spirit of Scott's assessment is basically correct, especially if we're talking about a legit $$$ antique instrument, but it makes me wonder how many 100+ year-old violins are still out there and how the inventory is segmented.

Random story to show that sometimes you do find something rather nice: My uncle's mother, who was an amateur violinist back in the 1920s and 30s, left a violin and bow in considerable disrepair. My aunt offered to have them appraised and fixed for me to play. The violin turned out to be worht less than the cost of repairing it. But the bow, which she'd apparently purchased through a Montgomery Ward catalogue or something, ended up being quite nice: a Hermann W. Prell, octagonal stick, gold fittings. We didn't need a big-deal violin shop to figure this out: our local luthier in NC was perfectly competent at assessing the situation and bringing the bow back to playable condition after years of neglect. I still use it to this day.

March 18, 2017 at 12:49 PM · Lyndon has made a good point. Among all the valuable advice, there seem to be a few odd stereotypes floating around about fiddlers, not to mention amateur players . . . and grandpa. I am a classical player as well as a fiddler, and I can assure you that fiddlers sometimes own really excellent violins, they know and value their instruments in the same degree as other players, and that fiddling would have absolutely no negative impact on the instrument's value (to answer the OP's question above). Rough usage is another matter.

March 18, 2017 at 01:27 PM · Thank you, Parker.

March 18, 2017 at 02:31 PM · Grandpa's violin comes up often in these posts. You'll learn about posters who "just discovered" their grandpa happened to own an antique violin, or happened to be a very talented violinist/fiddler, or purchased everything from the Sears catalog, and/or was a hoarder. You will find a wealth of information by searching this site.

March 18, 2017 at 05:26 PM · Parker, didn't mean to imply that fiddle=crap violin. One of the instruments that I came closest to buying in my recent search was made by John Sipe, a NC-based luthier and bluegrass fiddler.

I think people were bemused by the juxtaposition between the description of the circumstance (just learned grandfather had violin–so this isn't Heifetz we're talking about–and Seattle violin shop didn't leap at the chance to buy or repair it, which probably means it's not some kind of rare find–etc.) and the need for a luthier experienced in handling multi-million dollar instruments. That sounded like an unnecessary and unjustified expense for what is most likely a German workshop instrument (albeit potentially a very nice one).

March 18, 2017 at 06:18 PM · People are talking about "grandpa's violin" like its some generic term of cheap German import, ridiculous, there are as many different Grandpa's violins as their are Grandpas that play violin.

March 18, 2017 at 06:33 PM · I stand by my original advice. The family's already taken it to a luthier, who said, as the OP put it, "meh". That does not suggest that it needs a complicated scheme to hand-carry the instrument to someone who evaluates multi-million-dollar violins. It's irrelevant whether grandpa was a classical player or a fiddler. It might be anywhere from a cheap import to a fairly nice no-name fiddle, but if it were an instrument of more than sentimental significance, it wouldn't have drawn a "meh".

Seattle has plenty of reputable luthiers, and at least one restorer who is good enough to be asked to do work on Strads. There's no need to fly around the country to get the instrument appraised and restored into good playing condition.

I think there are advantages to flying out and picking up the violin once the repair work has been done -- the OP might like to see his family, after all (and his family might appreciate listening to grandpa's fiddle now that it's in good condition), and it would probably be good to have a set-up done to taste in person -- but everything else can probably be done by the Seattle-local family.

Notably, the OP is in 8th grade. That means he's probably 13 years old. He can fly alone, and presumably in Seattle he has family that he can go to, but whatever he does is going to require adult help and adults to pay for the restoration work and plane tickets and whatnot. If I were his parents I would not be sending him around the country to do this kind of thing.

March 19, 2017 at 12:41 AM · I'm taking it to them as I know them and trust their valuation. I'm also visiting old friends so I thought to appraise it there while I'm at it.

March 19, 2017 at 01:32 AM · Ryan, have a great trip and please let us hear the rest of the story, OK?

March 19, 2017 at 02:51 AM · Right, I second what Erin just said. And speaking from my own perspective as a grandfather, I do hope you get to enjoy playing on this old violin, bringing it back to life -- and don't be hung up on its market value! It will have a deeper meaning for you than mere dollars.

March 19, 2017 at 04:48 AM · I also stand by my original recommendation.

If the OP has unlimited resources and "family value" trumps everything else, then he should skip the process of having the instrument in question "priced" ( his word) and spend whatever it takes to restore it. The fact that he brought the question to this forum suggests that he wants to make an optimal decision, like most people living in the real world.

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