Need A Violin Appraised

January 5, 2006 at 06:04 AM · The owner of the violin lives in Russia and desperatly needs to sell it. A friend of a friend brought it from Russia hoping that in the USA, top dollar would be offered. I know nothing of the history, other than it is around 300yrs old and is Italian made. Can anyone recommend a violin appraiser and advice on what steps we should take in selling this violin?

Replies (15)

January 5, 2006 at 03:49 PM · You first need to get it to reputable appraiser. I do not know who is good in Texas, so I will defer to the Texans on this website. While you say it is 300 years old and Italian, do not be surprised if an expert tells you it is not. Does it have any sort of certificate authenticating its origin?

January 5, 2006 at 02:23 PM · Hi,

If this is really a quality instrument, you may want to try one of the music instrument auction houses like Tarisio--which I believe is having an auction soon and are accepting instruments in preparation for the auction right now.



January 5, 2006 at 06:14 PM · Appraisal can be a tricky business. Tom gives good advice, to which I'll add quite a few comments, having gone through a lengthy appraisal process with a cello in a relative's estate a few years ago so it could be sold.

* It takes an experienced eye to be able to look at an instrument and be willing to assert who made it and when. Not many people in the U.S. have the knowledge and experience to be able to do that with certainty, though a great many people with less than adequate knowledge will agree to do it anyway.

* I too don't personally know Texas dealers, but I looked under "Find Luthiers" on this site, and see that J & A Beare, a major international dealer, has an office in Dallas. You might start with them. I can personally recommend good people in the Midwest and East Coast (e-mail me privately). If consulting a dealer's web page, look under "Services."

* If the instrument is of substantial value, I would get appraisals from at least two dealers. You can expect to pay in the range of $50 to $200 for a written appraisal, possibly more, depending on the nature of the violin and its past history. You will also need to leave the instrument with them for at least several days. Do not be surprised if the appraisals differ substantially, by as much as 2x or 3x, if the origin of the instrument is unclear.

* As Tom says, do not be surprised if experts tell you that the instrument is not what it was claimed to be; this is very common. Most dealers who have web sites have a page that discusses the appraisal process, and I urge you to read them. Here is a good one from the Smithsonian:

and two from reputable dealers:

and here is a typical statement from a major dealer in New York:

"Appraisals and Certificates

A member of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, as well as a member of the Entente, the International Society of Violin and Bow Makers, [name of dealer] issues appraisals by appointment. Any prior certificates, appraisals, or other relevant documents should be brought to such an appointment. The expertise of the partners is also called upon to issue certificates of authenticity, as [name of dealer] issues almost 100 such certificates every year. It is important for the instrument to stay in the shop for two or three days in order for it to be examined thoroughly by [us]."

* There are several different kinds of appraisals. Cheapest is a verbal appraisal. There are written appraisals for insurance purposes (usually a bit higher) and for marketing. If the authenticity of the instrument is uncertain and you wish the dealer to establish it, be prepared to pay a substantial amount, perhaps in 4 figures.

* If the goal is to sell the instrument, the dealer with whom you place it will appraise it at no charge. A 20% commission on the sale is the standard in the trade today.

* As someone naive entering the appraisal process, I was most surprised to learn that sound of the instrument plays only a small role in the appraisal process, and many dealers I went to did not play the instrument before appraising it. Among the key factors are the maker, certainty of origin, past events (e.g., a major repair can destroy 2/3 or more of an instrument's value, even if well made), and current condition.

These are observations from a non-professional. There are several professionals on who might also offer advice from their experience. Final words: give yourself some time, and be prepared to expend some effort and money if you want a sound, reliable appraisal. Good luck!

January 5, 2006 at 05:18 PM · Eric has told you everything you need to know about the appraisal process. One thing to add: if the violin actually seems to have some value because it is authentic Italian 300-year old instrument, you will likely not be able to realize that value with a simple appraisal. You will need some expert to give you a certificate of authenticity in addition to an appraisal. That will be quite expensive for a valuable instrument (maybe 10-15% of the appraised value). Also, if you sell it to a dealer, you will likely get 50% of the appraised value.

January 5, 2006 at 06:37 PM · Eric has given you good advice.

J. & A. Beare in Dallas is probably a good place to start, considering you're in Texas. The real expert behind that firm (Charles Beare) is in London, but if the violin has some merit I'm sure the folks at the Dallas shop can make arrangements for Charles to see the instrument (or photos of it to start).

A note on certificates: If the violin merits one, you really won't need a certificate of origin unless you plan on selling the instrument yourself. Also, If you do decide to purchase one, the average industry charge for these is 5% to 10%, not 10% to 15%... and as Eric mentioned, few are really qualified to do them.

January 6, 2006 at 05:30 PM · A private e-mail to me raised some questions which might be of general interest (hence this added post). The key issue is the difference between an appraisal and a certificate of authenticity. These are two different documents.

* A certificate of authenticity is not the same as an appraisal. An appraisal states the description of the instrument (with no opinion as to its authenticity) and the value. That's what you get at no added charge if you place the instrument with the dealer on consignment for sale. In some cases it will be written, in others only verbal. Such an appraisal might refer to the instrument as (for example) "the violin labeled Stefano Scarampella"; in other words, the appraisal takes the instrument as presented to the dealer and does not confirm the instrument's authenticity, only its present market value. In contrast, a certificate will state the instrument's origin (in the issuer's expert opinion), describe the instrument physically and photograph it, but will NOT give the instrument's value. So an appraisal and a certificate are two different documents, and serve different purposes.

* It is my impression that some dealers will only sell instruments for which they can issue a certificate of authenticity with the instrument (perhaps others on the site can confirm or correct this impression). I am not sure how they handle the cost of preparing the certificate in such a case; it might be included with the 20% commission, or there might be an extra charge. That would probably depend on how certain the instrument's origin was. Other dealers may have different policies. Actually purchasing a certificate of authenticity can be quite expensive.

And for the mechanics of payment, a clarification:

* The norm is for the buyer of the instrument to pay the dealer with whom the instrument has been consigned, the dealer keeps 20%, and gives the seller the rest. If the dealer's shop has to do some work on the instrument to prepare it for sale (which is not infrequent), there will be an added charge for those services.

January 6, 2006 at 08:03 PM · At the last convention of the Violin Society of America, Christopher Reuning, Phillip Kass and I gave a 3 hour presentation on the appraisal process and it's relation to expertise. While an appraisal is not the same as a certificate of origin, there is a relationship based on value... and not all of us use the default "bearing the label". If the maker is known and the appraiser agrees with it, I figure why not say so.

Also at that meeting, Duane Rosengard presented a lecture concerning his research on maker’s in Cremona (Rugeri family) and participated in another concerning a maker in Milan (Rivolta; presented with Chris Reuning). Very fine stuff.

No expert is an island... and I think it does the client a disservice if an appraiser or expert acts alone when they shouldn't. In reality, all of those in the business that I would consider real experts don't. They confer with each other and/or recognize where they other specialty lies...

As for the dealer/certificate issue. I would not sell and instrument as "by" a maker unless I was willing to write a letter stating that I believed it to be. I would, and have, sold instruments certified by others correctly (in my opinion) and have also sold some instruments that I believed were certified incorrectly... but in this last case I sold them as what I believed they were not what the certificate claimed they were (ie; if there was a violin certified as a Nicolo Gagliano, but I felt it was not a Gagliano but rather a lesser known maker in Naples; known or unknown; I'd sell it as the lesser maker in Naples).

December 7, 2007 at 01:26 PM · Hello, I have been meaning to appraise my violin but been too scared because I don't understand the process well. Your discussion really helps. My violin is labeled as made by Vincenzo Jorio in Naples 1846 and I can't find any information on this maker. Anyone ever heard of him?

December 8, 2007 at 12:10 AM · Didn't Jorio teach Vincenzo Postiglioni?

December 8, 2007 at 07:18 AM · I would trust Givens Violins in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They do appraisals for the television show "Antiques Road Show" on PBS. They have expertise in older violins and related appraisals.

December 8, 2007 at 09:06 PM · .

March 2, 2014 at 06:32 PM · Is there a database of violin "fingerprints"? One would think (maybe wrongly, idk) that a master violin maker, having found a good block of wood, would perhaps use the same block of wood for a subsequent violin and that the grain could be matched exactly, not having to rely on easily falsified things, such as labels. I know luthiers measure everything, and that's a clue, but wouldn't a fingerprint be a more precise answer? Are there genetic tests for plants that can identify the piece of wood that was used?

March 2, 2014 at 07:37 PM · There is such a data base and it is called the International Tree Ring Data Bank (ITRDB).

It is based on the pattern of the growth rings of the wood, a science called dendrochronology.

Peter Ratcliff in the UK is one of the top experts in wood instrument dendrochronology.

March 2, 2014 at 08:56 PM · Fingerprint -- good idea! Why don't modern makers put their own fingerprint, in indelible ink, inside the violin?

March 3, 2014 at 11:37 PM ·

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