Violin Joseph Hel, 1884: Is it an original Hel?

January 24, 2018, 1:02 AM · I have recently bought a very good violin with the label of Joseph HEL, Luthier à Lille. The instrument was previously owned by the Bayer group, the makers of aspirin. It had been in their possession for decades, when sold.
The year on the label is somewhat obscured, but could read 1884. The violin is made to resemble a Guarneri. The instrument is not certified to be original, but has nonetheless been estimated and was subsequently insured at quite a good prize. Its quality has been praised by violinists and violin makers here in Düsseldorf and thus might very well support the hypothesis that it was made by Hel himself.
Naturally now I am curious to find out whether it is an original Hel or just a copy.
I'm looking for someone, who owns a (certified) Joseph HEL maybe even from 1884. This might be the same year my violin was made, if I read the label correctly. That is the only time, Hel labled himselve as "Luthier du Conservatoire de Lille".
Ich would like to know is whether this violin is stamped in addition to being labeled, because I have found the following description of a typical Joseph Hel instrument:

Joseph HEL instruments are stamped to the outside lowest rib, under the button J. HEL à Lille.
or J. Hel stamped two times on both side of the lowest rib joint.

In 1884 Hel had not yet won his international gold medals, so maybe he had not yet seen the need to stamp all his instruments. Also, it might well be that he stamped the Stradivarius, but did not stamp the Guarneri, because he produced only a few and might have been less convinced of their quality.

Thank you for your help.

Replies (18)

January 24, 2018, 2:11 AM · Gerhard - if nobody here is able to help I suggest you join and open a thread on where they give detailed instructions on how to post pictures of your instrument. The auction site will also give you a free evaluation, even if you've no intention of selling.
January 24, 2018, 2:35 AM · I second that notion, no one here is really qualified or willing to appraise your violin but on maestronet there are experts that may give a very informed opinion.
January 24, 2018, 2:37 AM · Not all genuine Hel violins are stamped. I haven't handled many but I've been told began using a stamp towards the end of his career.
I'm happy to take a look for you. I've one beautiful unstamped Joseph Hel violin but it's a Stradivari model. The maker's style and tool handling usually remains identifiable regardless of model.
You can find my contact details at
January 24, 2018, 9:14 AM · Per Martin's comments: Your best bet is a luthier who is familiar with Hel's instruments, rather than an individual owner. That person will know what distinctive characteristics to look for across the body of Hel's work.
January 24, 2018, 10:02 AM · I googled luthier dusseldorf and there are 2 in Dusseldorf. In Bonn the well known maker Greiner has a shop. Probably a good idea would be to get a verbal opinion from one of these.
January 24, 2018, 10:41 AM · According to John Dilworth's brief biography on, Hel's instruments are "sometimes branded above the endpin: ‘J. Hel à Lille’."
January 24, 2018, 12:25 PM · Jean Jaques Rampal in Paris is considered to be one of the top experts on French string instruments.
Also Roland Terrier who has a very instructive website on labels etc.

Second the idea - post on Maestronet.

January 24, 2018, 8:32 PM · No, the original hell is spelled with to 2 l.
January 25, 2018, 12:45 AM · Regarding steve's suggestion, i think will not work. In my experience, never returned my requests for evaluation.
January 25, 2018, 1:32 AM · That's odd - I've used their services several times and found them to be very helpful. On the last occasion one of their directors agreed to meet me personally (I happened to be in their area) to hand over a violin I'd just successfully bid £500 for!
Edited: January 25, 2018, 7:03 PM · How much did you pay for it? I hope it wasn't very much. Doesn't a genuine Hel go for like $50K or something?

And why would anyone buy an old instrument and then, after the fact, ask on the internet if what they bought is genuine?

January 25, 2018, 10:50 AM · Thanks everyone for your helpful replies. It is a very interesting piece of information that Hel did not stamp all his instruments and that there is an unstamped Stradivarious model out there.
Don't worry. I bought the violin for a reasonable prize and only because I already knew from experience that it is good. As a member of the Bayer Philharmonic Orchestra I was lucky to be able to play it for a few years.I must admit though that the sound is very direct.
Does anybody know how many Guaneri models made by Hel exist in total?
Edited: January 25, 2018, 11:56 AM · Because Scott, he did and he did. And Gerhard, as someone above said, this is not the place to get the information you desire. Surely there is someone in your country -- probably reasonably nearby -- that could better help you in your search. Or, as Hendrik mentioned, it might be worth a quick trip to Paris. Go in the spring, have a good time and good luck!

Gerhard, I checked out your orchestra and it is most impressive. Now I understand why you mentioned Bayer. Are you a doctor?

January 25, 2018, 2:44 PM · No, I am not a doctor. In fact, I am a teacher of philosophy and physics, but my school is not far from Leverkusen. I have been playing in the orchestra for 30 years now.
January 25, 2018, 5:57 PM · Sounds like you have a good playing and sounding violin, that's half the battle.
January 28, 2018, 2:49 PM · "Scott Cole
Edited: January 25, 2018, 7:03 PM · How much did you pay for it? I hope it wasn't very much. Doesn't a genuine Hel go for like $50K or something?"

A Vuillaume recently fetched around $250,000 at auction. Perhaps $50,000 for a Hel looks like good value?

January 28, 2018, 8:09 PM · I suppose one could argue that a $50,000 instrument is "good value" just because another one is $250,000. But a Hel is not a Vuillaume, is it?

It's beside the point. My point was that hopefully the OP didn't pay full price for an authentic Hel and is just now asking whether it's genuine.

January 29, 2018, 12:16 AM · Obviously a Hel is not a Vuillaume. However in the violin market one tends to find that a rising tide floats similar boats.

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