FINALLY - PROOF that Stradivari made cases too!

Edited: March 29, 2018, 1:33 AM · Whether or not the Stradivari workshop made the cases for their instruments, as suggested by the Hills in their biography in 1902, or rather entrusted this work to third parties, has always been subject to debate.

However, a previously miscataloged template from Stradivari’s estate was recently found to be a model for building the interior of a double case – and two baroque-era cases in private collections were found to be a perfect match!

The importance of this discovery cannot be over-estimated, as I write in this month’s issue of The Strad magazine, explaining why and how Stradivari designed and made cases as well as instruments. There is even evidence pointing to the possibility that Stradivari may have actually invented the violin case.

Why is this so important? Because, in addition to the historical significance, it means that now we know there are more Strads waiting to be discovered – albeit cases and not violins! In fact, you might have one already…

If you’re not a Strad subscriber, I’m available here on for any questions. :-)

Replies (32)

March 29, 2018, 2:07 AM · I didn't know that there was a polemic about if Stradivarius did also cases. I always assumed he did.
From memory, the cronical of the arrival of the Royal Quartet (name of the Stradivarius collection of Spain) is well docummented and it included mention about the cases.

You dont need translation of this, declaration of Stradivarius son:

[...] esso signor Paolo Stradivario non ha mai fatta mercanzia di altra sorte d’instromenti se non di quelli che sono stati lavorati di propria mano dal detto fu signor Antonio di lui padre, e dal fu signor Francesco Stradivari di lui fratello, delli quali è stao unico erede; che
il concerto consistente in due violini, due viole ed un violoncello di tutta perfezione ed armonia, con ornamento nel fondo, coperchio e toppe d’avorio e le fascie intarsiate d’ebano, con sue casse di conserva, stato comprato dal signor Francesco Brambilla, unitamente ad altri due violini al di più di detto concerto, a nome del molto reverendo padre Giovanni Domenico Brambilla di lui
fratello, abitante nella città di Madrid, da esso signor Paolo Stradivari fatto riporre in due casse da viaggio, e per mandato a Piacenza il giorno 15 Aprile prossimo passato allo spedizionere
signor Michel Angelo Tabarino, con ordine di spedirlo a Genova, e da Genova a Madrid al detto padre Brambilla, è stato lavorato e perfezionato di propria mano dal detto fu signor Antonio di lui padre, ed è quel medesimo concerto che è stato veduto e provato da tanti professori,
cavaglieri, e persone grandi e del quale ha sempre pretteso il prezzo di doppie centoventi di Spagna, come possono fare testimonianza diversi professori e cavaglieri anche abitanti in Cremona, che hanno avuto commissione di comprarlo.

In English:

this signor Paolo Stradivari has never sold any instruments other than those personally made by the late signor Antonio his father and by the late signor Francesco Stradivari his brother – Paolo being the sole heir of these two persons. The ‘concerto’ consisted of two violins, two violas, and a cello [‘ed un violoncello’] all of perfect and harmonious manufacture, with ornamentation on the back, front, and blocks, in ivory, and the ribs inlaid in ebony, with protective cases, everything being bought by Francesco Brambilla – and also two further violins (in addition to those of the concerto) – all bought on behalf of the Most Reverend Father Giovanni Domenico Brambilla (brother of Francesco) who lives in the city of Madrid. Signor Paolo Stradivari packed everything in two heavy-duty trunks and consigned them to Piacenza on 15th April last, to the care of Michel Angelo Tabarino, who was ordered to forward the trunks to Genoa, and from Genoa to Madrid, to the aforementioned Father Brambilla, this perfect work [i.e. the instruments] being truly from the hand of the aforementioned late signor Antonio, his father [i.e. Paolo’s father], and it is this person’s concerto that has been seen and confirmed by so many professors, ‘gentlemen’, and grand persons, and which has always been priced at 120 doppie of Spain, as can be found in
the testimony of various professors and gentlemen, also living in Cremona, who have been commissioned [by persons unknown] to buy [the concerto].

It could have been argued if he would have commissioned the cases to other workshop, but I think it is highly unlikely in that time. A master craftsman would be able and eager to complete all work within his grasp.

It would be interesting to ask the Museum of the Royal Palace of Madrid if the cases have been kept...

You know what this means, don't you? Either you start building violins or David Burguess starts making cases too!

Edited: March 29, 2018, 4:35 AM · It's well known (also from the document you mention) that the instruments were delivered in cases. But who made them?

Up to now consensus has been that they "may" have been made in the workshop, or perhaps not. The "Chi Mei" violin case attributed to Stradivari circa 1680 is decorated in gold-leaf obtained through a procedure well-known to book binders of the time, not violin makers. No specific case making tools were left in Stradivari's estate, and there can be no doubt that his time was better spent making violins!

Practically next door to Stradivari's workshop on Piazza San Domenico was the shop of woodworker Francesco Pescaroli, who is rumored to have made cases for Nicolo Amati (who was notoriously short of in-house labor after the Plague of 1630 decimated his family) - and where, perhaps, Stradivari apprenticed in the 1660s. Pescaroli is thought by some as having provided cases for local luthiers at the time.

But I have always felt myself that Stradivari the perfectionist would not have had his cases made elsewhere, where they could have been copied. A good case was essential to the safe delivery of every instrument, therefore part of the core business. All we were lacking, up to now, was proof.

March 29, 2018, 4:37 AM · Time to use those designs for a Strad-case inspired Musafia model.
March 29, 2018, 10:40 AM · Carlos,

I believe that Dimitri graduated from the Violin Making School in Cremona.

Please correct me if I am wrong. It wouldn't even be the first time this week!

March 29, 2018, 12:16 PM · Do the Strad cases have room for a shoulder rest?
March 29, 2018, 1:07 PM · Of course Stradivari made cases.
I bought one on eBay, and it even had the original label!
March 29, 2018, 2:46 PM · Carlos wrote:
"You know what this means, don't you? Either you start building violins or David Burgess starts making cases too!"

Actually, I have had some heavy involvement in case making. It's hard to say whether it was I or Leroy Weber who first developed the "suspension case". We were independently working on the concept around the same time. Later, he and I became acquaintances and friends, and neither of us had any interest in hashing out who got there first.

Later, I came up with the design and manufacturing process for the "hatchtop" cello case, produced by the American Case Company. It was sort-of a knockoff of the Hill cello case, with the production process much more streamlined and inexpensive. The production process involved using an inside mold, much like old Italian violins. What else would you expect from a fiddle maker? LOL

A little more about Leroy Weber, a really neat guy:

March 29, 2018, 3:40 PM · I have been known to purchase a violin that I didn't want to get the Weber case that it was housing it.
They still show up around here quite often. Bullet proof and sturdy even when decades old.
March 29, 2018, 5:03 PM · David - that case was a great design! Whenever I loaned out a cello in the past 20 years it always went in my Bluejay hatch top case. I bought it new around 1987. It was great protection, easier to put the cello back in the case than to lay it on the ground or rest it against a chair, stable standing up on the floor even with the hatch door open, and the cello could not fall out.

I STILL HAVE IT and it is still completely functional and still looks good. Only problem is the size of the vehicle one needs to transport it - and the difficulty this octogenarian would have carrying it from place to place. If I were to try to carry it in my minivan I would be able to transport only one passenger.

March 29, 2018, 6:33 PM · I just want to say that this is the coolest thing I have read all day.
Edited: March 29, 2018, 7:23 PM · Pretty sure Stradivarius knew wood was the best (and only available) material for a case. His design ought to have been the best... back then, but I guess he didn't have to worry that some careless owner would drive on his/her own case ;-) ... kidding aside Dimitri, you should design a Stradivarius inspired case, it would be a hot seller no doubt. Tx for sharing this tid bit of information.
Edited: March 29, 2018, 9:27 PM · The 2008 book "The Art & History of Violin Cases," by Dr. Glen P. Wood has a color photo of a "1680" violin case (either leather or apparently covered in leather) embossed "STRADIVARIO A CRE."

If you like cases this is the book for you!

Edited: March 29, 2018, 11:43 PM · @ David: Thank you for pointing out your involvement with Weber. Common knowledge is that Leroy and Isaac Stern came up with the idea, but that you were involved as well makes sense and is good to know.

@ Andrew: The case depicted in Glenn's book is covered in cross-hatched Moroccan leather. I had this case in my study for six months thanks to the owner at the time, London dealer Peter Biddulph. After extensive research I was able to attribute it to the Stradivari workshop (no, the branding wasn't enough!) and published an article about it in the April 2008 issue of The Strad. The case is now on display in the Chi Mei Museum in Taiwan.

Edited: March 29, 2018, 11:41 PM · BTW, the strange story of the proper identification of the template is the following.

The Museo del Violino curator, Fausto Cacciatori, was updating the registry of the artifacts (designs, models, templates, forms) in the possession of the museum, which were originally purchased by Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775 from descendant Paolo Stradivari.

There was this one paper template which had been classified as "for a viola d'amore" but the shape was odd and at 38cm in length didn't make sense.

Not convinced, Fausto showed it to Marcello Ive, a very gifted maker of breath-taking viole d'amore, but Marcello said it looked more like something regarding a case, so they called me.

I sent a scan to Glenn Wood (see above) and he correctly identified the template and it even fit inside a case in his collection. At that point I further analyzed the template and figured out how it was used during case manufacture. Being rather crudely fashioned and suggesting the shape of a violin instead of accurately representing one, the purpose of the template in fact was anything but clear.

Edited: March 29, 2018, 11:54 PM · @ Roger: The reason why no specific case-making tools were included in Stradivari's estate is that the cases were made just like a violin, and out the same materials!

The "Milan" case attributed to Stradivari (circa 1680) is almost unique in that it was not lined inside subsequently as was the "Chi Mei" from the same period, and is in incredibly original condition.

As a result, looking inside you can see that the top and bottom are carved from spruce like a violin top, and the sidewalls are either willow or poplar, just like violin corner blocks. You can see this case, along with the "Chi Mei", here:

March 30, 2018, 9:15 AM · Nicely written article Dimitri.
March 30, 2018, 9:18 AM · Thank you Roger!
Edited: March 30, 2018, 11:23 AM · Dimitri Musafia wrote, "But I have always felt myself that Stradivari the perfectionist would not have had his cases made elsewhere, where they could have been copied."

The implication appears to be that the most perfectionist of today's makers would prefer to make their own cases, rather than to ship their instruments in cases made by specialist case makers, or to trust their customers to choose a good case. Maybe some modern makers do think like that. You may be forgiven for disagreeing with them!

BTW I own a 'Leggiera' (or similar name) Musafia violin case and a Hiscox violin case. Not sure which one to use if the insturment must go in the hold of an aircraft? A problem Stradivari did not have, though in the days of horse-drawn transport road accidents were not rare.

Edited: March 31, 2018, 1:15 AM · No such implication, John. Not only is today's case making an extremely specialized field (you don't use a gouge any more to carve one from solid wood!), with more than ample choice of products available, but just as important, cases are generally no longer needed or used to ship the violins. There are purpose designed shipping crates available since a long time now, which are preferable for a number of reasons.
March 31, 2018, 2:26 AM · Finally. Proof that Stradivari also made beds.
Edited: April 1, 2018, 9:21 AM · I notice Dimitri that you use piano hinges on the inner pockets of your more expensive cases.Will you use the same hinges on the less expensive ones? Mine has two small brass hinges in which one fell off within the first month of use.Not so good...
Also you use a nice brass knob on top of the pocket lid on the more expensive case instead of a loop of material which keeps getting stuck in the zipper when one opens and closes the case.Perhaps the loop idea is not such a good idea.
BTW my case is # 15682.I probably should start a new thread called "buyer beware" .
March 31, 2018, 1:29 PM · Sorry Martin, I didn't get the joke.
March 31, 2018, 2:26 PM · "Up to now consensus has been that they "may" have been made in the workshop, or perhaps not. The "Chi Mei" violin case attributed to Stradivari circa 1680 is decorated in gold-leaf obtained through a procedure well-known to book binders of the time, not violin makers."

I don't understand why scholars would give much weight to the decoration when determining the provenance of the case.

Surely it would have been easy for whoever made the case to put out the decoration to a specialist, in the same way as many makers work with specialists to produce carved heads?

Edited: April 1, 2018, 7:40 AM · Nina Roco
March 31, 2018, 1:29 PM · Sorry Martin, I didn't get the joke

Then what makes you think it's a joke? (follow the link)

Edited: April 1, 2018, 2:31 AM · @ Geoff: You're certainly right that the decoration of the "Chi Mei" case could have been done by a third party, and in my opinion, likely was.

Stradivari's estate included brands used for this kind of decoration, but none so complex as to be able to decorate the "Chi Mei". In addition, Stradivari was still at the beginning of his career at the time this case was likely made, and that could suggest that he had this work outsourced.

April 1, 2018, 2:32 AM · I use a Gewa case, which is very light, and popular among people around me, they say a wooden case is too heavy to carry around.
Edited: April 2, 2018, 1:57 AM · That's simply not true. More than one manufacturer makes wooden violin cases that weigh less than 2 kg. and offer a high level of instrument protection. You can't get any lighter than that!

But what does your comment about Gewa cases have to do with Stradivari, may I ask?

April 5, 2018, 7:02 PM · Did Stradivari use quality hardware on his cases or was that detail overlooked?
Edited: April 5, 2018, 8:42 PM · If the hardware lasted over 330 years it must have been OK.
April 6, 2018, 4:19 AM · Did that include inner hinges?
Edited: April 6, 2018, 4:35 AM · Did each Stradivari case include a blanket?
April 6, 2018, 4:22 PM · The beds did

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