Paolo Leonori, Roma

Edited: May 9, 2018, 3:33 PM · Paolo Leonori, born 1903, cellist and luthier in Rome until the 70ies (or 80ies?). Anybody knows about him and his instruments, or maybe even played one?

Most of what I could find about him is very few information on amati.com and bromptons.co. Obviously he made some fine instruments and won several prices. Evgeny Sviridov plays one of his violins. On the other hand instruments with this label occur from time to time on eBay and go for prices well below 1k. Sure I know there are lots of fake labels around... But faking the label of a quite obscure part-time luthier maybe mostly because of the italian sound of his name...?! There will be a lot of more better selling names I'd guess... Especially in an era when the "fake labeling boom" was already over.

The reason why I'm asking is because I stumbled over such an instrument, and be the label fake or not, it is a real viola, beautifully made (although it looks quite worn and obviously been on heavy duty, but no major defects) from very nice wood, and not only playable which I even did not dare to hope given the small amount I paid for it, but blessed with a pleasant and promising sound. I'm curious how it will develop after a proper setup and when played in again.

Replies (34)

Edited: May 10, 2018, 5:53 AM · HENLEY'S "UNIVERSAL DICTIONARY OF VIOLIN AND BOW MAKERS" lists hime as:

"LEONORI, Paulo,
Born in Rome, 1903. Professional 'cellist in orchestras at Rome and Milan. Became passionately attached to violin making. Presented a remarkable quartet of instruments at Cremona, 1949, Individualistic modelling based on various standard types. Golden-yellow varnish."

May 9, 2018, 11:15 PM · Amati.com tells us:

Biography of Paolo Leonori - John Dilworth
LEONORI, Paolo Born 1903 Rome Italy. Cellist and luthier. Credited with 40 violins, nine violas, eight cellos, three viols, and sundry other instruments. Personal model with good golden-brown varnish. Exhibited a quartet at Cremona 1949. Awards given at Cremona 1949, 1967, 1969 and 1971, Florence, 1951 and 1957, Rome 1954 and 1956, Liège 1957 and 1963, Ascoli Piceno 1959. and Pegli 1971. Paolo Lenori / Roma 1949

Somewhere else I read that his personal model was something of an elongated Strad pattern with relatively wide standing f-holes and a broad second winding of the scroll.
All criteria fit mine. Maybe the label might be original...

May 9, 2018, 11:15 PM · Ebay sellers love to fake less well known makers because idiots think they must be real, because no one would fake a less well known maker.
May 10, 2018, 2:40 AM · That's a thought I also already came along... But why the hell would someone glue a fake label into a really well made and more-than-decent sounding modern instrument which is way better than anything you would get for around 4.5k (which might be the lower end in retail price I would expect for a "real" P.L. violin or viola even if not in perfect cosmetic shape) and then be willing to sell it for 450 like if it was a cheapish bohemian factory instrument from late 19th century, which it definitely isn't...

Anyway, it was a good deal. I'm just wondering...

May 10, 2018, 3:15 AM · You might get a clue from some of the images on the internet, e.g. this violin

https://www.the-saleroom.com/it-it/auction-catalogues/gardiner-houlgate/catalogue-id-srgard10014/lot-747e8838-3579-4443-a2da-a435003f40c4

With rather a small output I guess Leonori must be considered an "amateur" maker, hence auction prices usually in the low thousands

May 10, 2018, 3:57 AM · Because the label is in a Chinese instrument worth about $450.
May 10, 2018, 4:20 AM · Of course, it depends how well the violin plays, how much you like it, and how much you are willing to pay for it. I partially disagree with Lyndon, I think that it doesnt matter if it is a Chinese instrument or not, because of course, there are good Chinese instruments out there too. But, it really depends on the player.
May 10, 2018, 4:21 AM · Of course, it depends how well the violin plays, how much you like it, and how much you are willing to pay for it. I partially disagree with Lyndon, I think that it doesnt matter if it is a Chinese instrument or not, because of course, there are good Chinese instruments out there too. But, it really depends on the player.
May 10, 2018, 4:29 AM · So you don't care if you pay $2000 for a violin you think is worth $10,000 but is actually Chinese worth $450??
May 10, 2018, 4:32 AM · Well of course, that is beside my point. All I was saying that it depends on how much you like it, and how well it plays. I agree with you on your point, but personal value is also quite important.
Edited: May 10, 2018, 4:33 AM · The one in the sale room linked by Steve Jones looked quite nice except the F holes were a bit crudely cut, but of course it may have had a great sound.

It's possible you have the real thing but you should have an expert look at it or see photos to get some idea of it's provenance and value.

Even if it's Chinese it may well be worth a bit more than $450

May 10, 2018, 4:34 AM · Thank you Peter for stating my point.
May 10, 2018, 4:42 AM · Definitely not chinese. Too old. And no artificial "wear" from workbench antiquing, but rather heavy worn by time and life (which seems not to have always been kind to that instrument). Maybe it's damages from transportation in an inappropriate case which did not prevent things from falling around inside - what do I know. When my camera equipment will be back from holiday in a week or two I'll post some pictures...
At least I'd be surprised if a workshop did anything like that to a well built instrument to make it look "more real". Even if Chinese, in brand new condition and unlabeled, I'd be happy to purchase it for 2,5k without any thoughts about eventual future regrets. For it is a nice piece of work that will bring anyone through conservatory at least. This said by someone more advanced and experienced than I will ever be, after fixing bridge, nut and soundpost position yesterday evening. Next projects are new pegs, strings, a different type of chin rest, and a little cosmetic "makeup". And since it even isn't meant to be my main instrument, I'm very happy with my catch!
May 10, 2018, 7:36 AM · Seems like you got ripped off on ebay, and you want to feel good about it, that's what keeps these fraudsters in business
Edited: May 10, 2018, 8:20 AM · I dunno. $450 for a decent-sounding viola, Chinese or not, sounds like a good deal to me. Heavy wear suggests too old to be Chinese, doesn't it? But $450 for a workshop viola of any stripe, that plays decently and needs nothing beyond good set-up, seems like a pretty attractive deal, so it doesn't matter whether or not the label is real.
May 10, 2018, 8:30 AM · I think they payed a good bit more than $450
May 10, 2018, 8:52 AM · FCS, Lyndon, it's PAYED as in "the sailor PAYED the deck with tar to seal the leaks"
but it is
"He PAID $450 for that fiddle."

Prices achieved for four Leonori violins over the past 20 years are about the same as a new Jay-Haide "a l'ancienne."

As far as Chinese violins are concerned I did play one once that the owner had bought for $1,500 from the maker while he lived in China and it compared well with the better of the two real Strads I have played - certainly better than any of the new Cremonese violins I have tried in recent years. In fact before he told me what it was I thought it was a very fine old Italian. The owner was a very fine violinist and had bought that violin wisely.

May 10, 2018, 8:57 AM · The world is PAYED with good intentions!!
Edited: May 10, 2018, 10:22 AM · Sorry, Lyndon, it see that I confused things and wasn't clear about the provenience of that viola. I found it on a flea market where it sat between a cuckoo clock and military memorabilia, together with some other junk violins an a cello with a broken scroll. Which doesn't mean that it isn't a fake label, but rather not a chinese violin. These guys on the flea markets usually find their stuff in the attics of houses they clear before the owner or whoever sells them. So usually it should be as old as it looks. Which doesn't mean it's a genuine instrument from that specific maker.
I never bought an instrument without touching it first, and will carry on with that rule. But on markets... 99,9% there is rubbish, but last year I found a very nice older German violin bow which is (after rehair by my Luthier and new leather, winding and polish by myself) my favorite bow for baroque and Mozart, beating out the rest of my collection of 8-10 bows (depending on where you would draw the line between bow and firewood,but up to a price range of 3,5k).

But to be fair - the seller also had it listed on eBay, for €500, so somehow you're allowed to regard it as eBay viola too.

Edited: May 10, 2018, 10:29 AM · By the way, at the moment I'm after a violin Gaspard Borbon, Brussel 1690 from a private sale. Another rather obscure maker good things are written about in literature. Nice instrument, but obviously wasn't played for a long time. There is a small open seam. I'm planning to ask the owner to let me fix that (which costs next to nothing) and then have it on try for a few weeks. Either he gets it back repaired and played in, or it's a good deal as well. Lots of funny instruments crossing my way recently... :-)
May 11, 2018, 12:13 PM · Congratulations on a nice find.

There is no question in the first post, and on my reading no implied question. A post on the other place (maestronet) with mutliple photos following their rules usually seems to bring knowledgable answers on identification, and often very little about sound.

Perhaps the point about fake labels followed by ...?! is a question? Yes, I have a come across violin with a fake label by a maker whose new instruments fetch under $5000, and probably a fraction of that at auction. I almost bought it, on the theory that such a little-known maker's label could not be a fake. The maker's son told that the violin could not be genuine, and thus saved me from my own failure to appreciate that the criminal vendors of some trade violins exceed me in intelligence if not in integrity.

Edited: May 11, 2018, 1:12 PM · Well... More a confusion than a question, as I have to admit... The questions I somehow wish to be answered at the moment are

- If it was genuine, any experiences or opinions about that maker?

- If not genuine, why fake an obscure maker's label on a really beautiful and fine instrument this one obviously had been once (and somehow still is), if the value of that instrument by itself, no matter who the maker, most probably would not have increased by the relabeling procedure?

- And finally, how could one learn about whether it was genuine or not without investing more into an expert than in the viola itself, and the expert probably may never had to deal with this maker anyway...?!

Edited: May 11, 2018, 2:09 PM · "And finally, how could one learn about whether it was genuine or not without investing more into an expert than in the viola itself...?" Well I did answer that one. They'll tell you at other place, as best as anyone can from photos, provided the photos are good...
May 11, 2018, 2:18 PM · Sure. Stupid me. Thx!
May 11, 2018, 4:00 PM · Nobody is going to tell you for sure what it is based on photos; they will need to see it. However, if you have a little money to burn, you could have a dendochronological study done on it. It won't confirm who made it but it will tell you how old the wood is and where it's from.
May 11, 2018, 9:31 PM · The dendro expert said they don't have good databases for 20th century violins, may not be possible to tell much.
Edited: May 12, 2018, 10:49 AM · And too much money to burn for a workingtool like that. You'd know what I mean if you saw it... Even if it could be proven to be authentic, it most probably wouldn't be worth the effort.
May 23, 2018, 6:52 AM · I believe the “attic find” violin to be a complete myth. I would give a violin a couple of years at most before the extremes of temperature would destroy the instrument. Why are so many junk instruments “found in an attic”? Is it because it sounds romantic?

Cheers Carlo

Edited: May 23, 2018, 1:48 PM · I completely agree with you, Carlo. And I did see some of those rotten objects myself. "Attic" was just a word I used to describe the job. Sure they are also clearing flats, houses etc., and especially in the cities (where you will find most stringed instruments, in rural areas people rather tend to play brass or woodwind) storage is mostly banned from the attics for security reasons, especially to avoid fire.
What I meant was simply that I believe this instrument wasn't played for several years at least, and that it is a very nicely playing instrument for €450. It's cosmetically damaged and it definitely wasn't built by a trained luthier and not in a workshop at least. But whoever made it definitely knew what he was doing, although he missed the accuracy necessary for making a "really beautiful" instrument. This would very well fit the maker named on the label, who wasn't on the top of his "career" yet in the mid 40ies.
I don't expect this instrument to be of any great value, but it behaves like I expect, and is even better than what I needed for that purpose - I'll leave it at the office and use it occasionally when there are some gaps in my schedule, probably muted most of the time since it's pretty "loud". It could even be of plywood for that purpose, but I'd say it's good enough to be played in my community orchestra (which isn't bad at all, except myself maybe...)
Edited: May 23, 2018, 1:59 PM · It sound warm, rather big, and is even on all the strings except the C which is a little bit more cello-ish than the rest. It is playable up into 6th position at least, in all strings. Don't guess I will need more. So why do I need another one?!

Easily said. I'm shallow enough to desire a beautiful instrument with a lovely or neutral smell. And - it's so large! 42,5 to 42,8 cm back length (depends on how I measure) or 38,2 cm vibrating string length really feels like a workout! After half an hour of this, the cute little Viola I tend to like most at the moment (41,8 cm back, 37,5 cm VSL) feels almost like a 3/4...

May 23, 2018, 2:22 PM · you can't appraise your own instruments with wishful thinking, that's what experts are for, I'm not an expert, but I know who to trust.
May 23, 2018, 2:42 PM · Lyndon. Believe me, cosmetically it is a piece of firewood. You'd need no expert to judge that. And ha, you most probably would not sell it in your shop, and be it under the counter! Not even after a few hours of workup. But it's an irritating subject, because the looks don't fit to how it is useful as an instrument.

No, I'm definitely no expert. Just an enthusiastic late starter with the one or other background. Maybe I can divide instruments into very raw categories, like crap / okay / decent / breathtaking, and I'm heavily biased in this by my own preferences and disabilities. But hey, it's not that I'd say, this viola is worth a fortune! Rather the opposite. But anyhow, it's not important if it's market value is €100, €500 or €1500 (after a little bit of workup) since it serves it's purpose and would be hard to resell for more than I paid anyhow. It's perfect for the office or cottage - if someone really wants to take it, let him have it... No need to heavily lock it away.

May 23, 2018, 3:26 PM · I'm pretty sure a Paolo Leonari would not look like firewood, you don't earn prizes for shoddy workmanship.
Edited: May 23, 2018, 9:52 PM · First price won at Cremona 1949, at age 46. Mine is from 1946, when he would have been 43. The wood from back and top itself is beautiful, back highly flamed, top spruce evenly medium to wide grained, nice scroll. Can't judge the varnish, it's quite beaten up. Accurately cut nice f-holes. Neck is straight, can't find any technical details which aren't fine. What isn't perfectly accurate is the purfling, this looks like done by someone who knows how to do it, but doesn't do it very regularly. You have to take a third look to find it's beauties because the top is heavily damaged but only superficially, no structural issues.

"Credited with 40 violins, nine violas, eight cellos, three viols,...." Makes about 60 instruments in total. First instrument I could find dates from 1932 so he should have had some experience 14 years later. Sounds like 1-2 instruments per year.

Let's see what my luthier says when he'll get it for set up optimization within the next weeks.

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