Any advice on selling a violin? Please help

Edited: May 23, 2018, 7:39 PM · I am posting this on behalf of my father who cannot speak English fluently. I am just a student. I am not a musician and my knowledge in this area is essentially non-existent.

My father purchased a violin by Lorenzo Ventapane, Naples c 1840 for $100,000 from a dealer/expert shop in Chicago in 2005 for my sister. Long story short, my sister became ill, and our family decided that she can no longer play the violin in 2011.

In May of 2011, we entered into a consignment agreement with the same dealer/expert shop in Chicago. It has been 7 years, but the violin has not been sold yet. Our family is going through a very rough time recently as my father's small business recently closed down and he is struggling financially.

I want to help my father sell this violin so that he won't have to declare bankruptcy. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or comments. I live in New York City now. Is there anything I can do to maximize my chance of selling the violin? I would like to know what options are available. Thank you. My email address is

Replies (29)

Edited: May 23, 2018, 7:47 PM · I am no expert on selling violins, but seven years is ridiculously long. I'd be taking the violin back and looking for another dealer. Does your family have papers for this violin, and if so, from whom?

The other obvious question is if the violin is really worth its asking price. When a house doesn't sell at its asking price, often the seller will drop the price until it does sell. I understand why your family might be reluctant to do this, but I am very concerned that perhaps this shop may have overpriced the violin in the first place.

May 23, 2018, 8:53 PM · You could consider auctioning the violin instead. You should find out what's been happening in those seven years, though. What's preventing it from selling?
May 23, 2018, 10:00 PM · The problem with auctions is that often they trade for less that retail. The history of this maker in auctions is good, but not to bring back the paid money.
May 23, 2018, 10:22 PM · Indeed, but there's the trade-off for "get less money now" versus "get more money later when it's much less useful", in the OP's case.
May 24, 2018, 4:15 AM · Mary,

We have papers for this violin, and it's from Bein & Fushi.

Auctioning the violin does sound appealing as well.

Edited: May 24, 2018, 5:10 AM · Dealers buy instruments at violin auctions and often pay 20% over the hammer price. And then sellers can pay hefty commissions, too, as much as 20%. So, for example, if a violin sells for a hammer price of $10,000, the buyer pays the auction house $12,000, the auction house pays the seller $8,000, and the auction house makes $4,000. Nothing wrong with this; the auction houses need to make a profit.

Understand, too, that auction prices are often considered wholesale prices, and therefore about half of a putative retail price.

Therefore, it can benefit both seller and a dealer-buyer to purchase a violin such as this in a private sale to avoid auction fees. You may want to contact some major dealers privately to see if they might be interested. But first be sure that you understand what the estimates are for selling at an auction. Don't necessarily take the first offer you get, and don't be afraid to negotiate.

May 24, 2018, 8:15 AM · Violins, like boats, are famously illiquid. What's the joke? The second happiest day of your life is buying it, and the first happiest is...selling it.

I know a couple of very fine Italian instruments in my area that haven't sold for at least 6 years or longer, including a Storioni and a Ceruti. They have both languished in various shops, including Ye Famous Chicago Shoppe. I believe this price range may be difficult--not in the class that well-heeled soloists would buy, yet out of range for most professionals. Maybe Asian investors are now snapping up real estate on the US West Coast instead of instruments? It's also simply possible that, in spite of the instrument's provenance, it's not as good-sounding as others in its price range.

If you need $$ now, you need to simply auction it. It's only a question of which auction house will give you the best terms.

You may get less than retail value, but that's to be expected. Even if it sold at B&F for $100,000, you'd lose at least 30% in commission anyway. If a violin is in a shop on commission, I don't think the dealer has much incentive to lower the price. It doesn't take up that much room, and they can let it sit for years. They haven't invested a dime in it except to maybe put on some new strings, and they don't have to pay inventory tax (I assume). It could sit there for another 7 years. And when the inevitable recession comes along, even fewer people will look at it.

May 24, 2018, 9:59 AM · I agree with the auction idea.
May 24, 2018, 12:12 PM · In which kind of condition is the violin? 7 years is really quite some time ...
Edited: May 24, 2018, 12:37 PM · Take it to Tarisio in NYC...they auction violins, but also do private sales for some high end stuff. They will discuss reserve price and estimates. Another good, honest shop in NYC is David Segal. Regardless of where you put it, make sure whoever has the violin will check the set-up and make sure it's sounding and playing well! Good luck!
May 24, 2018, 7:36 PM · Tempted to keep silent.... but: keep in mind that good violins appreciate over time. Do not succumb to the pressure and do not disclose your financial situation.
If not appreciated, the price should at least reflect the inflation in the States since 2005.
Another way is to calculate how much gold could you buy for that money in 2005 and how much would be the selling price of the same amount of gold be today.
Lastly, do tell the name of dealer in Chicago, so we can all avoid it like a plague.
p.s. contact Jaime at "Tutti violini" in Toronto. He seems to be a really nice guy and may be able to help you.
May 24, 2018, 7:41 PM · The dealer is mentioned upthread and is exactly who I thought it would be.
May 24, 2018, 9:04 PM · The problem with violins is that they really are non-liquid. They need to get matched to the right owners, which can take a long time to come along.

It looks like there's a Ventapane violin for sale at one of my local shops. Price range is listed at $150k-200k, but whether or not OP's is worth as much is obviously questionable. Condition affects price, of course. Playing quality or collectability (is this is a pristine great sample of the maker's work, say) affects how quickly an instrument is likely to be sold at the given price.

B&F's got a catalog listing for a Ventapane violin for sale, but the description is pretty distinctive. The other featured instruments discuss how fine a specimen those are of the maker's work, and their suitability for performers. The Ventapane listing merely talks about the maker in general and makes no such tonal claims about this violin. If that's the OP's violin, that might be telling.

I consigned a violin to the Chicago shop in question and it took a bit over a year to sell. (It went to a collector.) When I bought that violin originally, it had sat on consignment at Ifshin's for many years.

Edited: May 25, 2018, 3:31 AM · In regards to the comment "do tell the name of dealer in Chicago, so we can all avoid it like a plague," I do not think it is appropriate at all to slander a dealer here when you don't know the whole story or the circumstances of the arrangement.

For example, some owners selling on commission insist on unrealistically high prices despite the best advice of the dealer, and we also don't know if a violin has received good offers that the owner turned down.

May 25, 2018, 6:16 AM · I was just looking back in this thread, and re-read Scott's comment about dealer motivation regarding price.

As far as I know, dealers who are selling on consignment pretty much operate the same way that real estate agents do with their clients. In other words, they work with the client to pick a price (and if the client chooses an unrealistic one, they will be advised as such but the client gets to choose), and they will notify the client of all offers, including lowball offers. The dealer doesn't get a commission 'til it sells, so they are motivated to try to show the violin.

(B&F, as far as I know, was good to me in the sale I did. The buyer was taking a while to come up with funds. I happened to buy a bow at B&F around that time, and when I did, they agreed to take the cost out of what was coming to me in the sales price, so I got the bow and cash back immediately, rather than waiting for the buyer to pay. By the way, I took an offer that was lower than what I had wanted for the violin, but still in a fair range.)

May 25, 2018, 6:24 AM · Lydia,
In a nearby neighborhood there's a building that hasn't sold. Every few months, the price drops a little.

From what I've seen (maybe not all dealers are this way), violin dealers seem loathe to drop a price. They'd rather let it gather dust than discount it.

May 25, 2018, 6:55 AM · I think that's true of direct sales from a dealer, but a consignment is client-priced, isn't it?
May 25, 2018, 9:16 AM · George,
I would suggest trying to understand why it has not sold.
Have people tried it? What were their comments? If the sound isn’t what people like, find a good luthier that can make some modifications. Bottom line, why isn’t it selling and can you fix it?
May 25, 2018, 12:39 PM · 100k sounds like there are already some discount reasons which might take all collectors out of the game.

Bottom line, you need to decide if you can afford to wait for someone who really wants THIS violin for a particular reason (Ventapane fan, sound, look, whatever), then it is 100k or might some percent less, or if you would accept to sell for much less to someone who would just buy it because of the buy price vs. retail price ratio, a kind of transferring the risk of not selling it.

May 25, 2018, 1:01 PM · FYI, in my experience, B&F wanted to make some very significant set-up changes to the violin I was selling, that they felt would materially improve the sound. I agreed to let them do as they saw fit. (The violin was already pretty optimally set up from my perspective, previously, but since I wasn't intending to ever play it again, I reckoned "do whatever will get me the most money" was reasonable.)

I once tried a Scarampella at a west coast violin shop that had been there for almost 10 years. The dealer told me, after I really did not like the sound, that every player who had tried it felt similarly. But a Scarampella is worth $X regardless of playing quality, the seller wanted something close to $X, and it was apparently a fabulous physical specimen of a Scarampella, so it basically needed to sit until just the right collector came along (i.e., someone who was going to vault it and had zero interest in how it played).

Edited: May 25, 2018, 7:09 PM · If you have the guts to issue papers claiming that violin is such and such and worth x dollars, you better be able to sell it for the same amount minus commission you took during the 1st deal. Conflict of interest in issuing papers for instrument your are selling aside, if you commission was unreasonably high, how on Earth will you do the math this time without disclosing it?

Well, you pretend that everything is kosher and hope that you will pull the same rabbit from the same hat for the 2nd time. Guess what? You can not!

We all know that dealers have to make a living, but this does not sound good. A violin with a genuine lineage and pedigree, unless terribly damaged in the meantime, should retain most of its value and even appreciate in just 6 years. This especially if we are talking about 100k orbit, unreachable to most of us mere mortals.

May 26, 2018, 7:07 AM · There's an argument to be made that after more than a year or two at a particular dealer, that it's worthwhile to consign it elsewhere. In that time period, the dealer will have already shopped the violin to their usual clients, so now you're just hoping that the right buyer will randomly wander by the shop. B&F usually does one-year consignment contracts, as far as I know, so the OP has no obligation to leave it there.

The problem with high-end violins is the delta between what they are theoretically worth, and the willingness of any given individual to actually buy the thing for that amount of money. Violin buyers are all kind of quirky, and they are not doing the equivalent of buying the car. They are doing the equivalent of choosing a spouse.

Edited: May 26, 2018, 9:21 AM · QUESTION:

Have you actually laid eyes and hands on the violin recently? If not, it might be a good idea to make an appointment to "visit" with the instrument.

At this point in time the auction route would be best. The market is soft, in spite of what we are seeing in the economic indicators published by the government. Also, some shops have a consignment contract that outline what you, the owner, will be paid out, not what the instrument will be offered for, and in spite of some folks in this thread suggesting that what is asked for a violin is up to the owner, that isn't what often happens.

I suggest the auction route only because if one declares insolvency the court/creditors will probably order the sale of the instrument as part of the process and it will probably end up going to auction anyway.

May 30, 2018, 6:59 PM ·
Advertise it in Dubai.Just a thought.A semi serious thought.
May 31, 2018, 5:12 AM · Lydia wrote: "Violin buyers are all kind of quirky, and they are not doing the equivalent of buying the car. They are doing the equivalent of choosing a spouse."

Still laughing at this :-).

May 31, 2018, 5:21 AM · "They are doing the equivalent of choosing a spouse."
There is a video on Youtube of Gitlis talking to his fiddle, and about their arranged marriage. 'Arranged' in the sense that it was not really a choice. He popped into his local violin shop, needing a golden period Strad fast, and they were clean out of stock apart from one from 1713, so he was stuck with it. Pretty, no doubt, but he said it took him a year and half to get to know her.
Edited: May 31, 2018, 6:03 AM · It's the same as choosing a spouse. . . if you feel that you can trade in your spouse for a different one in a year or two, or sell spouse if same doesn't fill all your needs.

I would say that one of the biggest impediments of violinists searching for a violin is that they treat the purchase as a marriage when IT REALLY IS NOT!

May 31, 2018, 5:52 AM · It's more like choosing a house, realistically speaking. :-)

(But I can certainly think of people who have traded spouses like that...)

May 31, 2018, 6:04 AM · A house--yes, I can go with that.

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