dealer prices vs auction prices?

January 18, 2019, 8:57 AM · Simple question: is there a simple relationship to estimate dealer sales price from the auction price? Obviously this will vary but perhaps not so much for higher end, good condition, instruments (who's value is fairly well known at the time of the auction).

Replies (33)

January 18, 2019, 9:37 AM · Wholesale (auction) is typically 50% of dealer price. But this is complicated by the fact that more and more players are showing up at auction, which may drive the prices much closer to the price that would be paid to a dealer.
January 18, 2019, 10:08 AM · As Lydia has said auction prices are siginicantly lower than dealer prices.

I presume you don't get to take an instrument on trial or to take it to a luthier for a check over, unless you bring one with you on the day. This makes it a much more risky affair buying from an auction house.

January 18, 2019, 11:29 AM · Auction prices can be half or less, than retail prices.
January 18, 2019, 12:03 PM · So the "MacDonald" viola offered at 45 million dollars a while back would cost 90 million in a shop!! However, no-one bought it, even at this generous 50% off!!!
January 18, 2019, 12:06 PM · Adrian - perhaps the more expensive the violin, the lower the markup? I mean if it was 10% you would still make 4.5 million$!

But thanks for the ratio guys. :)

January 18, 2019, 12:12 PM · It also depends on whether the fiddle is a "diamond in the rough" -- if it needs repair.
January 18, 2019, 2:14 PM · As far as I know, when Strads are auctioned, it's never assumed that a dealer will win. It will usually be bought by a foundation or the like. The cost to have it repaired is trivial compared to the sales price, and the buyer is not taking a risk.
January 18, 2019, 3:21 PM · After I have been to a couple of auctions I gave up since I rarely found something completely attractive.

The point is that for the seller of a fine and good sounding instrument, which has a vital market, the loss is excessive compared to other ways of selling. So the only reasons to go to auction would be that she/he is not aware of this or has too much time pressure to wait for a year on commission.

So, what is left might often be violins which have been rejected by dealers before.

I was really interested once in a Gatti and later a Genovese ... both became a new auction record for the maker, respectively, and beyond 50% of retail for those makers. I once travelled to London because a Marchetti with good certificate. Pictures were ok, but in reality it was only 50% of a Marchetti in terms of workmanship and sound. And so it was sold for an accordingly low price.

When you mix that with the fact you have no time for trial or detailed expection by a third party, the prices seem justified.

January 18, 2019, 3:27 PM · And to add: My guess for Strads etc. would be (unfortunately never had that situation on my own) that you can negotiate to pay no or only little premium since the expected buyer's premium is how and the prestige and advertisement is good for the auction house.

This takes you closer to commissioning ratios and the high awareness in auction might be positive by creating a bidder fight.

So compared to "normal" violins, I see good reasons to take a >1m€ instrument to auction. But this is only my guess.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 4:44 PM · It is never simple in the violin trade...

Auction prices are no longer "wholesale", and some auction prices are retail or above. Condition and provenance are important, but many instruments in auctions today are there for a reason:the shops can't sell them. I sometimes consult regarding auction instruments and bows for clients. The first thing that I tell them is to ask themselves why the item is at auction.
With knowledge, you can purchase at auction. You can purchase an instrument that sounds good, to you, and meets your needs as a musician, but without knowledge, or someone who can assist you with that part of the equation, you really can not know the true condition nor what it is beyond the auction house attribution, so purchasing with an eye toward the violin being an investment vehicle is dangerous.

So, is there a simple relationship? No, there is not.

When the Tarisio Auction goes online, the first instruments that I view are the ones that are described as, "An Interesting Violin".

January 18, 2019, 6:14 PM · Auctions are just another tool whereby the dealers keep us guessing.
January 19, 2019, 2:57 AM · Duane says it well. The first violin I bought at auction is still my favourite. A dealer friend who looked at it later said he "wouldn't touch it with a barge pole" but I love it to bits. My second auction violin plays beautifully but had a warped neck that added 60% to the price. I also bought an "interesting" violin with a hand-written label saying Carlo Bergonzi. After taking it apart to reglue the tailpin block and selling it for a small loss I'm still not sure what was supposed to be "interesting" about it. The latest violin I bought for £500 and sold for £1000 - result! After costs the profit was only about £200 and that soon got put towards an auction viola so my joy is likely to be short-lived. Bottom line: violin auctions are exciting and fun but never bid more than you can afford to lose.
January 19, 2019, 11:08 AM · "Auctions are just another tool whereby the dealers keep us guessing."

I don't think it's that nefarious. Dealers simply go to auctions looking for violins to buy and sell at a profit.

They're not looking to keep anyone guessing--just get a decent return on what is very often a big gamble.

February 5, 2019, 2:23 AM · First of all...those selling and buying strads in auctions are not posting on this site. So for the rest of us...the one unique attribute that an auction provides is transparency. So for example imagine someone dies and has a valuable violin or bow and has five kids for whom the will says to split everything evenly. If you sell privately someone could suspect some kind of favortism or foul play. Selling in an auction is totally transparent. BTW I have never sold anything in an auction and purchased once....and got outbid a number of times.
February 5, 2019, 1:18 PM · Certainly nothing wrong with becoming a more educated buyer.I'm guessing you refer to in person auction as opposed to online auctions? I think higher prices are likely expected at the in person types of auctions.These would be instruments that have been valuated properly , or at least that would be the expectation.Unless there are specified dealer only auctions?
Edited: February 5, 2019, 1:54 PM · Occasionally, auction prices will be higher than retail. Think about it: if a bow you’d pay $8,000 for is priced at $7,500 by a dealer, you pay the amount and walk away. At an auction, you might compete with someone who shares your taste.

That said, there is more risk at an auction, which keeps prices down a fair bit. Private buyers can’t easily unload a misjudgment on a customer. The perfect instrument at a discount/trade price? Lovely! Something you grow tired of because you didn’t get to try it for a week, yecch! So you need to be very sure if you are buying for yourself.

February 5, 2019, 2:42 PM · I guess I should explain a bit. The original reason I asked is because you can often find auction prices for violins (listed by the auction houses) whereas it may be more difficult to find them by dealers (especially for sought-after luthiers). Thus, if you are looking at an instrument at a dealership its useful to know the average auction/dealer price ratio just to be sure you are not way over the going price.
February 6, 2019, 12:26 PM · I don't blame dealerships for this approach, meaning the fact that there doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule. They likely have a minimum markup
they need to have in order to get by and it could go up from there.

Though I don't believe haggling is encouraged in most dealerships, if I were to come in armed with the right information and questioned a price based on my information, my expectation would be that they would consider another offer based on good solid information, possibly also based on close competition, especially if the difference is small compared to the whole amount and they still stood to make a decent profit.

I think you might find it all depends on the violin in question and how many other people are after it. I would expect a dealer to authenticate the violin for instruments in the upper price brackets.Otherwise value is in question. I believe at least half of that responsibility rests on the buyer.
If the maker is a well known luthier, then there should be some easy to point to characteristics that can authenticate the instrument. In the end though, for me at least, a very large question is how does it play and sound? Of course actually buying from a luthier from work bench to studio seems tough to beat in my opinion.

February 6, 2019, 2:03 PM · That's not the case, Timothy. Price haggling is the norm for instruments at almost all dealers. This is especially true if the instrument is a consignment. Sellers are often willing to negotiate the price in order to get their money sooner rather than waiting for another buyer to come along.

Most dealers don't authenticate instruments themselves. Certificates from respected authorities on a particular maker are the norm.

February 6, 2019, 10:16 PM · "Thus, if you are looking at an instrument at a dealership its useful to know the average auction/dealer price ratio just to be sure you are not way over the going price."

Prices for instruments are not based on the auction price, so good luck trying to figure out some kind of magic "ratio" to try and guarantee yourself a "fair" price, whatever that is. Prices are based on what the dealer thinks someone will pay for the instrument, and takes into account condition, what others are selling a similar instrument for, etc. Also remember that many of the violins at a dealer are consignment, and not from an auction. So if a dealer has two of a maker on consignment and gets a third from an auction, the auction instrument has to be priced relative to the other ones, not what the auction price was.

I have never had difficulty finding out prices from dealers: call and ask.

People need to stop worrying about auction prices. They are of limited value.

Edited: February 7, 2019, 1:11 AM · @ Tom Utsch: Selling in an auction is not necessarily totally transparent. I have the personal experience of selling items from an estate, which were delivered en masse to a lesser-known auction house. I had a time constraint so I couldn't pick and choose.

The items were auctioned, but without publicity of any kind. When I saw the pennies on the dollar that the items received, I couldn't believe it: there was some rather valuable stuff there.

If an auction house were to not properly publicize the items, they would have little chance of selling; so - theoretically of course - a stooge could step in, buy the lot for pennies, and then re-sell at a high profit.

I'm not saying that it happened to me, but when I sold something through Bonhams they published it in a glossy book and posted it online.

February 7, 2019, 9:37 AM · @Lydia Leong
"That's not the case, Timothy. Price haggling is the norm for instruments at almost all dealers. This is especially true if the instrument is a consignment. Sellers are often willing to negotiate the price in order to get their money sooner rather than waiting for another buyer to come along."
Thanks Lydia,
Then my conclusion is the prices are at the high retail end because the dealer expects that to happen.The fact that shops I've been in didn't have posted prices always concerned me. Unless I was in Ed's music store and he's selling low end imports.
February 7, 2019, 10:13 AM · Student instruments that have a model number generally have public prices, because prices are easily compared online. You can still haggle, though. Shops may throw in a case for free, for instance.
February 15, 2019, 7:47 AM · I really need to thank this thread, it sent me off down an internet rabbit hole and I ended up watching a live auction and now I have a lovely old violin.
February 15, 2019, 7:55 AM · Brent when you say live auction do you mean live streamed internet auction or an in person auction? Can you elaborate a little more? Thanks.
Edited: February 15, 2019, 11:31 AM · Tom, are you positive when you state no one buying or selling a Stradivari posts here? How much are you willing to wager on that? :)

Auctions like Tarisio are good for sellers because they get a lot of traffic and you can have a better chance of selling something within a certain timeframe. The trade off is you’ll probably have to accept getting less as a seller than you would selling through a dealer. Unfortunately in the case of lots of dealers, the violins they have on consignment, sit in their vaults for years and some charge exorbitant amounts to pay for their high overhead in rent or donations to the Church of Scientology. As a buyer you can sometimes get great deals at a auction like Tarisio for a fraction of the cost you’d pay for the same violin at a big dealer in a metropolis. 1 of my friends within the last 3 years purchased a violin by a major maker from the past at auction for far less than what it would go for at a dealer. The instrument is in great condition too!

February 15, 2019, 12:37 PM · Nate: Xenu is watching...
February 15, 2019, 1:03 PM · You’re probably right Duane. I guess I won’t be getting their L. Ron Hubbard discount...
Edited: February 15, 2019, 1:50 PM · Out of curiosity for the veteran buyers/sellers on this board (not trying to derail the conversation from auctions, but curious about prices):

If someone at a dealer asks you what your budget is, what is the most effective way for an amateur to answer this question? And what is the best way to ask to try instruments by certain modern makers and how do you determine the price?

I feel like my prevailing wisdom is to play this stuff close to the chest. If you say you want a $1000 violin, isn't that spilling too much information to the seller? Or just begging them to upsell you a $1200 instrument? In my case I have a budget in mind, but I'm flexible to go a little higher for something if I find the one. If I try a Billy Bob violin that's priced at $10000, how do I know that's what a Billy Bob typically sells for, and do so without giving away too much of my own flexibility?

EDIT: For reference I think my ideal would be a really sick modern instrument. Something that a touring pro could play on.

February 15, 2019, 3:22 PM · James,
If you don't tell me what you budget is it makes it difficult for me to help you. I will show you instruments within your budget, but if your budget keeps changing then it makes it more difficult for both of us. I don't upsell, but that is probably why I drive a 10 year old vehicle!

If you are more interested in a "really sick modern instrument" then why not contact the makers directly? I like to sell instruments made by the living who are actually people I know, but they are more difficult than older instruments to move mainly because of prejudice in the market that old instruments are better than new ones.

February 15, 2019, 4:11 PM · My experience with violin shops is that in the student price ranges, they'll just show you violins. A few hundred dollars tends not to make much of a difference. You might find that an $1800 violin is pretty comparable to a $2000 violin, or to a $2200 violin, for instance. They are all essentially in a single price band. As you go up in price, the bands get larger. The difference between a maker that typically sells their violins for $12k and one that typically sells their violins for $18k might not be meaningful.

For many makers, the volume of those violins that are being sold -- especially older deceased makers who didn't make a lot of violins -- is too small to really set a "good" price. You don't really have a great way of evaluating the accuracy of Billy Bob's violin pricing, so you mostly have to decide whether or not it's worth it to you if it doesn't resell for what you might hope.

Contemporary violins made by living makers are priced in shops at least in part based on what current commissions from those makers cost. Note, though, that there's no true "consistency" in maker pricing. Makers can choose to lower their price in order to get quicker sales, or make fewer sales (and make fewer violins, but perhaps do more marketing) for higher prices, potentially.

February 15, 2019, 5:23 PM · Thanks Lydia and Duane,

I suppose it's somewhat of an artifact of a the current [year] that we are so used to things having transparent pricing on the internet. With violins, many of which are pieces of art in and of themselves, it's so difficult to know what you're getting yourself into without a lot of experience buying and selling (and I can't afford to buy and sell violins for fun).

Playing a Whedbee tomorrow though, maybe it'll be good. There was a user on these boards who wrote a really nice post about hunting for a modern instrument. I would like to write one of those blogs myself to "give back" and I think the process will improve my ability to critically listen and evaluate the instruments.

February 18, 2019, 4:08 AM · @Timothy It was a live stream of an auction taking place in an auction house. I was able to bid for items in the auction via the Internet. I should be getting the violin back from the luthier I took it to this week. It needed some love.

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