Auction estimates

May 1, 2020, 3:32 PM · Can anyone help me understand how to interpret auction estimates, say for Tarisio's T2 auctions?

Tarisio is a bit vague, saying that they are based on "market trends" and "recent auction sales" but I'm curious about the following:

- Is the estimate a reasonable proxy for appraisal value? Or for what one would pay retail?

- Does it take condition into account? Or is it based on the general market price for instruments of the same age/provenance?

Replies (9)

May 1, 2020, 6:29 PM · haven't done any instrument auctions yet, but have done plenty of other types. It involves a lot of reading between the lines, and learning how to interpret their ideas to make a sale and how that may actually pan out in real life. it is up to you to determine if you like the instrument enough to take a chance on it and what you are willing to gamble for it. Any information you can find by research and inspection is vitally important to success.
May 1, 2020, 6:46 PM · A knowledgeable appraiser will base the estimate on previous bids, market trends and the condition of the item. However they cannot control who will bid.

My only experience with auctions was 2 years ago auctioning some antique Japanese art items that I forgot were in our basement storage room for 23 years. Everything the estimator at the auction house "priced" went for about what he estimated. But one item went for 50 times his upper estimate. I lucked out, there must have been at least 2 bidders at the auction who knew what it was and knew what they wanted.
You never really know what might happen at an auction.
Lucky me! But I will not by a violin with it.
It will either go to a nursing home or our kids. You know what we hope!

May 1, 2020, 8:34 PM · Auction and retail pricing are different. When you buy an instrument at auction, it comes as-is and without a guarantee of maintenance or trade-in value, so the price is lower. In the past, auctions were almost exclusively attended by dealers or shops who would purchase at a low price, then repair or set up the instruments and sell at retail.

At one time, there was a general rule that auction prices were about half of retail, but in recent years, more and more people have become interested in purchasing online and cutting out the shops. As a result, auction prices have been pushing higher and higher and have started to be closer to retail, as many new buyers make their bids thinking that they’re ahead as long as the hammer price is lower than retail.

Condition is a crucial determining factor in pricing, both at auction and in a retail setting. Market trends and past sales can give rough estimates for the value of a typical pristine example of a maker, but many instruments are not in pristine condition. Auction terminology is carefully chosen to reflect this.

Buying at auction can be a gamble. There are a lot of things to avoid in every auction, and it’s quite difficult to make a good purchase without a professional understanding of instrument construction. Bidding is commonly done online, but viewing the instruments in person is highly recommended to avoid the issues that can’t be seen in online photos.

If you spend the time researching instruments, you might be able to find a good one. Be cautious, though.

Edited: May 1, 2020, 8:48 PM · To back up Andy's response, I once went to try some bows at Tarisio. There was a decent handful from some excellent modern makers, which I tried. Two I liked enough to bid on. One came to me at about half of retail. Of course, I had so little time to evaluate it that I don't care for its sound on my instruments, as brilliantly-made as it is. So feel free to get in touch if you'd like to try it! The other was a Japanese/French bow by Sasano, which had some real sex appeal. Sadly, two others must have thought so, as it went for something like $8,000. Well above estimates, and probably above retail if you knew where to find one in a shop.

There are other more embarrassing stories, so I'll stop there.

As far as the estimates go, the auction house will decide with the seller what the minimum winning bid will be. Usually that is at or below the low estimate in the range. So make a $50 offer on a Strad estimated for $1.5-2.5 million, and it won't be accepted. They'll get the reserve for it or buy it in and try again some other time.

May 2, 2020, 9:41 PM · As far as the T2 auctions, those are for instruments that have had significant damage or are almost impossible to identify. If you’re buying something from that auction, the instrument will need significant repair work or will need to be positively attributed and certified by an expert to appreciate in value. That’s why that category is speculative—in many cases, the instruments are not in playing condition, so you’re bidding in the hope that the instrument will turn out to be something better in the end.
May 3, 2020, 2:34 PM · It sounds like T2 auctions are where all the violins found in attics (and of course initially thought to be genuine Strads by the finders) end up.

But if the T2 estimate range is, say, $1000-1500, are they saying that they think the instrument is worth up to $1500 AS IS, or if one were to invest in any needed repairs/restoration?

Pardon my naive questions; I'm pretty mystified by violin pricing generally.

May 3, 2020, 6:03 PM · So are plenty of experts, I'm guessing. It's a fickle business.
May 3, 2020, 10:52 PM · M.D.,

The T2 prices are As-Is. While it’s true that a lot of the items are things that wouldn’t have a place in the regular auction, many are instruments that are in need of major work. In cases like that, even with a flawless repair, the retail price will have to be lowered to account for the damage.

As an example, say you buy a damaged 1920s Roth violin for $1500 on T2. The repair and setup might cost you $1500 or more if there’s a soundpost crack. When it’s all done you can try to sell it. A pristine 1920s Roth might sell for $10,000, but yours is damaged, so you have to sell for less. If it turns out there’s a soundpost crack, you’re unlikely to get much for it. If all goes well and it sounds good in the end, you might come out ahead.

As exciting as it sounds, the number of amazing deals and spectacular finds is small. The hunt for the needle in the haystack is what draws people in, and there are so many attractive old violins that need work. It’s very easy to be charmed by one and to start dreaming about what it might be like in better condition.

Edited: May 4, 2020, 3:26 AM · Most of the violins you find in auction sales are there because they would be difficult to sell by any other means. If pristine condition is important to you then you'll probably have to buy from a dealer, but if tone and playability are your main concern you may find an more-or-less shabby instrument that suits you for a fraction of what you'd pay for a pristine one of the same manufacture. Bottom-end auctions like Tarisio's T2 and Amati's "Affordable" where you have little or no chance to try out the wares before you buy are aimed at enthusiasts and speculative dealers rather than players.

To answer the OP, estimates are precisely what the word implies - what the auctioneer specifically expects that instrument to sell for in this sale, maybe with a bit added for inducement's sake. What a violin sells for (not forgetting the auctioneer's commission) is less than or equal to its "worth" to the winning bidder at the moment of purchase (before buyer's remorse sets in..), more than its worth to everyone else

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