Written by Andy Fein, Stefan Aune, & Angela NewgrenSo, you think you found a Stradivarius? Unfortunately, you probably didn't. Even if the instrument has a Stradivarius label and has been in your family for generations, it probably is not a Stradivarius!
First, Stradivarius was a real person (Antonius Stradivarius). He was born in Cremona, Italy in 1644 and he worked there until his death in 1737. If you have an instrument that is dated outside the timeline of Antonius Stradivarius's life, it is not a Stradivarius. If you have an instrument that's marked "Made in Germany" or "Made in Czechoslovakia", it's definitely not a Stradivarius.
In 1891 The McKinley Tariff Act was signed into law in the United States.
The law stated that any items imported into the United States had to be labeled with the country of origin. In 1914 the act was revised to state that the label must include "made in." It is too bad the United States didn't come up with this law during Antonius Stradivarius' life (Oh wait - in that time there wasn't even a Declaration of Independence). So if you have an instrument that includes a country of origin, it is not a Stradivarius. Many "fake" Strads say "Made in Germany" - and none of these are an authentic Stradivarius.
Back then, Stradivarius included on his labels his name, the Latin version of his city's name, and the year it was made.
|Here is an example of a real Stradivarius label|
Since Stradivarius instruments were of such high quality, other makers (some in mass production) have copied his label in order to gain a profit. Sears and Wards sold "Genuine" Stradivarius violins out of their catalogs for decades. These were German and Czech production instruments that were made cheaply and sold inexpensively. These are your archetypal $5 fiddles.
|A Sears Roebuck 1900s advertisement for a "Genuine" Stradivarius|
Since Stradivarius's time hundreds of thousands of violins have been copied using his name on the label.
In Stradivarius's shop, around 2,000 instruments were made (including violas, cellos, guitars, etc). Although that is a high number for any luthier to produce, those numbers just can't be matched by the number of fake Stradivarius instruments in existence. Of those approximately 2,000 instruments made by Stradivarius, only about 650 are accounted for. Each of the existing Stradivarius instruments is documented and well known.
Generally, an instrument in good condition increases in value through time. Since a few hundred years have passed, these (real) Stradivarius's have gone up in value. His instruments were made for royalty, wealthy people, and elite performers. Since the beginning of his time producing instruments under his own name, Stradivarius was a well known and highly valued violin maker.
Where are the other 1,350 or so instruments? Most have been lost, broken or destroyed. Floods, fires, vandalism, theft, jealous lovers, hurricanes, wars and time have taken their toll. So maybe there is a very, very, very small chance that the Stradivarius labeled violin sitting in your attic really is a Stradivarius... But probably not. How unlikely? You are more likely to be zapped by lightning while reading this blog. You're more likely to win the lottery AND be zapped by lightning while reading this blog. Still here? Then you probably don't have a Stradivarius.
If you still think you have a Stradivarius, many violin shops offer an appraisal service. Take your instrument to an expert and expect to pay for an appraisal. Talk is cheap, knowledge costs money.
We offer appraisals in our shop and online. Yes, we charge for appraisals. In our shop, a verbal appraisal (just talking) is $35.00 and a written appraisal (for insurance purposes) is $75.00. Online, we need to see a number of accurate pictures and measurements (that you would take for us). The cost of an online appraisal is $100.00. Those costs are a reflection of Andy's time, experience and expertise. We often get the question, "Well, how do I know if it's worth appraising." The answer is, the cost does not reflect the potential value of the instrument. The cost reflects the value of the time, knowledge and consultation you are receiving. So, the real question is, "Is it worth the cost To You to find out about the instrument that you have. Re-read this article. You might be able to save yourself some money and come to your own conclusion. For free!