Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So You Think You Found a Stradivarius

Written by Andy Fein, Stefan Aune, & Angela Newgren

So, 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
Although that is a real Stradivarius label, there have been copies made to look similar. Not all facsimile labels will have a dead give away such as the "Made in Germany" marking.

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
This Sears ad reads "A two piece maple back, beautifully flamed, as shown in the illustration. top of resonant spruce, especially selected; reddish brown varnish, beautifully shaded in imitation of an old violin. The neck and scroll are made of curly maple to correspond with the back and sides The fingerboard and tailpiece of solid ebony. Readily retail at $15.00. No finer model in existence than the celebrated Stradivarius. In addition to the violin as above described, we furnish a regular Artists' Tourte model wood bow, german silver trimmed; ebony frog and button; & a solid wood case, American made, handle and lock: a piece of artists' rosin and a full set of four strings and one of out most valuable and complete instruction books."

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!

9 comments:

  1. This looks great, I sooo need to try this soon! Thanks!

    visit our site http://valuethisnow.tumblr.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have I violin with a label that says “Antonius Stradivarius Germonelis Faciebat Anno 17 Made in Germany” and there’s a logo on the label with AS initials on it. How can I know if it’s a fake or a real one?

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    Replies
    1. Yasmina, If you read the above blog post, you'll have your answer. First clue- Antonius Stradivarius worked in Italy, not Germany.

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  3. Hi my mate has a strad with the same words in it however date looks faded and no country of origin noted. Any thoughts?

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    Replies
    1. Hey Niki .... I read your question and noticed no one responded. Here is one piece of advice from the article to consider:: "..... So if you have an instrument that includes a country of origin, it is not a Stradivarius" The other is:: " 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."

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  4. What happened to the 93 violins that were in his shop at his death? They were certainly authentic, and the date penciled in when sold, i.e. the messiah

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  5. I believe it is true to say that there is always a Maltese Cross on the label of any genuine Stradivarius. Would anyone like to confirm this?

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    Replies
    1. There might be, but the converse- that a supposed Strad label has a Maltese Cross and therefore is genuine, is DEFINITELY, ABSOLUTELY, NOT TRUE. In fact, don't trust anything on a label to identify a Stradivarius. EVER. As above in the blog post, if you're reading this, you probably don't have a Stradivarius.

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  6. I just found one my self yesterday doing renovation to an old house the label reads as

    Antminus stradiwarius cremonenfis

    Faciehat anno 1744
    If 1744 is the year of its make then its a fake since he died in 1737

    ReplyDelete