Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So You Think You Found a Stradivarius

Written by Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
Stefan Aune, & Angela Newgren

So, you think you found a Stradivarius? Unfortunately, YOU PROBABLY DID NOT FIND A STRADIVARIUS! It probably is not a Stradivarius!
A real Stradivarius violin. You probably do not have one. 
Even if the instrument has a Stradivarius label and has been in your family for generations, YOU PROBABLY DON'T HAVE 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. Even if you have a violin that isn't marked "Made in Germany" or "Made in Czechoslovakia" and even if the date is from the 1700s- YOU PROBABLY DON'T HAVE A STRADIVARIUS.
The 'Messiah' Stradivarius. No, your "Stradivarius" does not look exactly like this.

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 our most valuable and complete instruction books." These violins are NOT violins made by Antonius Stradivarius. BUT, it's probably what you have- an inexpensive and not very valuable German or Czech copy.

Since Stradivarius's time, hundreds of thousands of violins have been copied using his name on the label. And, unfortunately, most of these "fake Stradivarius" are not very valuable. You'll find them all over eBay, Craigslist, other used instruments sites, and tucked away in attics, basements, closets, and barns, for anywhere from free to a few hundred dollars. Sorry! You read that right. Most of the violins with Stradivarius labels are not worth much. How much? Anywhere from nothing ($0.00) to maybe a few hundred dollars (if you're lucky and you find the next sucker that thinks you're selling a real Stradivarius). 

A surprisingly common story I hear is that someone's long lost relative took this supposed "Stradivarius" as payment for a gambling debt or some other debt. And they've passed the violin down "for generations" as something very valuable and not to be sold for cheap. Well, unfortunately, that long lost relative got snookered. It's not a Stradivarius!

Another common story is that your grandparent, your great grandparent, or some other distant relative, brought over this violin as one of their few and treasured possessions from "the old country". Sorry, most of those violins are not instruments made by Stradivarius. Even if the label is in Latin and is very hard to read, you probably don't have a Stradivarius!

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.
The pegbox & scroll from the 'Messiah' Stradivarius. No, your violin does not look exactly like this

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.
The 'Hochstein' Stradivarius, made circa 1715. Your violin does not look exactly like this either

We offer appraisals in our shop and online. Yes, we charge for appraisals. Update: Due to the pandemic, we are only doing appraisals 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!

Do you "just want someone to take a look at it"? That would be called an APPRAISAL. The costs are in the paragraph above. My joking answer to that question (which I've heard thousands of times!) is- " Just want me to "take a look at it"? That will be $200!" Currently, $100.00 is the cheapest evaluation service you'll get from our shop.

What's the logical conclusion to all of the above information?-

If you have read this far and still think you have a Stradivarius violin, will it help convince you otherwise if you read the same general information from the Smithsonian? The Smithsonian is our nation's foremost museum and a great authority on many antiques, including supposed "Stradivarius" violins. Go ahead, read the article.

Lastly, please don't call us up and try to read the label to us. The label is probably fake and reading the label to us will not help us identify or evaluate your instrument.  If you want to know about who made the violin and its value, please have it APPRAISED!

Addendum August, 2023- Our Appraisal price has increased. The current cost is $115.00.

If you would like a Stradivarius MODEL violin, check out our online shop!


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

    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."

  2. 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

  3. 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?

    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.

  4. 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

  5. Thank you very much I found an old crusty replica at a swap meet and want to give it to a youngster who plays a violin. Your info should give her an idea of its value as a 'Wall Hanger'...

  6. Thanks for the info! I've always wondered about all the fake Strads out there and wondered what a real label should look like.

  7. Just saw this blog. It's very good - and witty as I would expect. Thanks for writing it. I will be sure to steer people toward it when the topic comes up (and surprisingly, it DOES).

  8. Thank you for this . . . I have my Grandfathers Chezlovakian Strad from the 1920s. .. not sure how much it is worth but the tone is great. Just had it fixed up. and I haven't been zapped yet. I will be honest when I saw the label for the first time my heart did skip thinking that it might be the real thing but . . . the 'made in' was a bit of a give away.

  9. I notice in this discussion that no one has mentioned, even Fein Violins Stradivari's use of the "Sotto la Disciplina"...label that was used when he had significant help from one or both sons, or that Stradivari did not want to take full responsibility for one of his creations, for whatever the reason, but there are a very small number of these Strads that exist around the world, probably less than a dozen. They are none-the-less Stradivari's. Christopher Reuning & Sons has one and recently Tarisio did a study of the "Blagrove" by Omobono Stradivari. Sotto la Disciplina means "under the direction or supervision of....Most of those labels were removed after Stradivari's death. I have one, also.

    1. I wrote about that subject here-

  10. I owned a fake Stradivarius dated 1737 in a beautiful wooden case. I paid $1000.00 to restring & bring back to perfect condition.
    In 1990 I sent it from New Zealand to Canada for my neice to play in a concert.
    It was stolen at Hawaii's Continental Airlines freight department.
    It was insured but I only received $7.00 as Continental airlines freight declared bankruptcy.
    If anyone has heard of any violin that could be this one could you please go to the police .I would love to have it back.
    Thanks very much
    Rob Eggers.

    New Zealand.

  11. Thanks, great blog. Very informative and humorous .

  12. Hilarious and well fitting!
    Sorry I didn't read your article before I called.
    Thank you- SW Razorback

  13. Curious if any of the fake ones are actually decent instruments. Is it worth an appraisal to find out?

    1. Yes, there are great instruments that are mislabeled. Depending on the actual maker's reputation, the choice of wood, the craftsmanship, and condition, it may be worth an appraisal.

  14. I've recently become the custodian of the old family violin with a very accurate looking Strad label that noone in the family has ever believed to be true. But I figured, 'eh, may as well google'. Thank you for this very entertaining confirmation that we've been right all along! lol

  15. I know perfectly well I don't have a Strad; I have a Fein!