Friday, February 5, 2010

Is it a Stradivarius? An Appraisal

As a violin dealer, I often am asked whether an old violin owned by a customer might be a Stradivarius. The following is an appraisal of an instrument of the kind typically brought to me labeled inside as a Stradivarius. Is it a real Strad? Read on and find out!

Appraisal dated January 31, 2010

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your inquiry about your violin. I have examined the photos and will offer you my opinion on your instrument. Disclaimer: It is always difficult to do a complete assessment of an instrument through photos.

General Remarks: Your violin appears to be a copy of a Stradivari made circa 1900. My guess is that it was made in Germany although it could have been made in Czechoslovakia. The borders were not as defined during that era as they are today. From the photos, the violin appears to be in reasonably good shape although I did note a few top cracks. There did not appear to be any soundpost cracks in the top or back, which is good. The other cracks can be repaired should you choose to do so. In addition the violin is in need of standard set-up work, which would include new pegs, nut, plane fingerboard, bridge, soundpost, tailpiece, tail wire, fine tuner(s), end button and strings. The violin appears to need a few corner grafts and some cosmetic work such as cleaning and retouch. From what I can tell both bows would be more cost effective to replace than to fix.


1. It is hard to see in this photo but there is a crack ascending from the saddle on the right side. Also there is a crack that originates from under the chinrest. Because of the angle this photo was taken the ff holes appear to be elongated and resemble Guarneri ff holes rather than Stradivari, but I think if the photo were taken straight on they would resemble Stradivari ff holes. Also the fingerboard appears to be ebony (rather than maple dyed black) and the purfling (the alternating black and white strips around the edge) is inlaid. This gives an indication of the quality of the instrument. Strad copies circa 1900 were made by the thousands and of varying degrees of quality. The very cheap copies did not have ebony fingerboards, or pegs and did not have inlaid purfling.

2. This ff hole resembles a Stradivari ff hole and it is easy to see that the purfling is inlaid. To restore this violin to pristine condition both corners in this photo should have a corner graft, which is where new wood is added and varnished to bring the corners back to the original condition. There is also a bit of denting in the C bout. This could be steamed to bring out the crushed wood and then retouched with varnish to make it look great. This would be for cosmetic purposes.

3. This photo shows the neck joint and the ebony fingerboard. This is shot helps to date the violin because the original varnish is unbroken where the neck joins the ribs and the back button. If the violin were made prior to 1850 the neck and fingerboard would be short (ie baroque) or the original neck would have been replaced to bring the violin to modern standards which would include a higher neck projection and a longer neck and fingerboard.

4. I cannot make out the stamp on this bow but I suspect that it says Japan. It appears to be a cherrywood stick. This was a very inexpensive bow in it’s day and the repairs needed would greatly exceed the value of this bow. To most dealers this bow has no “salvage” value.

5. This photo does not show much detail but an educated guess would be that this is a brazilwood bow of German origin. If you look carefully on the stick behind the frog you may see the word “GERMANY” stamped into the stick. It appears that the hair has been left tight for many years and there is significant warping in the stick of the bow, both under the winding and I suspect further down on the stick. The ebony frog appears to be nickel mounted. Better bows generally have silver mountings. As with the other bow, the repairs required to get this bow into playing condition would greatly exceed the value of the bow.

Summary: In my opinion this is a classic “Strad Copy” violin that most violin dealers see on a daily basis. This type of violin was manufactured by the thousands from 1875 to 1940. These instruments were widely distributed by mail-order venues such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. There were various grades of these violins made. A dealer typically looks at overall workmanship and other quality indicators such as inlaid purfling and if the fingerboard is ebony, also if the varnish is spirit (alcohol) or oil based. I will not offer a repair estimate on this violin because that can vary from shop to shop and from region to region. In perfect condition this violin could sell for anywhere from $200.00 to $2,000.00 and again that depends upon the region, the dealer and the market. Keep in mind that an object is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. In the mid-west (USA) this violin, in good playable condition, should sell for $600.00 - $1,000.00.

Respectfully submitted,
Sheila Graves
Violin Dealer, Simply Violin

1 comment:

  1. Sheila,

    I have a possible Stradivarius,

    My Grandmothers letter in 1972 to Sothebys, makes reference to my great grandmother listening to her great grandfather playing it for her on the way over from England. Original case was square with a red velvet interior.

    I understand that you probably cannot confirm that this is original, but maybe that I have enough to continue my investigations.

    Is there an email that i can send you pictures,
    Michael Ocoyne