Dating old violins

Dating old violins

An original label in a violin by Peter Guarneri of Venice , showing the paper's "laid lines. How can you tell if the label in your violin is original? This is an important question in the evaluation of a violin from the 18th or 19th century. In addition to my day-to-day work with fine instruments, the experience of working in an auction house for twelve years has enabled me to observe thousands of antiques.

Dating of violins – The interpretation of dendrochronological reports

August 9, at It is usually a case of the expert having years of contact with similar sorts of instruments in which the origin is actually known. That is why all experts at least the ones I have been fortunate enough to know tended to learn their trade under the guidance of an already established expert. I am by no means any sort of expert myself, although I have had sufficient contact with them over many years to have basic knowledge regarding the sorts of things they look at and do in order to determine origin.

Some of the knowledge too, would probably be better classified under the guise of "black art". By that I mean there are many intangibles they look for that are much easier to visualise in one's mind than put into express words. A picture is worth at least words. The more authentic violins someone has access to, the more they can visualise in their own minds the physical characteristics that identify them.

To be honest, the label on a violin is the last thing a professional appraiser is going to look at during an evaluation in any case. Or at least it should be. The presence of a label does help to confirm the opinion of an expert, certainly. But an accomplished appraiser does not look for a label and then try to find things about the instrument that are consistent with the information depicted on the label. They look for identifying features in the instrument and then would look to the label as a means of confirmation.

Of course, so many violins have false labels, so that in itself is a reason why the label or even many markings does not mean much in terms of an official appraisal. There are many physical features an appraiser will look at. Assuming for example, that the head is authentic, it becomes a good guide in the case of handmade instruments since it can betray the individual style of the maker particularly well.

The specific wood appearance, quality , etc can also an indicator, although one has to be careful with that. For example, even Stradivari used varying qualities of wood depending on the period in which the instrument was made and indeed in response to the cajoling of a rich client for example the magnificent "Duport" cello. Then again, we find some Stradivari violins that even have wood knots in them. But experts can often tell through scientific means whether the same log was used in a number of different instruments which, prima facie, were made by the same maker.

Such a determination would help in authenticating these instruments. The general standard of workmanship and modelling is always a very strong guide for the expert too. For example, the quality of the finish ie tool marks, etc , the inlaying of the purfling, the position of the purfling relative to the edge, thickness of the purfling, treatment of the edges, the "fluting", arching, outline, etc.

These are all indicators to an expert. The varnish used is also an indicator and it is not hard for an expert to see varnish repairs or new layers of varnish added to the original. Different schools used different varnishes and had different methods of application and usually showed a predisposition to using certain colour combinations.

Additionally, particular finishes will age in a specific way. Certain maker's finishes, for example, might be very dry and fragile looking, others might be softer and acquire a beautiful, broken up patina simply through years of exposure and shrinkage. Other means used by experts include looking for markings which might not be visible via external inspection, but are visible via internal inspection.

If you look through the dictionaries of violin makers, for example, there will often be mention made of particular internal markings that distinguish one maker or even one firm from another. Although most of what I have mentioned above relates to the authentication of higher quality handmade instruments, the process is quite similar for workshop grade instruments, although it is not as exhaustive.

Often the process is much easier, because workshop instruments are made in much greater numbers and therefore an appraiser is likely to have seen far more examples. Additionally, workshop instruments tend to be quite consistent in terms of the identifying features good and bad I have mentioned previously.

A firm might also, for example, have a particular range of instruments in which certain price points are reflected in the actual model used i. The best example of this type of practice is probably the Roth firm from Germany. At the lowest end of the scale, a cheap, factory made instrument is going to be immediately obvious to the expert.

There is little dedication shown in terms of the carving, thicknesses, quality or overall finish compared to good handmade instruments. Additionally and getting back to my "black art" comment , the whole thing just lacks any sort of inspiration or sufficent attention to aesthetics. Often, the more modern of these mass produced instruments are sprayed with a polyurethane type of finish that, whilst extremely durable you could almost finish your stairs with it is worlds away from the quality of a good spirit varnish, let alone a high quality oil-based varnish.

I am sorry this has been brief and lacking in specifics, but the process of appraising instruments is something you could fill volumes and volumes of books with. Getting back to what I said earlier though, the more violins a person looks at assuming there is someone there to "guide" them , the easier it becomes to indentify the physical characteristics that define a particular school or firm and as a result the geographical origin and approximate period.

One thing is certain about the experts - they have personally handled huge numbers of instruments. It was a thought of mine that the label could be a secondary thing for in reality don't we buy violins primarily for the sound they produce? Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't: Although I am no longer in the market for an instrument, if I were, I would like to concern myself with both the sound as well as the desirability of the instrument from a collector's perspective.

The thing is that the condition, origin and provenance of an instrument is important to collectors, as well as musicians who consider things other than sound to be important. It is important in terms of the purchase being a quality investment and important in terms of the instrument's valuation. When an appraiser values an instrument, the main factors taken into account are the maker, period and condition. Sound does not come into it, since sound is subjective. In any case, a given maker would already have earned a reputation good or bad through prolonged use of his or her instruments by large numbers of musicians over a very long period of time.

That is basically how Del Gesus and even Strads got their reputation. Del Gesus at the time they were built were almost considered the "poor man's" alternative, whereas nowadays if they come up for sale they often surpass the prices of Strads. Around the same time, instruments like Amatis and Stainers were considered more desirable than Strads on account of the exceptionally easy-speaking qualities of the tone.

So in valuing an instrument, the appraiser can't consider sound, because he or she might not like it, but then someone will walk right on into the shop and love it. In the low price ranges, however, I agree that sound should be the primary consideration, along with condition. At the low end of the price scale, things like resale and investment value are quite secondary.

In a lot of cases like that, players just end up keeping those sorts of instruments as their spare. The question gets tricky when we try to define the monetary value beyond which we feel compelled to factor in the maker, period and condition when we purchase a violin. There is no answer for everyone - I guess it depends upon how desperate we are to acquire an instrument, what level we play at, what we expect the instrument to do for us and how much money we have.

August 12, at If we were asked to hazard a figure we should answer about half the remuneration paid to his greater contemporary I agree of course that there were far lesser makers around than commanded lower prices, but the instruments of those makers have not appreciated in value to anywhere remotely near the same extent of Del Gesu's work. Del Gesu violins when new were considered a budget alternative for people of little financial means, yet now they are arguably the most expensive and coveted instruments of all.

I do, also recall the exact Hill text to which you refer--and it's always given me pause. I suppose my point was that the cheapest Italian fiddles were not to be found in Cremona. Given the Hill's "hazard" at Giuseppe's price, half of Stradivari's fee, even on a modest commission, would have been considerable. To read the Hill redaction one might believe that penurious violinists still a rather debased lot in society came willy-nilly to Giuseppe's shop to trade.

While Stradivari did without doubt charge more, the average "peasant" in Lombardy was most likely not capable of playing on any violin procured in Cremona. I understand what you are saying, but the original context of my remark related to the comparison of Del Gesu violins and Stradivari violins when new.

I was not comparing those instruments to others when I made the "poor man's alternative" remark. In the culture I come from, the expression "poor man's alternative" is understood to mean the availability of goods or services of ostensibly comparable quality and utility for significantly less financial outlay. The expression is meant as a comparative measure, not one of absolutes. I maintain once again that my remarks are valid when taken in the context in which I made them, rather than the direction into which you have now chosen to steer the argument.

Certainly in the absense of Stradivari's and Guarneri's original income, balance sheets and profit and loss statements and receipt books, I would rather bow to the expertise of the Hill family in this case. So with that said, we will have to agree to differ. This is leading modern experts to a reassessment of the Hills' statement: August 13, at People seem to be putting words into my mouth today. Prices for new instruments today vary buy hundreds of percent, even when the materials used are of comparable quality, so why not in earlier times too?

As I am sure you know, the Hills state that they never recorded a levelling of Strad and Guarneri prices until the mid s - more than a century after the last productions of Stradivari and Del Gesu. The records of prices paid prior to that all reflect much lower prices for Del Gesu instruments than paid for Stradivari instruments. I realise that people nowadays dispute some of the things said by the Hill firm, but at least in making their statements they took care to provide some sort of justification and to make frequent references to their sources of information.

You may say my point does not wash, but your point about materials does not wash with me either, for the reason I stated above. Assuming for one moment that the Hills are incorrect - i. I was simply stating that I don't believe all of the Hills' statements to be gospel; you happened to bring up one. I myself love the Hill volumes, and have read them so many times over they are practically memorized. But inasmuch as the Hills' work is of incalculable worth to lovers of the violin, it is not without its inaccuracies and obsolete theories.

After all, these are the same gentlemen who believed Giacomo Stradivari truly possessed his ancestor's varnish recipe ;-. And personally I would love to have a definitive knowledge of where Del Gesu stood in terms of the relative appreciation of his instruments at the time they were made, as well as the specifics of his remuneration. If either you or Michael know of the location of the specific research that challenges the Hill findings in this particular regard, I am certainly interested.

Anyway, when I don't want to concern myself with accuracy, I prefer to get out my "Violins and Violinists" book: Material of quality was not as readily available in the 18th Century as it is today. Importing was a costly venture for a small town just outside Milan. One must also consider that Cremona had been thrown into war for a number of years, had recently recovered from the scourge of plague, and was coping with a decimated population.

Also, it strained under the economical clout of Venice, and struggled with Napolean standards for art and culture. Maples of fine figure were not local to Lombardy; they likely emanated from modern-day Croatia. Local trees exhibited much finer curl, such as in that of Stradivari's early work. The plainest of maples accounted for the majority of the Testores' stock.

They say that in the early s Strads were twice as costly as del Gesus, but they have nothing at all to say about original prices.

Ways to tell if your stringed instrument is years modern, if it is years old, or if it is just fake old. Can you spot a fake neck graft or peg bushing?. *Crud on the violin -- It’s a challenge because most old violins look bad. I got it authenticated years ago can u tell me an up to date price or what its worth.

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I am not an expert in violins.

August 9, at It is usually a case of the expert having years of contact with similar sorts of instruments in which the origin is actually known. That is why all experts at least the ones I have been fortunate enough to know tended to learn their trade under the guidance of an already established expert.

By Diane Bruce

Store Hours By Appointment Only. We frequently receive phone calls about "old" modern violins. It's understandable. To most people, anything over 5 years is old - cars, television, and grandma. So of course a violin that is 50 or years old seems very old.

How are old unlabled violins appraised?

Store Hours By Appointment Only. Keep in mind that these tips are just tips and not surefire answers to replace an in person evaluation. Purfling is tedious to put in, so if it is missing or painted on, the instrument is probably not very valuable. If it is neatly and tightly inlaid, that is a good sign. The style of purfling does vary somewhat from country to country and maker to maker, so its exact look is not always a definitive feature. To determine if the scroll is carved out entirely, you should look at the part of the scroll that curves in towards the pegbox. Does the fluting continue making it carved all the way out or do the grooves disappear? Look at the scroll straight on. Is it crooked? Does it have blunt areas or does it look artistic?

Several years ago, Stephanie Culp Smith received an old violin that had belonged to her late grandfather when he was a boy.

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An Insider’s Guide to Violin Labels

Curator's Corner. History Perfected in the very late 17th century, the violin is the most ubiquitous antique object form in our daily lives. It is the principal melody instrument in symphony orchestras and mountain string bands. It has not been improved since the s when Stradivari, Guarnieri, Amati and a dozen others worked in Cremona, Italy. Fine violins were also made in England, France and Germany. As everyone knows, the instruments made in Cremona fetch fabulous prices at auction. Everyone who finds an old violin thinks that he has a fortune in his hands because it generally has a Stradivarius label in it. It stands to reason. The problem: Every so often someone wants me to look at an erstwhile Strad and tell them if it is real or not.

Easy Ways for an Amateur to Determine if a Violin is Valuable

Just the other day another Strings reader wrote inquiring about the value and authenticity of his violin. Like most readers who write to us, trying to eek out information about a mystery fiddle, he carefully transcribed the faded, dusty label visible through the f-hole on the bass side: Even if the little tag inside your instrument is original, the information printed on it might be accurate but obscure, genuine but inaccurate, misleading, or downright false. A cursory investigation of the aforementioned Rocca label provides an illustration. Using a few key words to search the Internet turned up several instruments bearing the same label.

For Every Stradivarius Violin Discovered, There Are Many Wannabes, Fakes

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How Old Is This Violin?
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