The Violin Market

Published on July 6th, 2013

This is a guest post by James Buchanan of Amati.

Amati ViolinsWho would be a violinist in the 21st century? Orchestras are running out of funding while those that escape the cuts are having to become more ‘commercial’. At the same time, the essential tool of your trade is becoming more expensive every day. This is very visible in auctions where every auction house can trumpet a new world record for a maker. This is no surprise as investors and oligarchs are buying the instruments at the top end, which in turn pulls up the prices of those below.

Violins are assets that you can carry anywhere. Until recently, when customs have become more aware, if you were a musician you could fly them virtually anywhere without being stopped in the green channel, and they do not go out of fashion. Every year thousands more musicians leave college needing an instrument.

Perhaps it is this portability, and the the ever-diminishing stock of great instruments that is keeping the price high at the moment. But certainly after the credit crunch we are seeing price increases far in excess of the 3% growth pa which is the figure usually suggested.

What do people collect?
Some violins don’t appreciate at all. Chinese, and mostly, German violins have barely kept track with inflation, a victim of their own success, there are simply too many factory made instruments around to make them valuable. Those violins that are appreciating most highly are in good condition, with good certification), from Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Modern Italian violins (by which we mean Italian violins from the mid nineteenth to the mid 20th centuries) are appreciating rapidly, but be careful, there are a number of fakes – some with fairly decent certification.

Violin labelling:
Labels in musical instruments are often false, but they can give a good clue. If you see a Stradivarius, Amati, Stainer or Guarneri label, you can probably relax. The chances are high that the instrument is from Germany, France or the Czech Republic.

If the label contains additional information (made in Germany, copie de, etc.) then the instrument was probably made after 1890, when trade descriptions started tightening up.

Some labels of course are genuine, and it is worth having a look at the Amati site where we have examples of labels with biographies of the makers.

Take a look at the bridge:
The bridge is the piece of wood holding the strings up in the centre of the violin. It can provide a clue to the dealership the violin might have come from. Some shops might point you towards the fact that the violin is good – brands like W.E.Hill & Sons and J. & A. Beare may suggest the violin is of some quality. These firms have sold some very high value instruments over the years, and a bridge with their brand on should justify further research into the instrument.

Size of the violin:
Most violin dealers check the length of the back. It is a very vague test, but is still worth doing. Ideally the distance on the back between the bottom of the button at the top, and the bottom, should be not more than 14 inches (356mm). Larger violins should point you away from Italy and more towards Germany or some French makers.

The ribs and linings:
Inside the instrument around the top and bottom of the violin ribs you will see linings. In Italian instruments these are often cut into the corner blocks, forming a nice joint. In instruments from most other countries this is not the case and the linings rest on the back adjacent to the corner blocks.

Get a second opinion:
Most dealers are happy to have a look for you, but do choose a violin dealer you can trust.

James left Christie’s Auctioneers in 2005 after running the Music Department in London, to co-found Brompton’s Auctioneers. He left Brompton’s in 2012 to found Amati, an international market place for musical instruments.


Published by James Buchanan



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