Every week I find myself working with clients with the hope of having found a genuine Stradivarius violin. They seek my expert advice to help them understand what they really found in the attic. There is certainly no shortage of violins that bear the label, “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis” (Cremonensis is the Latinized name of town in Italy where he worked). Some of these instruments read, “Made in Germany” or “Made in Czechoslovakia,” and some only state the maker’s name. Typically, if the instrument only reads, “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis 1721,” I find that people want to seek another expert’s opinion.
For any experienced violin maker or restorer it takes one second to know a real Stradivarius from an average copy. Often times, these are crudely made student instruments that wouldn’t sell, so shops and dealers would label an instrument suggesting some quality. Being able to identify the instrument’s authenticity is important, especially to families new to violin lessons and instrument sales.
Antonio Stradivari only printed first digit “1” and last three digits were hand written (see pictures). Towards the end of his life he would not write a date, but only mention his age, “I made it in my 89th year” and so on. And as you can imagine it would not be written in German or English. The label in these student instruments typically had the first two digits printed and the last two hand-written. It is important to understand that these instruments aren’t meant to trick you, but rather are a strategy for greater sales and branding.
Many other important and obscure Italian names were also stuck as labels by factories, workshops, and dealers of instruments: Amati, Guarneri, Gagliano, Ruggieri and many others. One should also give attention to the font. It is likely the font is fairly modern — a font unknown in the 18th century.
However, even decent copies of Stradivarius could be worth serious money. So, never through away any instrument. Bring it to an expert and have it examined — it could be something decent. There is certainly a demand for old instruments, so very often it’s worth restoring and giving the opportunity for a young talented musician to play it. There are better quality copies of Stradivarius instruments made by famous makers like Roth, Heberlein, or JTL. Instruments of this caliber are highly sought after and prices are steadily rising. For full version of this article go to www.PrincetonViolins.com/blog
Princeton Violins was founded by Jarek Powichrowski, a Juilliard School-educated professional violinist, New York-trained string instrument restorer, and violin maker who studied violin making in Cremona, Italy, with the best contemporary Italian makers. Jarek Powichrowski is also an expert appraiser of antique instruments.
Princeton Violins, 4444 Route 27, Kingston. Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 609-683-0005. www.PrincetonViolins.com.