: O.K. I respect the lady's intentions. Marsha Folkes :is herself obviously well enough acqauinted with fine :instruments and the trade in instruments.
: It's distressing to her, perhaps, to think what has :happened to her friend's heirlooms, but without :wanting to cause offense let's look at the story :again.
: 1) Firstly, the elderly lady was obviously a :professional player or amateur collector of some :means, who's instruments were known and known to be of :value - she possessed at least two outstanding violins :(we do not know what the others were).
: So how come the lady's own son (or someone else in :the family) has no idea of the value of such items? :Strange!
I'm back in North Dakota at my own computer and have
done much "leg-work" regarding this whole situation.
Here are some answers to your questions.
First, it is not at all "strange" that my friend's only
son did not know about the value of her Bergonzi violin. She had had the violin since she was a young
lady (lemme see....she's 92 now...quite possibly she
owned it since she was 30....her son is in his 60's...
her father (a dentist) bought her the violin while she
My friend's son and wife had no idea that she had 12
violins. When they were cleaning out her house in order to sell it, they kept finding violins under the
beds, in closets, behind curtains, etc. My friend lived in rural Washington, in a small town of 900 people, so we are not talking about a woman who had many people (if anyone) who would have the same knowledge of the value of her violin as she had.
I've known my friend for 25 years. I never knew she
had anything other than her Bergonzi. She used to bring it to my deceased husband to adjust the soundpost. That is how he and I knew of its existence.
(FYI: Stephen Folks was a concert violinist and he
conducted the symphony at the university where he taught. My friend knew he owned a Strad and my assumption is that she felt safe in letting him handle
Going one step further....if I were to cack tonight,
even though my fiance and my entire family knows that
I have played violin for 40+ years and have 18 of them
laying all over the house, none of them would have the
slightest idea of their worth. They would be in the
same boat as my friend's husband, having to ask people
who played as to where to take the violins to have them
sorted out for value and appraised to sell them.
My friend called members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra to inquire as to whom he should take the violins to be APPRAISED (not sold) so that he could
sell them. It truly is a case of an unknowledgeable
person taking his mother's instruments to people who were referred to him.
Had I still lived in Idaho and known of my friend's
mental demise due to Alzheimer's disease, I would have
recommended that he send the violins to Al Stancel or
to Don Robertson, as these are the only 2 people that
I know of from personal experience who would have been
honest about the value of all 12 violins.
Another note that is of some relevance: I used to travel on the East coast, and I would take my Gagliano
with me. Not knowing which dealers were truly honest
and which ones were apt to take advantage of the ignorant, I would put on a pair of jeans and cowboy boots, put my Gagliano into a ratty old case and go to
individuals with "big names and big reputations" to show them the violin. I let my Texas accent roll and
would ask them to look at my "fiddle". I gave them no
other information and would just wait to see their reactions. It was interesting that I only found *2*
honest dealers who told me it was a genuine Gagliano.
A couple of dealers told me they did not know what it
was. But the majority of dealers, either through ignorance or dishonesty, told me the violin was a copy.
I will not divulge the names on this public board, but
will be happy to discuss with anyone I know the names
of the "big boys" who told me the violin was just a copy or a fake. You'd be shocked to know who some of
the "big boys" were who did that. They both lived in
or near New York City.
: 2) I checked the "price history" data on Maestronet. :The two "auctions" the lady refers to are only 'retail :estimates' for the said makers with proper :certification in prime condition as of Jan 1st 1998.
: (There are surely no auctions conducted on New Year's :Day!)
: No Carlo Bergonzi is listed as being sold at auction :after 1995.
: There was a JB Villaume (certified by Skinner) sold :for $56,000 in November 1997 but nothing said about an :original or grafted neck.
You are correct about the Maestronet price list.
When I wrote the original posting, it was in the wee
hours of the morning and I was in Idaho at a borrowed
computer. I did not have access to my own computer
where I had bookmarked a Carlo Bergonzi with an ungrafted neck that had been sold. I had run across
that violin in my wanderings on the web and it had
struck a note, as I knew my friend had an original
Bergonzi with an ungrafted neck. However, that was
a few months back and I had no idea of my friend's
having been put in a nursing home and her Bergonzi
having been taken in for an appraisal and subsequently
: 3) How many violins are we actually talking about?
: Originally there were twelve violins; one seems to :have been sold to a dealer in Seattle for $1,000, :correct? The rest (11?) to another dealer as 'student :violins'(including therfore either the Vuillaume or :Bergonzi or both!) for an unknown sum. How come the 96 :year-old lady still has 2 more violins, Strad and :Amati copies?
In answer to this question, my friend's son told me
that when they put her into the nursing home, the doctor who is her primary care-giver told the son that
he should take those things which were apt to jog her
memories and help her retain the faculties which she
still has. Her son found the 2 violins that he took
to the nursing home laying out in the open in her home.
He therefore assumed that these were the instruments that she played and put them in the nursing home with
He later found out from a neighbor who lived across the
street from his mother, that each time my 92-year old
friend would leave her town, even for an afternoon, she
would take *1* violin across the street and leave it
with the neighbor who was at home to watch. She did
this for decades. The neighbor was not a musician, but
she was obviously someone whom my friend had known all
through childhood and trusted.
(Note: my friend was born and lived in the same house
for 90 years in that her town of 900 people. She is
the only survivor of 4 children and the only one who played the violin of her siblings).
: 4) When did the son discover he had the so-called :certificates - Do they not ocassionally give a :estimate value for insurance purposes?
According to my friend's daugter-in-law, they had to
clean out 100+ years of accumulation from the house in
order to sell it. They took family heirlooms and kept
them. But all other furniture and knick-knacks they
sold. Because of the volume of accumulation, they took
all file cabinets with any paperwork in it and put them
into their home to go through later to look for stocks,
bonds, wills, etc. This is how they discovered the
certifications on the two missing violins. There is a
3rd violin which they have never found, although they
have the original certification on it. I've never heard of the maker, but I'm not great on the thousands
of instrument makers. I'll look up that name in my
Henley as soon as I have time.
As for insurance purposes, you may be interested to
know that when my husband acquired his Strad, we went
to Lloyd's of London to ask for insurance on it. Lloyd's of London responded with an insurance premium
of 10% of the Strad's value per year. I inquired if
when we had paid 100% of the Strad's value over 10
years if the premiums would then cease. They said
"no". If we wanted to insure it, we would have to
continue to pay 10% of the Strad's value per year in
order to keep it covered.
Anyone reading this can do the math....why pay in
excess of $35,000 a year for insurance for the violin until we had paid the total price of buying another Strad? We were not rich....we both taught school.
My deceased husband's family was wealthy, but it was enough that they had bought him the Strad. It was our responsibility to protect it. We opted to save
our money and keep the Strad under lock and key and
use it for my husband's solo performances.
Since Stephen Folks' untimely death in 1997, the Strad has been sold via private treaty to the only man who Stephen had ever let play it. He had wanted to buy it for a couple of decades. It is now in Germany.
: 5) If the son, now suddenly alerted to his gross :error of judgement by his mother's friend, is so :concerned, he is in the best position to track down :the instruments - he knows exactly where and when he :disposed of them. But he also probably knows he has :little hope of achieving anything since it was he :himself who thoughtlessly sold the valuable :instruments cheaply - he may have been misled but they :were not stolen!
I must take exception to your comment that my friend's
son made a "gross error of judgement".
Here is the crux of the matter. My friend's son was
not so "thoughtless" as to have unwittingly disposed
of her violins without trying to establish their value.
He called members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, as
he (as so many other lay people) did not know where to
turn for appraisals of the 12 violins. He took the
violins to one dealer in Spokane that he knew of, and
then to the 2 other dealers who were recommended to him by members of the Seattle Symphony.
He took the 12 violins in for 'APPRAISALS'...not to
sell them to the dealers!!! The dealer in Seattle who
saw the Bergonzi in the group of lesser violins singled
it out of the group, told the son that it was badly in
need of $500 of repair, but that he would give him
$1,000 for it. That was $700 more than the first dealer had appraised the Bergonzi (the first dealer was
also unscrupulous, as anyone reading this thread would
know without a doubt that the violin was worth at least
$1,000. We lay-people might make a mistake as to its origin if as most of us have never had access to the genuine article, but we would certainly have
acknowledged that the violin was a "decent" instrument
in totally playable condition!)
All 12 of the violins were in playing condition with
no obvious repairs needed to them. They were examined
by the family for cracks, etc. All were strung up and
in relative good tune when the family discovered them
under the beds and closets.
: I do understand how such a thing could happen, and it :seems unfair if some middle-man has swindled the :family involved, but it seems like a case of "crying :over spilt milk!"
I'm going to get out my soap-box on this issue. We
have an aging population in this country that is in need of their hard-earned assets and dollars to pay for the high cost of health-care. As we all know, medical
advances have elongated the years that our seniors can
live. The particular disease that my friend has, Alzheimer's, can rob an otherwise perfectly healthy person of their faculties. But they can still live for years.
It is fortunate that all of this happened in the state
of Washington. I have found out that Washington takes a very dim view of this type of unethical, if not devious, type of "robbing" a person who is mentally incapacitated. It is my understanding that the son has
a very good case of proving legally proving fraud in
order to gain possession of his Alzheimer's mother's
asset (namely, the Bergonzi).
I have no other connection to this matter, other than
to give advise and lead the search for the Bergonzi, as
I have more knowledge of where to look for it and to
whom to turn for more leads. Hence my posting to Al
Stancel. Had I been in North Dakota at my own computer, I would have written the original posting
differently and not made a public appeal to Al. However, at the time, it was important to reach Al
by any method available to me. (Someday I'll invest
in a laptop computer that I can take with me....but
I hate computers and am loathe to spend any money on
them...I'd rather buy another violin. :-)
The son of the woman with Alheimer's has contacted the
appropriate authorities as to this case and he is taking all necessary steps for the recovery and return
of the Bergonzi, as well as one other violin which was
either stolen outright or "switched" by one of the
: Gosh! I wish someone would offer me a genuine :Bergonzi or Vuillaume for a thousand bucks too! (I :wonder how scrupulous I would be?)
I think that if you had my circumstance, you might find
the altruism in yourself to do the right thing. I have
a 41-year-old brother who is terminally ill with Huntington's Chorea. He has been in a nursing home for over 8 years. His mind has deteriorated in the past
3 months that he no longer recognizes his mother nor his own children. Let's suppose that my brother had a
valuable violin that my mother nor his children knew
the value of. Could you, in all good conscience, rob
those children of their rightful inheritance? Is it
not enough that they are losing their father at such a
But that is a moral dilemma for each of us to address
at some point in our lives. It is totally off-topic.
Here's a post-script that should keep everyone interested and going:
Last year, a young man 3,000 miles away bought a violin
at a yard sale and intending to learn to play. His interest waned and he wanted to sell it.
Someone on Ebay told him I often bought low-priced
instruments. (I am always on the lookout for good
instruments that I can buy, put a minimal investment
into, and then sell for what I have into it to young
students to have a decent-sounding instrument to play
rather than the factory junk that seems to be everywhere).
This young man sent me an email telling me he wanted to
sell the violin. Without access to a camera, we talked
on the phone and I asked what type of repairs the violin was in need of. After determining that the violin probably only needed a bridge, soundpost, and
set of strings, I sent him the $200 he was asking for it.
The violin arrived...I opened the cardboard box and nearly fainted on the spot. Without even taking
it out of the case, I recognized a very old Italian
violin!!! The old Italian violin was hand-carried
by myself to New Mexico (when I went to visit my terminally ill brother) where it is undergoing examination for a possible identification as to its
origin and maker. I never believe the labels.
However, 3 luthiers to whom I took the violin have
all wondered aloud if the violin was a genuine
such-and-such. I'm 99.999999% sure that it's not
a genuine such-and-such....but I'm equally 99.99999% certain that it IS an old Italian.
I have a totally clear conscience in this matter, as
I bought the violin sight-unseen. I figured I wouldn't
get burned over a $200 violin.
Well, I know that I'll never win the Powerball Lottery,
as I've had my good fortune come true with a $200 purchase.
Have a great day and thanks for playing the role of the
devil's advocate. I hope I've answered all of the questions clearly to the questions you posed.