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Warning about UK live auctions and fake violins


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I was browsing a site called the-saleroom.com in the hopes of finding a nice instrument listed in a live auctions.  I searched for a Scottish violin hoping to find a few armature made or cheap antique Scottish violins.  I found one at an auction in Glasgow which seemed like just what I wanted:  'SCOTTISH VIOLIN early 20th century' was the description so I waited for the auction and made a bid.  The violin went for much less than I thought so was happy with my purchase but a little suspicious.  The violin on the picture looked in good condition with yellowish varnish, a light wooden tail piece and old 50s looking box.  

After waiting the violin arrived.  The box was as expected old,  but on inspection the violin looked very lightly made with standard redy varnish,  the fingerboard was painted black! and the varnish was flaking off the top of the violin with a slight rub of my nail.  The purfling also rubbed off.. Finally I tried to set up the violin and it sounded very gritty like a badly set up banjo or guitar more than a violin sound, totally unplayable. Inside it said 'Edmund may Glasgow' in what looked like a label printed on a computer in ms word, with a cute music clip art.. slightly higher than where the old label should have been. 

I did a search and found another violin also from Edmund may of glasgow http://www.amati.com/auctions/violins/for-sale-at-auction/vintage-violin-refurbished-by-edmund-may-of-glasgow.html which sold for a higher price than what I payed. 


 I checked the tail piece and saw (w Germany) on the fine tuners.  The violin its self looks very much like a cheap Chinese factory violin maybe £40 max brand new.  Defiantly not a hand made Scottish violin.  I phoned the auction house and they said I had time to inspect the violin before the auction.  I wasn't able to do this because I wasn't able to travel to Scotland so they said I should have asked for an inspection to be made.  Is it me or would the auction house have changed their story of it being a Scottish violin if I had asked for an inspection?  Its kind of like saying a car is a vintage Porsche but on inspection it was only a cheap Citron and selling it at a high price.  So is this person buying old Chinese violins and putting them in old boxes claiming they are vintage violins, then selling them at auctions?  The one in the amati page looks quite nice again but I am guessing another cheap fake. 


Has anyone had any experience of this and if so did you manage to get a refund?  At least Ebay is working with paypal to stop fraud but it seems UK auctions are actively encouraging it.. 

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Dear Irishfiddler, 

I had a similar experience. My luthier said that to him it seems like a violin that has never been played. I also wrote to the auction house and they just sent me an information that the violin was probably revarnished during the restoration. I also won a bid on an Italian labelled instrument - so perhaps one should really test the instrument before buying. A pity that the auction house was quite prestigious one from Bath. So far my ebay experience has been more succesful. The as they state - labelled by does not mean that the instrument is made by a certain maker. What can be the morals of all this - perhaps as with buying a car it is better to try it before buying it. Sad you have to deal with fakes at prestigious or what seemed to me to be prestigious auction houses. I am not quite sure I also got an antiqued chinese violin, but probably close to that- my only problem at the moment was - whether to destroy it, to set it up and give to a student or try to resell it at the price I bought it?


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Irishfiddler,I'm sorry to hear of your experience.Hopefully,you did not part with too much money.Always try to view items in person before commiting to purchase.Most,if not all auction houses advertise their viewing times prior to the sale.

Good luck with your refund.

P.S. It is also worth reading any glossary of terms in catalogues along with terms & conditions.

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I thought this was just part of the risk of buying at auction ,which if you are not prepared to go and see the instrument in person then you take the risk of buying some junk. Which is why unless your experienced then you should  steer clear of auctions in most cases.

All auction houses will have in their terms that you should see it in person  to satisfy yourself with it authenticity .

This is a big problem with internet bidding and i dont think you have the same distance selling rights as buying from a normal internet venue.


Many auction houses know absolutely nothing about certain fields (such as instruments ) and hence the often ridiculous descriptions and estimates. You probably do have a case for a refund if the description is definitely wrong. I got a refund ,including shipping costs from Gardiner Houlgate recently as their decription was totally wrong .

I have bought from the auction house you refer to in the past and luckily the instrument was what i was expecting and it came with a bow worth several times what i paid. I did find it hard talking with them over the phone about shipping though due to the strong Glaswegian accent.

I have noticed that this auction house and another in Scotland seem to refer to many  instruments  as Scottish ,when they obviously arent, they are just the usual trade stuff that you get all over the UK and ebay. They seem to sell many similar looking violins as well :)

Ive had many bad auction experiences, like one time i bought a nice French violin ,when i contacted them they had told me another person at the auction had walked out with it and was apparently a bit p******d off due to being the under bidder. I cant figure how he managed to do this but he refused to return it and it subsequently appeared on ebay making the guy a large profit. . The guy has been a long time seller of violins on ebay in the UK. I hadnt even paid for it so i was just a bit annoyed over the incident. :(

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Irish Fiddler - any pictures/links of your purchase to share?

Irish Fiddler In private if you wish as I do not think i can yet post the pictures yet. 


Then I got a reply today from the auction house- which was funny - saying that I needed to request a condition report which I actually did requested. It stated that the head was possibly changed and the varnish was damaged or that the violin was rewarnished, yet no things about the provenance, age of the instrument etc.  and the luthier with whom I collaborate stated that to him it seems this instrument has never been played. That is what made me angry the most. As in that case it just means that apart trade violins with fake labels, there are also many "specialists" who are antiquing the contemporary and super cheap oriental instruments selling them as antique or italian ones. Porbably one should not wonder about the ethics here, unless you can make some bucks, yet I personally find firsthand discusting that someone is doing that and secondly that such instruments may also end up in prominent auction house listings. So the dilemma remains the same- shall I do the heroic gesture to eliminate such a violin from the circle on my personal cost? Or shall I try to set it up and sell it or present it to someone? 

what a poisoned world the violin trade business sadly has become- at least through internet and also due to prices which are so blown up one ends to look for an instrument on these sites. 

I think that in the artworld at least still have some regulations when it comes to faking one's signature or label and sometimes one can see also policeman arresting some major violin fakers here in Italy, yet it seems otherwise this business is going well- especially due to internet auctions and lack of informaton. A pity. Even though my ebay experience has been not so bad and I found a great instrument for my daughter - this regards the small size instruments which probably nobody really needs to fake, once I have tried to buy a full size- here we go. So have done my last try and will rather buy a new full size violin- made by a person which i can know and talk to!

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I think the problem I have is that the violin was sold as Scottish not unknown violin which would make more sense.  It seems to me like the auctioneers knew that the violin was cheaply made but wanted to push a sale, to £80-£120 pounds.  I saw a German violin which was in nice condition and playable estimated for the same price, so if the valuers thought this was the same quality as an old German violin then I am not sure they know anything about violins.  

Some things that first alerted me were:  The bridge in the original photo was missing and only a broken bridge was left in the box, there was no photo to show the cheap label inside, the photo put online was edited to make the violin look yellow and not brow/red.  So it was obvious the auction house was trying to cover up all these facts to raise the price online.  


I'm not sure if I can upload photos before I get in contact with the auction house to try and return it, but it looks like a very normal factory violin you might find for £40 in Dawsons or even cheaper.  It doesn't have any aging or been revarnished to look old.  After set up it just sounds horrible, so there is no way I can sell it on for any kind of money without being dishonest my self.  Its only use it as a prop or ornament in a bar or some thing :(.  

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I sympathise with your problem.  I too regularly scan the-Saleroom, but I'm wary, as most (not all) of the auctions that show up with violins are not specialist and the fiddles are often part of a general sale.  I have seen examples of things that are obviously not what is claimed for them.   I've bought at auction several times but only from the specialist auctions where bargains are much harder to come by but where you can have a bit more confidence in attributions and condition reports.   (Or so you would think - there is one outfit based in Boston which will never get my business again after a quite flagrant failure to disclose a condition issue).


I live near to one of the regular "the-Saleroom" auctions that occasionally has violins.  I'll PM you again once you have a few more posts - it doesn't seem to work for you right now.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Even after fashioning a bridge it sounded horrible,  I took the bridge off because I don't want to waste a nice bridge on a crummy violin.  I don't think any Czech company would make a violin of this low quality in all honesty.  Of course the auction over priced the violin and sold it as a Scottish violin, and estimate of £80-120 for this when I have seen a Boosy and Hawk viola of higher quality in a local auction for only £40-80 estimate doesn't make much sense to me.  Its also evident there was another label below the current one which was taken off before the sale.   

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Yep, one i got in a cheap case I bought was Skylark and looks very similar to this one, just some of the fittings have been replaced and it came in an old box.  Maybe the box is what was early 20th century and worth £80-120? :P



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I was under the assumption you bought it from McTears ,it was them i was refering to above ,no experience with Mulberry. These skylark type violins can look very deceptive in auction pics under different lighting. I think alot of online auctions are good at photos which make them look better and more interesting than they really are. If you are bidding online you can really get a handle on whether its any good ,as you noted with not much bidding interest. (room bidders dont tend to miss much)

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  • 3 years later...

I had similar experience on https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb The Salesroom auctioneers.

I bought a Forgery of a Pablo Picasso's drawing because of a claver advertisement on The Saleroom.
Bishop and Miller Auctioneers via The Salesroom Knowingly Sold Fake Picasso's Drawing and did not disclosed all the facts.

Ok, here it goes:
The Picasso's Drawing was advertised as unsold at Christie's London in
Feb, 2016, lot #292.  The advertisement claimed that their drawing was
featured in a book by H.Asmodi, Pablo Picasso, Ballettzeichnungen, Feldafing 1956.
I asked about the provenance and what happened at Christie's London in February.
Bishop and Miller sent me 9 images from Christie's catalogue and told em that the drawing simply did not sell 
After buying it I contacted the Picasso Foundation in Paris:
I was told that The Picasso Foundation was called-in to Christie's London to examine the drawing in February, 2016
The drawing was declared unauthentic, fake Pablo Picasso by Picasso Foundation. Christie's London canceled the sale and rejected the drawing from their auction house.
Christie's London told me that they were contacted Bishop and Miller auctioneers that they're selling a known fake Pablo Picasso's drawing, but Bishop and Miller ignored their outrage.
They place it for sale withholding the whole truth about it.  Sold it as lot#600 on their September, 2016 sale.
To this day they have not refunded me and claim that they did nothing wrong.
here is their listing:
I made a shot video to make it easier to understand.
I have all the materials to support my claims, if you need more document I will be happy to send it to you.

@BishopandMiller #BishopandMiller #dishonestAuctions 



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The site itself looks shifty.  No creativity, for starters.  Like something criminals would spec.  I'm surprised the item existed at all really and that the money didn't just go to somewhere in Ukraine. 

There's an auction site they advertise on TV where they talk about the great household items for pennies on the dollar.  But nobody ever loses an auction there and the low prices are in funny money -- you buy their pennies for about a dollar.  lol  Scum bags.  Any site they have to advertise on TV...

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Putting aside Mendicus observation that we seem to have started discussing a four year old posting....having just bought a violin from a reputable auction and subsequently suffered some 'collywobbles' over its parentage, I thought I would chip in.

With 'caveat emptor' hovering over my head, what comeback if any does one have if something is carelessly described? For example something described as 'labelled as' seems fair as it is clear that no authenticity is even implied. But what about other deniables such as 'possibly by', 'probably by' that hint at credibility? 


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16 minutes ago, victordriver said:

With 'caveat emptor' hovering over my head, what comeback if any does one have if something is carelessly described? For example something described as 'labelled as' seems fair as it is clear that no authenticity is even implied. But what about other deniables such as 'possibly by', 'probably by' that hint at credibility? 

It depends on their written terms of agreement, and these are always written to protect the Auction House, not the buyers. Having said that, non-specialized Auction Houses should be diligently careful about how they describe things so they don't say things like "Scottish Violin" when they really have no clue about such things. A simple description of observable facts should be enough, with a disclaimer that it may not be complete. One cannot and should not expect auction houses with virtually no experience in violins to provide accurate and/or complete descriptions or condition reports. "Possibly by" and "Probably by" are opinions that shout "buyer beware," and the buyer can either choose to agree with or not.

If you purchased a "German violin labeled Stradivari" at an auction for a few hundred dollars and it turned out to be an authentic Stradivari, do you think the Auction House should have the right to claw it back from you? I didn't think so.

In the end, buying violins at auction is always a form of gambling, and consider the odds are stacked against you. Read about "The Winner's Curse" on Wikipedia:

"The winner's curse is a phenomenon that may occur in common value auctions with incomplete information. In short, the winner's curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay. The winner may overpay or be "cursed" in one of two ways: 1) the winning bid exceeds the value of the auctioned asset such that the winner is worse off in absolute terms; or 2) the value of the asset is less than the bidder anticipated, so the bidder may still have a net gain but will be worse off than anticipated."

In the case of the Picasso drawing, that seems to be deliberate and provable fraud.


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