GeorgeH

The Value of a Violin as Art versus as a Tool

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There is an ongoing court case in Los Angles about the authenticity of a Jackson Pollack painting. If it is an authentic painting, it is potentially worth $100 million dollars. If it is a counterfeit, it is worth comparatively nothing:

 

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-jackson-pollock-pierce-odonnell-20161011-snap-story.html

 

Counterfeiting in the art world has likely been around since artists began signing their works. Counterfeiting in the string instrument world is more the rule than the exception, and perhaps even more difficult to detect and prove in the lofty world of high-priced centuries-old Italian instruments.

 

There is a lesson here for those who believe that the astronomical prices paid for violins  by Stradivarius, Del Gesu, and other famous makers are based on some unique or unreproducible or even magical qualities of their violins. They aren’t. The vast majority of their values as reflected in their prices comes from their value as rare art objects made by specific luthiers, not their value as tools for playing music.

 

The authenticity of rare antique Italian instruments has often been initially established by long-dead experts who had a financial interest in the instrument being certified as made by the luthier who they certified made it. The old certificates from famous violin shops for extremely high-priced violins are rarely challenged by contemporary dealers. 

 

Why would they? And how could they?

 

Therefore, it is more than likely that some famous certified-authentic centuries-old Italian violins selling for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are counterfeit as many or even most do not have an unbroken verifiable provenance that goes back to their makers. 

 

The thought experiment is simple: imagine that a certified Stradivarius or Del Gesu with a long provenance and a history of selling for millions of dollars was suddenly discovered unequivocally to be a counterfeit made by an undetermined luthier - how much do you think it would then sell for at the next auction?

 

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How many fake Strads that are accepted as genuine do you think there are George?  I bet there are a few.

Edited by sospiri
typo

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I'd make the example more extreme. Lets say that your hypothetical Stradivarifaux or Del Fauxsu totally mops the floor with its real counterparts. It's the hands down best example of a performance instrument in the world. Not necessarily a museum piece, but as an instrument it king of the hill.

My thoughts, although I'm unwilling to make a precise estimate of the price...

The price of the instrument would crater at the next auction, and that's assuming the then-current owner would be willing to take the beating and turn it into a tax writeoff. Otherwise, they would try to unload it onto a non-profit instrument library for what would become a vastly inflated valuation (tax writeoff again).

The big name stars of the violin world would have to turn their noses up at the hands down best performance violin in the world, because it wasn't "real". The rest of us professionals would be scraping together every last penny we could beg, borrow, and steal in order to own the damn thing.

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Aren't some well-known fakes just as valuable as the originals?

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3 hours ago, sospiri said:

How many fake Strads that are accepted as genuine do you think there are George?  I bet there are a few.

I have no idea, and I wonder if anybody else does? I wonder if there are some unspoken secrets among dealers...

1 hour ago, Andrew McInnes said:

I'd make the example more extreme. Lets say that your hypothetical Stradivarifaux or Del Fauxsu totally mops the floor with its real counterparts. It's the hands down best example of a performance instrument in the world. Not necessarily a museum piece, but as an instrument it king of the hill.

My thoughts, although I'm unwilling to make a precise estimate of the price...

The price of the instrument would crater at the next auction, and that's assuming the then-current owner would be willing to take the beating and turn it into a tax writeoff. Otherwise, they would try to unload it onto a non-profit instrument library for what would become a vastly inflated valuation (tax writeoff again).

The big name stars of the violin world would have to turn their noses up at the hands down best performance violin in the world, because it wasn't "real". The rest of us professionals would be scraping together every last penny we could beg, borrow, and steal in order to own the damn thing.

It would almost certainly have an artistic value over and above the tool value of the instrument simply due to its provenance, and I bet people would still want to come see and hear it because of its infamy. I believe that it would still command a premium price, but likely only hundreds of thousands instead of not millions of dollars. And there would be people who would refuse to believe it wasn't a fake regardless of the evidence (think Shroud of Turin and "Crop Circles")

1 hour ago, Rue said:

Aren't some well-known fakes just as valuable as the originals?

Are you asking about violins or art works? There are valuable fake art works, but I don't know of any that are just as valuable as the originals. And I used the Pollock example because often times people look at his paintings and say or the ink, "I could have dome that!"

25 minutes ago, Norman Clark said:

I don't know of any specific example, but hasn't dendro already exposed some fakes?

Maybe "fake" is the wrong word to use here.  How about "mistakes" ----sorry.

I don't know specifically of any examples of dendro exposing an old-master Italian instrument as a counterfeit. Anyone else?

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To get this out of the controversial rut dug by the Original Post, there's a lot more to the question posed by the thread title than whether or not a few Cremonese megabuck fiddles might be misidentified.  Leaving the worth of pure collectibles (such as paint flung on a canvas with no more functional value than any other paint splattered tarp in the back of a house-painter's van) out of it, when we come to working antique tools (tool defined as any purpose-made artifact for manipulating something), how much of the value is functional, how much historical, and how much aesthetic?  A lot of old tools, particularly violins, woodwork/furniture, ceramics, Japanese differentially quenched weapons, and the like, are beautiful to look at, historically informative, and linkable to a known original creator, as well as still usable for their original purpose (often better at it than later mass-produced works).  Once we get away from the Strad/GDG arena, just how much importance should we assign to each value dimension of a violin? :)

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5 hours ago, Andrew McInnes said:

The big name stars of the violin world would have to turn their noses up at the hands down best performance violin in the world, because it wasn't "real". 

I kinda doubt that.  Many of the big name stars collect quite a few instruments including modern makers (Hahn excluded).  In fact, I'd say almost all of them do, and I'd further guess that they go out of their way to find good-performing ones.  That doesn't mean they give up playing their big-name Cremonese fiddle for performances; I would also guess that if you are a big-name star soloist, you can search the world for old instruments and pay for one (or have one loaned to you) that works very well... so there's no need to give it up.

 

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You can also have your pedigreed violin on hand...for brochure photos, special events and general status symbol...

But primarily use a modern...

 

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lets throw out the scenario that owners, corporations, have had copies made and then those are loaned out to players and then they keep the originals in the vault. Most players are not experts at ID, some very convincing copies can be made, Soon all the top soloist's are touring with forgery's, the players don;t know, the audience doesn't know. And then one day the truth comes out...This practice, started in the 40's means that everything you think you thought about the tone was wrong, shortly thereafter, the violin worlds head explodes :lol:

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Tool relates to buying it and art relates to selling it.

7 hours ago, sospiri said:

How many fake Strads that are accepted as genuine do you think there are George?  I bet there are a few.

That is the only interesting question here :D

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2 hours ago, Don Noon said:

I kinda doubt that.  Many of the big name stars collect quite a few instruments including modern makers (Hahn excluded).  In fact, I'd say almost all of them do, and I'd further guess that they go out of their way to find good-performing ones.  That doesn't mean they give up playing their big-name Cremonese fiddle for performances; I would also guess that if you are a big-name star soloist, you can search the world for old instruments and pay for one (or have one loaned to you) that works very well... so there's no need to give it up.

 

My view is because of what I perceive as the "accessorisation" factor of violins. In order to be taken seriously as a member of a certain class of performer, one needs the right branding. Analogous to the art dealer who switches from driving a Volvo to a Mercedes - art is the same, but suddenly it looks a lot more attractive.

That said, you're quite right, Don. I might just be a tad too cynical. :)

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I am pretty sure I saw that painting about 15 years ago.  It was back in the office of a rather commercial art gallery and they were trying to pin it down even then.  If it wasn't this one, then it was another one, which = 2, and that would tell us when you get as loose as Pollack you're going to have a lot of people able to get close enough to make it hard to authenticate.

 

The thought experiment is simple: imagine that a certified Stradivarius or Del Gesu with a long provenance and a history of selling for millions of dollars was suddenly discovered unequivocally to be a counterfeit made by an undetermined luthier - how much do you think it would then sell for at the next auction?

 

This has happened, no doubt countless times.  To begin with, everyone has a Stradivari, but they are knocked down with a feather.  What's interesting and scary is when a violin passes over decades or centuries in the highest echelons of the business.  One well known example which passed as a Stradivari in sophisticated London, no less, was the "Balfour" believed to have been made by the Voller Brothers.  Certainly the person who owned it when it was knocked down would have taken a loss.  

I've only seen one violin that I knew to be demoted; this in the 1970s.  It had passed for 150 years as a long pattern Strad and it finally was found to be a Panormo.  That's back when Strads were up to $60,000 and a Panormo about $4,000.  Of course that same violin today would be back up to $60,000 or more, but the dollar ain't what it was.

 

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7 hours ago, Will L said:

It had passed for 150 years as a long pattern Strad and it finally was found to be a Panormo.

 

You mean in all that time, nobody noticed that it didn't sound like a Strad?!! 

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I wonder how quickly the sound quality went down once it was a Panormo?

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16 hours ago, Violadamore said:

To get this out of the controversial rut dug by the Original Post, there's a lot more to the question posed by the thread title than whether or not a few Cremonese megabuck fiddles might be misidentified.  Leaving the worth of pure collectibles (such as paint flung on a canvas with no more functional value than any other paint splattered tarp in the back of a house-painter's van) out of it, when we come to working antique tools (tool defined as any purpose-made artifact for manipulating something), how much of the value is functional, how much historical, and how much aesthetic?  A lot of old tools, particularly violins, woodwork/furniture, ceramics, Japanese differentially quenched weapons, and the like, are beautiful to look at, historically informative, and linkable to a known original creator, as well as still usable for their original purpose (often better at it than later mass-produced works).  Once we get away from the Strad/GDG arena, just how much importance should we assign to each value dimension of a violin? :)

This is the question I hoped for when I saw the title of the post.  Thank you, Vda.  

I have found this particularly interesting in the context of comparing workmanship and "style" of different makers/schools, geographic/economic areas, and time periods.  Of course, we can't know the intentions of most if any of these makers, aside from instruments made to fulfill court commissions and the like.  IMO, the questions is not either/or but in which proportions and of course, we're dealing in speculation.

Were the characteristics of much if not all of da Salo's work an indication of his being driven by function over form?  It certainly has been said.  Or was he just a rough-and-tumble maker by Amatese standards?

Did Stradivari's mix change -- perhaps repeatedly -- as he moved from one model to the next.  Fuller arching because he liked the look?  Or the sound change it provided?

Don't mean to hijack the thread.  Or even Vda's attempt at re-direction.  Because of the speculative quality, the question of form and function - to me anyway -- is just another lens through which we can assess work of  "The Ancients".

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12 hours ago, Andrew McInnes said:

 Analogous to the art dealer who switches from driving a Volvo to a Mercedes - art is the same, but suddenly it looks a lot more attractive.

 

One used to be engineered bassackwards and the other used to have oil leakage problems.  True happiness won't be found until one plants themselves into an Audi.  I haven't been around those makes in a while, hence the words "used to". 

Just for an experiment lets pair Sarah Chang with a Vuilluame and see how many other players eventually give up their old Italian instruments to follow suit.

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9 hours ago, Will L said:

 

I've only seen one violin that I knew to be demoted; this in the 1970s.  It had passed for 150 years as a long pattern Strad and it finally was found to be a Panormo.  That's back when Strads were up to $60,000 and a Panormo about $4,000.  Of course that same violin today would be back up to $60,000 or more, but the dollar ain't what it was.

 

As Will has said, this is quite a common occurrence, though even a demotion from Antonio Stradivari to Omobono Stradivari is enough for a top player to not want it any more ...

The most recent example I can think of was the ex-Marconi Strad which was sold at Ingles & Hayday as a composite, recently demoted. Last I heard it had been reauthenticated as completely Strad and the value had gone back up again.

It can happen the other way round - there's the famous example of Charles Beare identifying a Strad which was appearing as a Vuillaume in a Vuillaume exhibition ...!

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3 hours ago, martin swan said:

 

It can happen the other way round - there's the famous example of Charles Beare identifying a Strad which was appearing as a Vuillaume in a Vuillaume exhibition ...!

Nobody noticed that it sounded like a Strad?:)

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4 hours ago, martin swan said:

"It can happen the other way round - there's the famous example of Charles Beare identifying a Strad which was appearing as a Vuillaume in a Vuillaume exhibition ...!"

And there was the recent "Nemesanyi" (I probably spelled that wrong) that sold for $14k and was then determined to be a real del Gesu.

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4 hours ago, Blank face said:

Nobody noticed that it sounded like a Strad?:)

Well of course, when it was a Vuillaume it sounded like a Vuillaume (if Hilary Hahn had played it people would have said it wasn't up to much).

When it was a Strad it sounded like a Strad, and proved once again why TOP PLAYERS insist on playing Strads.

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16 hours ago, Don Noon said:
Quote

I haven't tried to find a recording of an Omobono Strad, but coincidentally a former teacher had one which I have good reason to believe was authentic.  Here it is and it is impressive.  The recording and orchestra are lacking a bit.

Abraham Chavez was a very interesting, somewhat self taught genius.  Unfortunately, I think this is his only recording.  I hope perhaps someone else knows differently.

(Disregard the mention of Don; the new system will simply NOT let me delete it.)

 

 

Edited by Will L
I can't delete the author of a quote.

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Thanks for all of the interesting examples of counterfeits being discovered as authentics, authentics being rediscovered as counterfeits, and some that have been going back-and-forth.

The discussion about Vuillaume is particularly interesting to me. Vuillaume is a maker who has been described to me as the "master counterfeiter," and it has been speculated that some of the certified Strads still in existence are actually his work. For example, whether or not Stradivari even made the “Messiah” is questionable as it was "hidden" in Vuillaume's workshop for many decades, and he supposedly made many copies of it before publicly exhibiting it.

The "Nemesanyi" example (if a truly authentic Del Gesu) suggest that the proportion of the "tool" values of authentic old-master Italian violins is much less than 1% of their total monetary values.

 

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1 hour ago, GeorgeH said:

The "Nemesanyi" example (if a truly authentic Del Gesu) suggest that the proportion of the "tool" values of authentic old-master Italian violins is much less than 1% of their total monetary values.

 

I think it depend quite a bit on how good of a tool it is.  There are some very poor sounding Strads that exist, where as a tool they would be no better than firewood, so the entire value is in the label.  

In general, for functional instruments, I'd agree with the 1% or less number.  As an added example (something of a brag), I was informed that the use of a Strad was offered for an upcoming concert to the soloist using my violin , but the violinist, conductor, and concertmaster all agreed that the Strad didn't sound as good, and won't be used.   I don't know anything about the Strad or how much it might be worth, but I think I'd be happy to get 1% of its value for mine.  No value in my label, as of today.:)

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