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Rue

Ethics: What if you DID find a real Strad in the attic or at a garage sale?

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What if you DID find a real Strad (or DG etc.) in the attic or at a garage sale? Are you obligated to inform whoever had it before you? Do you have to give them more money? Do you have to give it back?  What if you keep it? What if you sell it?

Or how valuable does an object have to be before this becomes an issue?

Or what if someone gave me a known Strad or DG etc.)? Can they even do that?

Inquiring (procrastinating) minds need to ponder such things. .;)

 

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I think the big question would be what is the provenance.  Almost all Strads and del Gesus are known to experts. Any place where you wanted to sell it or have it refurbished would want to know how you got it.  If it had been stolen it might have to go back to the person from whom it was stolen.  If you couldn't prove you had obtained the instrument legally there might be problems.  When we buy something at a garage sale we don't usually get receipts :)  If you bought a chest of drawers at an estate sale, say, and inside it, unbeknownst to the seller, there was a genuine Strad, it would be reasonable to ask the auctioneer whether the presence of the instrument was known.  If it was and was not realized as valuable then you would be home free IMO.

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There may be legal issues. There may be tax issues. There may be issues with your conscience. All of the above. It would all depend on the exact circumstances. And I don't think exact value is relevant, there could be legal issues on any violin if ownership was in question, so be careful when you buy anything from an individual.

As far as somebody giving you a Strad, no problem with that, sometimes people give expensive stuff away and violins are no exception. Could have a tax issue though.

 

 

 

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Complicated...I figured as much. 

I am not likely to be any situation like this...but another thread had me wondering. Demoted instruments...promoted instruments. ..

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Too bad that Carla Shapreau doesn't appear on MN, or at least very often.

I don't see any problem buying a violin at the price someone asks.  I do think it would be important to assume there is something wrong, as Gowan pointed out, if we're talking about a violin by Strad or dG.  

A couple of stories I know of come to mind which might be interesting, but involve lesser instruments.  Those should STILL be of concern to us, as deans mentions.

1. I had a violin stolen and someone was on a street corner trying to sell just the violin and bow.  That's certainly suspicious.

2. A colleague (who will remain nameless) went to a home to buy a violin and did so.  Then he asked if the lady had any others for sale. She said she had a 'cello.  He looked at the instrument and asked what she wanted for it and she said, "$500."  He bought it, knowing it was worth tens of thousands of dollars.

When I asked him about the ethics, he said something to this effect:  "If she had asked me an opinion, based on my profession and knowledge I would have been obligated to tell her the make and value, then negotiate.  But she did not ask."

Now, I would have told the lady the instrument was worth more, but that is me.  I don't think my friend was legally bound to do so.  (But of course, so far only we legal amateurs are offering opinions.)  And as for ethics, if someone doesn't care to know what they have, the instrument may be in danger in their hands.  Getting a violin away from a dangerous owner may be doing countless generations of players a favor.

As for being human, would any of us try to get a violin without helping someone who seems in financially dire straights?  I wouldn't, but what if I TOO was in dire straights?  Being ethical is much easier when we know where our next several meals are coming from.  IMO. 

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I think it is a matter of circumstances as had been said. Consider you go to an estate sale. The husband of of the owner of the estate has died and his wife found his old violin in the attic. She has no idea what it is or where it came from, just that his father had given it to him ages ago and he never played with it. She is perfectly happy to get $10 or $20 for it. 

In that case, if I recognized it as something of value I would inform her on the spot and suggest it be appraised. How the financials worked out after than would be entirely up to her.

My first wife and I used to go to garage sales and estate sales all the time. The above actually did happen to us at one sale. Instead of a violin it was a lamp full of marbles. It turned out the marbles were worth $1000 at auction. She appreciated my "honesty". I have been told on occasion that it wasn't honesty, it was stupidity, but I sleep better and she needed the money more than I did.

 

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I seldom go to estate sales as most people try to get twenty dollars for an old shovel and I can buy a brand new for that price. But I am a huge garage and yard sale fan,  I have not seen a violin at these sales but junky guitars are commonly seen.

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Getting back to the big fantasy, lets say your grandfather passed away and it turns out that the violin he played his whole life turned out to be a genuine Strad, but up until now was unknown to the violin world. I suppose its still a possibility. You had no idea where your grandfather got it or even if he knew what it was. After paying big bucks to the big experts to certify it, you would still probably run into people who will make a claim on it if you decide to sell, and someone just might have a legitimate claim, could be a family instrument lost in the 19th century unknown to the Hill's etc. but still on the family books. Just like expensive art, you would have to prove it was clean, and that could be tough.

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1 hour ago, gowan said:

  If you bought a chest of drawers at an estate sale, say, and inside it, unbeknownst to the seller, there was a genuine Strad...

Ooh! The Tarisio Scenario!  The quest for Tarisio's chest of drawers begins... stay tuned.  :ph34r:

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IMHO, hiding behind mere legality to the denial of morality and conscience is a prize road to savagery as well as Perdition, but there can be nuances. Dealing with an average unschooled individual who has no idea what they are selling, I wouldn't dare take advantage of them, as honor (if not salvation itself) is involved.  If, however, the other party is a supposedly informed professional, and especially one who is intent on getting the better of me at the same time (which is unfortunately the norm these days), the morality shifts to that of the battlefield. :ph34r:  This isn't a hypothetical with me.  On eBay, for instance, I've messaged some obviously clueless new sellers that they'd fouled up, and when confronted with the other scenario, skinned some sharks alive. :lol:

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A little off topic, but interesting none the less:

A friend of mine who owns a music store and is a Canadian renowned old time fiddle champ had his home broken into. Stolen was a violin valued at around $12K, a few good bows, a collectors classical guitar with great sentimental value, an antique banjo, and a few lesser items.

A few weeks after the theft, an individual came into the shop and asked if the store would be interested in purchasing some old instruments that he inherited. My friend was  momentarily in shock when his own violin was set on the counter for evaluation. His son jumped out and tackled the guy, but the thief wrestled free and ran out into the street, hopped into a vehicle and sped away. Fortunately the son got the plate number off the vehicle.

How dumb does one have to be to try and sell stolen goods back to the person they were stolen from?

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I know a few folks that have been sniped out of LARGE deals where they were doing their utmost to do right by the owner of a remarkable instrument. 

Ah, this is a So-and-So, let me help you get it to the right place, for a percentage, instead of taking advantage of you and buying it to profit myself...

a territorial dealer gets wind of that deal and convinces the owner to cut the Good Samaritan out of the deal, as their resources are.... what have you.

I have a hard time imagining asking what a person expects to get out of the instrument, then paying it, as a bad move... But, then, I take no repairs and sell no chickens, to avoid such things...

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8 hours ago, Rue said:

Complicated...I figured as much. 

I am not likely to be any situation like this...but another thread had me wondering. Demoted instruments...promoted instruments. ..

Sticking to instruments unlikely to have pending personnel actions may save one many a complication. :lol:

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On ethics I think you can follow the letter of the law or you can follow your own moral compass.  Without going into all the details, my family was given a violin (about 6 years ago) by an elderly lady who was thinking about donating it to a school, it belonged to her mother.  I put about $400 - $600 (don't remember) into it to get it playable and an insurance quote that valued it at $4500 and another $2000 for the bow.  My ethical decision was to tell the previous owner (it was given to me so I'm the legal owner) it's appraised value and offer to return it to her for the cost of repairs that I payed.  She said no, I just want it to be played.  I'm still using it.  Following my moral compass, I would have made the same decision if it was Strad, even if the letter of the law would have allowed me to sell it for big bucks.  

-Jim

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7 hours ago, Violadamore said:

Sticking to instruments unlikely to have pending personnel actions may save one many a complication. :lol:

That's in part, why I don't have anything of value...less stress...:P

 

1 hour ago, Jim Bress said:

On ethics I think you can follow the letter of the law or you can follow your own moral compass.  Without going into all the details, my family was given a violin (about 6 years ago) by an elderly lady who was thinking about donating it to a school, it belonged to her mother.  I put about $400 - $600 (don't remember) into it to get it playable and an insurance quote that valued it at $4500 and another $2000 for the bow.  My ethical decision was to tell the previous owner (it was given to me so I'm the legal owner) it's appraised value and offer to return it to her for the cost of repairs that I payed.  She said no, I just want it to be played.  I'm still using it.  Following my moral compass, I would have made the same decision if it was Strad, even if the letter of the law would have allowed me to sell it for big bucks.  

-Jim

That's a bit different.  I wouldn't have bothered to tell the lady anything (potentially less stressful for her)...the money involved isn't enough to be problematic.  I've sold stuff cheap, knowing it needed repairs, in that instance if someone can make money off of the item, kudos to them.  They put in the work.

What would the value of the violin have been 'as is'?

The next question would be:  at what price point (if any) would there be a problem?

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All the moral and legal issues aside, it would be nice just to have it in your hands for just a little time , as a maker to maybe do a bench copy and as a player just to enjoy just for a while before you do the ' right' thing

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15 hours ago, Jeff Jetson said:

I seldom go to estate sales as most people try to get twenty dollars for an old shovel and I can buy a brand new for that price. 

I call this the "Antiques Road Show syndrome."  Ever since that show became so popular people have become more sure than ever that whatever they have may be worth big bucks.

What I find most amusing is how much thrift shops like to ask for old folding music stands.  Personally I think they are among the ugliest creations of all mankind, but the pricing-pros in the back rooms of thrifts seem to think the chrome must be covering gold.

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16 minutes ago, Rue said:

That's in part, why I don't have anything of value...less stress...:P

 

That's a bit different.  I wouldn't have bothered to tell the lady anything (potentially less stressful for her)...the money involved isn't enough to be problematic.  I've sold stuff cheap, knowing it needed repairs, in that instance if someone can make money off of the item, kudos to them.  They put in the work.

What would the value of the violin have been 'as is'?

The next question would be:  at what price point (if any) would there be a problem?

Yes because it turned out to be not expensive.  However, before taking it to our Luthier we goggled at the 1795 label, and we were still naive enough to not understand how little a label means.  For all we knew it could been worth $200k.   We made our decisions before finding out the value.  2K or 200k, it depends on the individual.  If your hungry and in debt, 2k is a lot of money.

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Yes of course.  BUT...she could have had the violin appraised on her own.  OR, she could have suggested a commission of some sort if you did the ground work for her.  People have many choices.  "I couldn't be bothered to put the work in myself" is a choice that I don't necessarily think needs to be overruled.

I also would be open to something along the lines of "I will give you this violin, but if you find out it is of any significant value, I'd appreciated %10 more."  Or some agreement along those lines.

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This happens in the guitar world often, walk into someone's home for an evaluation, Grand dad had a '62 Stratocaster in the closet, people in some north east states were incredible hoarders ... 

I think I read it on this board, about someone saying that at this point the only way we'd find an unknown Stradivarius is if someone was buried with it in the 18th century ... I don't think I'd play one ..

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18 hours ago, Rue said:

What if you DID find a real Strad (or DG etc.) in the attic or at a garage sale? Are you obligated to inform whoever had it before you? Do you have to give them more money? Do you have to give it back?  What if you keep it? What if you sell it?

Or how valuable does an object have to be before this becomes an issue?

Or what if someone gave me a known Strad or DG etc.)? Can they even do that?

Inquiring (procrastinating) minds need to ponder such things. .;)

 

Every attic and garage in the world has been scoured long ago and all of them have been discovered. Just ask the experts.

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Leaving aside the near zero chance of finding a "loose" Strad in the attic, does anyone have any more genuine "discoveries" (i. e. valuable instruments or bows found in unlikely places) that they'd care to share?  

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47 minutes ago, Greg F. said:

Leaving aside the near zero chance of finding a "loose" Strad in the attic, does anyone have any more genuine "discoveries" (i. e. valuable instruments or bows found in unlikely places) that they'd care to share?  

Me personally, nothing hugely valuable, I guess its all relative. But I have found plenty of stuff well above "the usual".

Probably the most valuable one I know personally (but wasn't me) was a Lupot (violin). Turns out it was legitimately purchased by an ancestor at a major shop, but at a time when it wasn't ridiculously valuable and it's value was just forgotten over the years. 

I know many other credible stories like this, not as uncommon as you might think. There was a period between the 1940s and 1990s when prices skyrocketed, a relatively normal conservatory student with reasonably well-to-do parents could walk into M&sons and buy a Bisiach and forget about it its price over the next 40 years. And if they couldn't get a Bisiach they could settle for a lowly Carletti.  These things pop up from time to time in clueless descendants hands.

If you own something decent, make sure its taken care of before you die.... 

 

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