dillywilly

Selling an expensive violin

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Hello,

     I'm in the process of selling a violin that's been in my family for 100 years. The violin was played by a pretty famous violinist for many years and is well documented; no one doubts the authenticity of the instrument. However, I've had a miserable time shopping it around to dealers in the US. I've been told to visit Asia with it and try there, but I have limited funds, in fact the violin is pretty much all I have. I'm 68 and on a fixed income. Are there people who do this as a job? What exactly does it mean to "go to Asia"? Asia is big!! I was a used car dealer for 36 years and generally my commission was 2%. Philaldelphia, NYC, LA.. they all want 25-30% of the selling price!! Where I'm from, they call that a racket! I'm probably just jealous.Thanks for your input

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20-30% is standard, its not a racket, its just that the violin business works on different margins, has much different risks than other businesses, and requires much more expertise and connections than selling cars.

The other option is auctions, again 20%, and possibly not the best price, but many auction houses are getting prices closer to retail. The advantage here is that they can be quick. You just have to make sure they present your item reasonably, not over or under estimated.

Its just tough for an individual to sell an expensive instruments at prices close to retail. Some connected professional musicians can do this but it doesn't sound like you are one of those. Go to one of the big shop and give them their well earned 1/4. 

For the record I am not a dealer, but I have bought and sold many items through them. Some run questionable businesses, no doubt, but most are fair and 25% is well within reason if all else is legit.

 

 

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50 minutes ago, dillywilly said:

Hello,

     I'm in the process of selling a violin that's been in my family for 100 years. The violin was played by a pretty famous violinist for many years and is well documented; no one doubts the authenticity of the instrument. However, I've had a miserable time shopping it around to dealers in the US. I've been told to visit Asia with it and try there, but I have limited funds, in fact the violin is pretty much all I have. I'm 68 and on a fixed income. Are there people who do this as a job? What exactly does it mean to "go to Asia"? Asia is big!! I was a used car dealer for 36 years and generally my commission was 2%. Philaldelphia, NYC, LA.. they all want 25-30% of the selling price!! Where I'm from, they call that a racket! I'm probably just jealous.Thanks for your input

I assume there is a little more to this story?

I can't understand why, if the violin is desirable/authentic/etc., you've had dealers in the states send you to Asia.

That said, in the title, you mention expensive.  That means different things to different people. 4 figures, 5 figures, 6 figures, 7 figures? The value may, and often is, a factor when selecting who might be best to market the instrument for you.

I'm afraid you'll probably need to get used to the sales commissions in the violin trade.  They aren't cars nor real estate. Luckily, they aren't art either (much higher).  Commissions often slide depending on value and difficulty.  High 6 and 7 figure instruments often carry a lower commission rate. Many of us still get by with 20% for a reasonably valuable instrument, but costs of doing business in some areas have driven that up slightly.

Dean mentioned auctions.  They are certainly a viable option, though don't expect sale price to be full retail (with exceptions of some very rare and desirable pieces).  Most major action houses charge the buyer around 20% of the hammer price (up to a certain, substantial, amount... then the % drops slightly) and the seller around 10%.  That's closing in on 30%.  The seller gets the hammer less 10% (less if there are applicable expenses), not the published sale price. Commission is commission.  Those buying will know what they are paying.

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4 hours ago, dillywilly said:

 

  I'm in the process of selling a violin that's been in my family for 100 years. The violin was played by a pretty famous violinist for many years and is well documented; no one doubts the authenticity of the instrument. However, I've had a miserable time shopping it around to dealers in the US. I've been told to visit Asia ...

Did you find it in the attic?^_^

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I don't understand the reference to Asia...unless the violin itself isn't of great value but was played by someone who is appreciated more in Asia? If that were the case you are looking to get more value from the provenance...

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I do not understand why a dealer would tell you to try the Asian market to sell your violin, perhaps you misunderstood him. If you tell who the maker is and or posts a picture there are plenty here who can value it for you.

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dillywilly, welcome to MN.

Definitely be careful what information you put out.

BTW, I agree with Jeffry that there seems something untold in your story.  You said, for example, that you had "shopped the violin around to dealers" and that seems to suggest you have tried to sell it outright to them.  Then you mention what seems a high commission rate.  Even with that, perhaps you'd be better off having them sell it for you.  But we don't know what we don't know about what you have done so far.

Regarding commissions, they usually go down some when an instrument is worth quite a bit.  And they should certainly be negotiable.  I too doubt the wisdom of going to Asia, since there are plenty of reliable dealers and shops in our largest cities. ( I don't know if we're allowed to mention them here.)  It might be that the person that gave you this information thought your violin could sell for more in Asia.  I don't have any current knowledge regarding that, but I wouldn't doubt it.  But, after all, an enthusiastic Asian buyer can easily come here.  We ARE in the 21st century.

It does cost a dealer to represent your best interests and take care of your instrument, and they have to make money.  It doesn't pay to try to skimp too much on the process.  IMO, be sure the violin is insured, even if that seems expensive, too.

Best of luck, and there are those of us who love violins who are dying to know who the "famous violinist" was and the make.  After things are settled, please come back to Maestronet and tell us what must be a fabulous history.

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I think Jeffrey is right recommending not posting it here.

And, Dillywilly, (nice name alliteration, BTW), it costs dealers money to maintain an inventory of fine violins, and expensive violins are not a commodity like a car. A violin dealer might wait years to match a particular violin to a customer. Auctions do not guarantee an immediate sale, particularly if you set a high reserve price.

Having said that, you might be able to negotiate a sliding percentage based on price, while remembering that you do want the dealer have an incentive to sell it for as high a price as they can. And you should get offers of terms from several different reputable dealers.

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I think you can find a very reputable shop that will charge 20% commission, which is very fair imho -  It's not easy to sell an expensive violin!  I don't think it would be giving too much information if you post who you believe the maker to be (you don't have to say anything else, i.e. who the famous player is who owned the violin) - I'm sure you'll get lots of good recommendations for some honest and reputable dealers...

 

 

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I have often had people who bring in instruments be very uninformed about the condition of their instrument and the cost of making them salable. "how can that little crack in the back be such a big problem?"

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If OP has been informed properly, I understand his situation. A friend who is an accomplished player had a situation a few years back with what looked like a possible WW2 'loot' violin that was associated to a celebrated Italian luthier. He was approached while in South America and told that despite the exposure the violin got, brokers were asking for 30 - 40 % for the 'sale opportunity' due to the risk of family associated to the instrument emerging with a claim. 

I'm assuming that OP is not giving us more information / disclosure on the instrument for some type of privacy reasons?

 

Could be wrong ... but would love to check out the fiddle.

 

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4 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

 If a dealer has actually examined and appraised it value may not be in question anyway.

Maybe it depends on the dealer, nu?
(and "may"  can be a very big, 3 letter word!)

Quote

 

 

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I am starting to wonder if this is perhaps an instrument that has been altered in some way as to be less attractive to European or American buyers.

I am aware of an extremely valuable Italian cello which was "restored" some years ago by a guitar maker and had the varnish polished out like a bowling ball. That instrument still has a value which should reach seven figures but which most dealers would think twice about selling for fear people might  think they had done that work or  because they felt they could not ask a price worthy of that maker and people who were not aware of the situation might suspect them of taking advantage of the seller.  

I know that the owner of that cello passed away a few years ago and I have not heard that it had been sold.

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I've read the story (I do not know where) about a few Chinese trader that buy antique European violin in a huge amount and sell them in China to rich collectors or rent them to local players. Also, I bumped once into one eBay seller of the violins who buy the European violins in any condition or exchange his stock for them. My two coins to the story of expensive things.

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Have you considered selling it on eBay?  As long time denizens of The Auction Scroll will be aware, there are a couple of eBay sellers well known for offering Cremonese violins at six and seven figure prices.  You could become as discussed on that forum as they've been. [Runs for cover, again.] :ph34r::lol:;)

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Thanks very much for the genuine information, I really appreciate it. Some of the comments though spooked me even more, not to mention the 38 private messages I've gotten offering to sell the violin. Some of you though gave me good information and I really appreciate it again. In the 80s, my brother was a junk bond trader, made a lot of money in a greedy frenzy, then shot it up his nose. He died on the street in 1991, I think the most he made one year was 3 Million dollars. I mention this because some of the comments here/the feel of the violin dealing world seems to me as desperate/greedy to make a buck, it's scary to somebody who spent 40 years saving every penny. Take care of yourselves, money aint everything (advice from an old man)  :).

ANyway, to clear up my post:

-the violin is from 1737

-it was played by a teacher at the Juilliard School  in the early 1900s

-It's Italian

-It was bought from a company called Wurlitzer

-I'm being vague because I'm spooked

-Nothing is wrong with it/changed. I was offered 7 figures minus 25%. The money will fund the rest of my life and then be donated to Catholic charities when I die.

-I was told by a friend of my father in the LA Symphony to look in Asia, not by a dealer.

-At this point, I think I'm going to bring it to a repair man in Boston, he's old and honest, a good pair in my opinion.  

Thanks again to you few, I gave it a try! Jaap

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If you have a $1M plus violin, I recommend you take it to a qualified appraiser. Please be very careful about having any repairs done on the instrument, and please be aware that very few people are equipped to make proper judgments on such instruments.

If the violin (presumably Cremonese if it's worth 7 figures) has a Wurlitzer paper or is otherwise sound, I don't understand why you are feeling you're being given the run-around. There is of course a big market for this level of instrument in Asia, but it should also be possible to sell it in the US.

25-30% is a BIG commission on this level of instrument, BIG commission, ToTAlly UnaccEptable (said in Trump voice)

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23 hours ago, dillywilly said:

... Some of the comments though spooked me even more, not to mention the 38 private messages I've gotten offering to sell the violin.

Good grief.  That would spook me as well! :huh:

Plus I'm amazed so many MNers are that rich! ^_^

Edited by Rue
...spook...NOT spoke!

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Forget about Asia, that was not good advise IMO. There are a handful of dealers/brokers in the US who can handle your situation fairly, its only a few and you probably have an idea who they are by now. If the instrument is what you say then I'm 95% confident it has enough documentation that some of these guys already know about it, and maybe have even seen it in the past.

These guys will take a commission, but probably not as high as 25% just because of the value, as others have mentioned.

Also keep in mind that the price range of an instrument by a given maker can vary many fold for a lot of reasons. A genuine Stradivarius could today sell anywhere from 2-20 MM USD. Its really difficult to value instruments of this level. So a dealer with great connections and great knowledge, but charges a higher fee, might be still be the best bet. 

 

 

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29 minutes ago, Rue said:

Good grief.  That would spoke me as well! :huh:

Plus I'm amazed so many MNers are that rich! ^_^

Offering to sell, not offering to buy!

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Ohh!  That makes more sense.  I misread! People trying to cash in on getting rich!  Thanks for setting me straight! ^_^  

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Yeah, not many guys put up cash for this level of stuff, they just make money on the transaction, Of course their expertise and professional reputation are critical in ultimately making the sale, thats where they earn their cut. Sometimes situations like this can go through several dealers, each getting some cut or finders fee.

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1 hour ago, dillywilly said:

 

-At this point, I think I'm going to bring it to a repair man in Boston, he's old and honest, a good pair in my opinion.  

Thanks again to you few, I gave it a try! Jaap

Since you plan to visit Boston, I'll mention that there is a very capable expert and dealer there... a trusted colleague who specializes in instruments in this range.  Feel free to email me (I will not contact you... sorry you had so many private messages) and I'll be happy to provide you with contact information.  It would probably be worthwhile meeting and talking with him.  My contact information is on my website (Holmesviolns.com).

25% does seem a bit on the hefty side for a 7 figure instrument, unless some of that is going toward restoration... but I can't judge fairly without knowing more.

I wish you the best of luck, Jaap.  Thank you for participating on the forum!

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