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I’d appreciate any insight you can lend about this instrument.  I’m a lawyer but have a performance degree from Cleveland State and play with the Johnstown Symphony, which is a small orchestra with a $500k budget.  I’m sure I’ll continue to play throughout my career, and am now on the board of trustees and players committee.  I share that background because it relates to my perspective.    

My high school teacher (cello professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania) is selling this instrument for $17,000.  I was her last student and we have a “Tuesdays with Morrie” type of mentor relationship.  She bought it in 1979 from a dealer in Cleveland, but has no papers.  She thinks it was played in The Cleveland Orchestra.  I’ve contacted Donald Rosenberg (former music critic of The Cleveland Orchestra) and the current TCO archivist, neither of whom recognized it.  There has been a photo posted of it in their hall for some time, with no luck.    

The only label inside is from a 1979 restoration by Kolstein & Sons in NY.  It was restored by Fred Oster’s shop in Philadelphia last summer, which believes it to be at least as old as the 18th century.   

My former teacher from The Cleveland Orchestra was complimentary of its sound and said it is every bit as good as his backup (to his regular Forster instrument) that he plays on tour.  I contacted a well known appraiser in Philadelphia who isn’t interested in appraising it and did not like the instrument, and had no idea where it was made and suggested that any value is speculative.  He also does not believe it was ever played in The Cleveland Orchestra, at least under Szell.

Terry Carlin in Cleveland said that it has had a lot of work (more than average for its age, which is unknown) but that the work was done well.  

It is 28.5”/73cm long. 13”/32cm wide (point to point) across the upper bout. 16”/41cm wide at the lower boot. 

I’d be grateful for any additional guidance you could lend, suggestions of an appraiser in the Pittsburgh/Cleveland/Philadelphia area.  I’m willing to travel to learn more.  Just at a loss as to what to do where the origin and value are so unknown.  I feel like $17,000 may be a good price if all we know is that it is old.  But it’s also tough to spend so much on such an unknown.  

Thanks very much.

Brad Holuta





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What a weird duck. Scroll from the rather poor picture seems Mkn -Sch, fluting stopping before 6 o'clock. Better pictures may help.

I would suspect the body is too, probably 2nd half 19th century. But don't take my opinion too seriously, am no expert. 

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9 minutes ago, deans said:

Another thing you could do is have dendrochronology done on it. Wont tell you who made it, but could provide info on how old it could be, and it could add to the conversation value of something like this.

Perhaps it's just me, but does the top not look to be too far off-quarter for dendro to be used confidently in this case?

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I appreciate all of the feedback!  I’ve uploaded additional photos.  The inside is full of cleats - I could not get good photos.  Knowing that it’s largely unknown, how do you feel about $17,000 for a sweet sounding yet completely unknown commodity that might be old?  I guess that sort of like asking what you’d pay for an unknown painting by an unknown artist - who knows!!?  I just have no idea where $17k is in the spectrum. My college cello (Yanxin Chen) was $6,500.  I feel like there are lots of other options in that price range, perhaps not as old, if indeed it is old, but of a better quality instrument than I have currently.  






















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Wow! That thing is really beat up! You should give the seller a "Release from Liability". While it may be solid now, based on the number of previous repairs, I might speculate that there will be ongoing repairs over time. While it's your choice, $17,000 for an instrument in that condition, of an unknown maker, and unknown age, seems like an awful lot!

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I rather wonder if it was originally a cello, or if it wasn’t something else. It certainly seems to have a later replacement Saxon scroll. In agreement with Fiddle Doug re. condition. A serious restoration would be a Sisyphus project. As a violin maker, I wouldn’t be prepared to pay anything for it.

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On 8/31/2020 at 8:26 PM, BradHoluta said:

 I’m a lawyer but have a performance degree...and play with... a small orchestra with a $500k budget.     

My...cello professor ... is selling this instrument for $17,000.

 ...She bought it in 1979 from a dealer in Cleveland, but has no papers.  She thinks it was played in The ...Orchestra

... I feel like $17,000 may be a good price if all we know is that it is old. 

I'm not quite sure how the above is relevant to making this purchase.

Even for a lawyer...I  would think that's a lot of money to pay for something questionable - just because it's old. "Old" doesn't imply value.

...or is the value of this related to some version of "name-dropping"?


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10 hours ago, BradHoluta said:

Knowing that it’s largely unknown, how do you feel about $17,000 for a sweet sounding yet completely unknown commodity that might be old?  I guess that sort of like asking what you’d pay for an unknown painting by an unknown artist - who knows!!?

Well, it does make cello noises.  I don't think you're taking the hints.  People who know about these things are trying to let you down easy, and maybe they don't want to give candid opinions for ethical reasons, but apparently they think it's complete rubbish.  I'm just an ignorant player, but frankly I wouldn't pay anything for it.  It's not a piece of art by an unknown artist.  It's a utilitarian object that was probably cut down very inelegantly from something else.  If you buy it, it will not be an object of prestige.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

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You don't know, and most likely won't ever know, who made it. It is in terrible condition, and I question the use of the word "restored" in Oster's shop. No restoration was done on this instrument by Fred's shop, just repairs to make it continue to be playable and saleable. How much something is worth, in the violin world, is determined by: 1-Who made it, 2-What condition it is in. 

If you like it, purchase it, but don't ever expect to get your money back out of it and be prepared to spend a good bit more on it to maintain it in the future. Don't even consider a proper restoration. It will be difficult to sell if you ever fall out of love, and what a shop would offer in trade toward something else is in no way related to the asking price, meaning very little as a long-term project that might be a fun challenge, but won't make the shop any money in the end.

If you purchase it, consider it to be gratuitous consumption, not investment, play it and enjoy it between visits to the luthier, and you should keep the student cello that you have to play while it is being worked on. There must be a huge patch under the button, otherwise the neck should have imploded by now.

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I appreciate all of the helpful and honest feedback, which is exactly what I was seeking.  I had shared my background just to give my reasons for considering this purchase and how the instrument would fit in my life and musical endeavors.  Having no experience, I just had no idea whether this is a great bargain or a huge blunder.  

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This cello is a mess, if it’s even a cello.

dont buy it. If you do there will be neither pride of ownership nor-ever-opportunity for resale.

if your near Cincinnati or Cleveland, you’re near a wealth of good music schools, music shops and musicians. If you’re prepared to spend 18K you can find a very fine cello.

If you want more specific info about this cello you can contact Kolstein and ask Barry about the work. He probably still has records going back to then.

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To be honest it looks like a church bass that was cut down, or if it's older, a large baroque cello that was cut down. I might buy it if it were a few hundred, but $17000 sounds like an awful lot. In the end, you have to decide if you like the sound and are willing to live with it with the knowledge you will likely never get all that money back. This might be a case of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Personally, I like quirky instruments and this is definitely quirky. However, not quirky enough for $17K.


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If Barry had some records that would be great. I know there are folks interested in the history if anything is known or can be learned. The only restoration possible is to keep it playable. I have one very similar and it is an orphan, most likely cut down Baroque. It has almost sixty cleats, a patina cello if you will. It is also in Ohio.

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