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The circle of blacklisted certificates


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A recent experience with a fine instrument that belongs to one of my former teachers prompted these thoughts. There are many fine instruments out there with certificates from the 40s-60s that basically mean nothing nowadays. My teacher's widow for example is told now that the family investment from 1950s- when they purchased it for a substantial sum of money back then is not worth much today contrary to their expectations. This makes one think how good of an investment is a fine old instrument? I am not talking about the million dollar range pristine instruments etc., How long till Rampal, Leonhard, Blot, Gindin certificates become obsolete?

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It would depend on the instrument really. If it’s a good example, with a lot of agreement between different experts, and already had some provenance, there may be no issues.

Problems will start with instruments which are speculative to begin with, and one could end up disappointed in future, when experts may still fail to agree on what it is, and whichever scientific means they may have at their disposal.

It also begs the question of who is an expert.
In your example, who made the certificate matters a great deal. There was always pressure to put a name to an instrument, but in many cases it has been proven to be incorrect as time passes, where better research, or modern technologies such as dendro have shown otherwise.
If this was an honest mistake, or done for financial gain, is another area entirely. 

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2 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

That is actually another reason why it can be an excellent idea to buy from a maker. At the very least you know you’re getting something genuine, and it will always be genuine

Absolutely true if you find someone good AND the market manages to recognize it.

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2 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

That is actually another reason why it can be an excellent idea to buy from a maker. At the very least you know you’re getting something genuine, and it will always be genuine

If they did actually make it, yes. 

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6 hours ago, germain said:

How long till Rampal, Leonhard, Blot, Gindin certificates become obsolete?

These are all people who take the business of certification very seriously and who care for their reputations. They surely don't need me to defend them, but your post seemed pretty thoughtless and scattergun to me. 

If you wanted to discuss a particular case with any likelihood of it casting light on the current state of expertise, we would need to know who had issued the discredited certificate, what the instrument was, and who had challenged the previous certificate.

Just as an example, there are many unscrupulous dealers who would say something wasn't what it was in the hope of buying it cheaply ... that might also explain the scenario you are describing.

 

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

These are all people who take the business of certification very seriously and who care for their reputations. They surely don't need me to defend them, but your post seemed pretty thoughtless and scattergun to me. 

If you wanted to discuss a particular case with any likelihood of it casting light on the current state of expertise, we would need to know who had issued the discredited certificate, what the instrument was, and who had challenged the previous certificate.

Just as an example, there are many unscrupulous dealers who would say something wasn't what it was in the hope of buying it cheaply ... that might also explain the scenario you are describing.

 

The details of the incident that prompted these thoughts are not my or public business. The point here Martin is that the moment a musician tries to sell their instrument which in some cases is an investment of a lifetime gets immediately the lowball treatment from dealers. On a different note I don't think the listed authorities need anyone to defend them. I myself have enormous respect for their expertise and knowledge. I am just wondering how long till some of my instruments with certificates from the above authorities are canceled by the new generation violin "gods"

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Rembert Wurlitzer has been dead for ages, but his papers are still excellent.

I think the good people remain good, and the questionable people remain questionable.

I remember a local dealer was trying to flog a cello he claimed was a Testori. It was ugly, and didn’t sound especially good. I asked him if it had papers, and he said cheerfully,”oh, I’ll give you papers.” I said,”does it have reputable papers” and his smile, which was always fake anyway, faded a bit. He paused for a moment and then said, “ I can get some.” 
yeah, I bet he could.

Edited by PhilipKT
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As a bow collector, I do notice a lot of tourte's and peccatte's "suddenly" appearing... I guess the demand for these is so great that simple peccatte/tourte school bows are being certified as the real deal.. I'm quite certain some experts will fall from their pedestal in this decade.

In general, I find it alarming to see how many certificates are being written en it frightens me to be honest , 10 years ago nobody would care less for a simple jtl or laberte bow, now the market demands it comes with a paper! I understand this is partly due to the many fakes out there.

And yes, I have seen certificates that are plainly wrong for obvious reasons, these can range from small mistakes such as fully or semi mounted/length of stick/ nickel or silver mounted, etc... But also some big mistakes where the bow was obvious maker x and it had a paper saying its made by maker y, of course showing it to a different expert(s) confirmed my opinion.

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This is sadly a universal story. I think just about every musician I've ever known has had this sort of experience or is close to someone who has, and most definitely, every person I've ever met who has tried to buy and sell an instrument for a profit has run into something like this at some point.

The only way to avoid getting "stung" for a musician is either to buy only new instruments from living makers, or blue-chip consensus-inspiring examples from well known and documented makers with multple certificates (and dendro), or if one is in love with a speculative instrument, to not pay more than the price of a decent new violin or bow.

If one is in the fray to make money, then it's up to that person to decide how much he knows in terms of expertise himself and recognize his own limits. Anyone who buys a violin or bow solely based on a certificate or a description in a sale without examining it and coming to his own opinion is begging for much pain.

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8 hours ago, Michael Appleman said:

This is sadly a universal story. I think just about every musician I've ever known has had this sort of experience or is close to someone who has, and most definitely, every person I've ever met who has tried to buy and sell an instrument for a profit has run into something like this at some point.

The only way to avoid getting "stung" for a musician is either to buy only new instruments from living makers, or blue-chip consensus-inspiring examples from well known and documented makers with multple certificates (and dendro), or if one is in love with a speculative instrument, to not pay more than the price of a decent new violin or bow.

If one is in the fray to make money, then it's up to that person to decide how much he knows in terms of expertise himself and recognize his own limits. Anyone who buys a violin or bow solely based on a certificate or a description in a sale without examining it and coming to his own opinion is begging for much pain.

I am a great fan of modern makers but one has to recognise that the market value for used instruments by all but the highest profile living makers is not good. So much so that one very respected UK modern luthier will not take instruments by living makers to sell on consigment. Many musicians regard their instruments as a significant part of their pension. If you can only sell for what you paid (after allowing for inflation) this is less attractive than the return one gets from an old instrument.

Edited by Brumcello
name of luthier deleted
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1 hour ago, chrissweden said:

In general, I find it alarming to see how many certificates are being written en it frightens me to be honest , 10 years ago nobody would care less for a simple jtl or laberte bow, now the market demands it comes with a paper! I understand this is partly due to the many fakes out there.

Is this not also in part due to the fact that instruments/ bows going through the French auction system must be accompanied by a certificate? There are a lot of these kind of bows in the auctions and I guess more expensive ones are getting out of reach for a lot of players. You see the French certificates popping up everywhere, Japan, tarisio T2 etc.

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20 minutes ago, Brumcello said:

I am a great fan of modern makers but one has to recognise that the market value for used instruments by all but the highest profile living makers is not good. So much so that Robin Aitchison will not take instruments by living makers to sell on consigment. Many musicians regard their instruments as a significant part of their pension. If you can only sell for what you paid (after allowing for inflation) this is less attractive than the return one gets from an old instrument.

One can also choose to use a "functional" instrument and prepare for one's retirement in "conventional" ways. Pianists and wind players don't plan their retirements around selling their instruments. If one buys an instrument as an investment as well as a professional tool, one had better invest a lot of time and research into making sure the investment is sound!

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22 hours ago, Brumcello said:

I am a great fan of modern makers but one has to recognise that the market value for used instruments by all but the highest profile living makers is not good. So much so that one very respected UK modern luthier will not take instruments by living makers to sell on consigment.

I think that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, equally it could simply be that he does not want direct competition from other living makers, directly within his own shop.

Otherwise, what is the problem?

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1 hour ago, Shelbow said:

Is this not also in part due to the fact that instruments/ bows going through the French auction system must be accompanied by a certificate? There are a lot of these kind of bows in the auctions and I guess more expensive ones are getting out of reach for a lot of players. You see the French certificates popping up everywhere, Japan, tarisio T2 etc.

No it is not required, the student auction at Vichy does not come with a "free" certificate, only their premium auction does. By law you can return the item if found out to be a counterfeit or not by the maker which the expert said it was, the law is a bit vague on it and there have been some lawsuits about it, particularly with art/paintings. I'm more talking about the workshop bows by D Peccatte made from albeille or exotic hardwood receiving papers saying it's "made by" instead of "workshop of" even when it's quite obvious (no S on head, length/place of mortise for instance) I'm sure this also happens with other instruments that are made in the workshop but certified as by the maker himself.

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There have always been good experts and bad experts - I'm not sure that the situation is very different in fine art or any kind of antiquities.

I would also point out that the situation described by the OP, while all too common, also happens in reverse. Sometimes an old certificate is a bit negative ("showing the hand of so and so etc.") because the person issuing the certificate was hoping to buy it for their own collection. 30 years on it turns out to be "the best XXX in existence" and the owner is very happy.

Honesty and transparency are everything in this business - we can only deal in opinions, and those opinions should be honest ones.

Overall I agree with Michael - if you are looking for investment, get a slam dunk example from someone you trust, with a certificate from someone else who you also trust. These items only get rarer, and if their value wasn't steadily increasing there wouldn't be room for the sort of shenanigans we all wish to decry.

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4 hours ago, Wood Butcher said:

I think that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, equally it could simply be that he does not want direct competition from other living makers, directly within his own shop.

Do you know him? That is not how he operates. I'm pretty certain he is not concerned about competition from other living makers.

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One could look at the question in the other direction - whose certificates are still valid? I do think that Jacob has a point about "what the instrument is", but one of the points of certificates is to make the unknowing buyers more secure about their purchases. And in such a way, just as with used car salesmen - it is just plain criminal fraud.

If I'm not mistaking, many current certificates would include photos of the instruments; in this case certificates "belong" to the instruments - I don't know if anybody is so good as to copy an instrument with the flames and wood grain. So that way, at least one certificate cannot be used for a similar instrument.

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First, a warning. If this thread turns to naming specific names, especially living ones, of those who produced or are producing certificates (good or bad), it will disappear in a flash. I honestly don't want to moderate that sort of discussion. 

Second; Yes, I join those who are fascinated by the amazing number of certificates being produced for everything from generic Mirecourt workshop bows to generic instruments from all over the globe... I agree with Jacob; It simply matters what it is.

Third; A certificate is an opinion... and many of those produced decades ago may, or may not, be incorrect by an inch or a mile. Archive research is ongoing, and has accelerated, in those same decades. In addition, in many cases, the difference in value between, say, a Vuillaume bow and what was called a Vuillaume/Peccatte was not as vast in 1950 or 1960 as it is today. In other words, the stakes were not as high.

Fourth; There is risk involved in almost any transaction, and a wise buyer will do his due diligence and confirm the policies and reputation of the seller... and determine if a second opinion is warranted (or has already been arranged). The seller, representing and instrument as genuine, is the person "on the hook" for error or misrepresentation, not the person who wrote a certificate in 1960... or possibly not in 2010.

Fifth; The nasty stuff isn't just limited to those in the trade.  I've known players (although briefly, as I don't really want to be around them) who buy things with old incorrect certificates simply so they can sell them on at a profit (to students, colleagues, etc).

Sixth; I think living maker's instruments are an excellent buy if you want a contemporary one. There are many very good makers out there and they need to eat and probably have mortgages like many of us do.

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Responsible certifiers invest the hell of time in examining as many instruments as possible from one maker to get to conclusions for an uncertified instrument of the same maker. They usually create a very reliable basis for future expertise. But it still can happen that even the most serious expert makes 'mistakes' on the ground that certain historic knowledge becomes unearthed to overthrow assumed believes. 

--------------------

In German law the validity of a certificate is 30 years and in those terms all certificates become obsolete. 

Law also states that a certificate as a document needs to follow the latest knowledge existing in printed and verifiable form. (For lawyers this means written in the language of the country they are living). 

This was quite a while ago the reason why a Japanese buyer of a wrongly attributed Strad (presumably with the price ticket of a genuine Strad) lost the case against the dealer. The court ruling stated that the dealer acted in best consciousness to what was known to him written in Japanese language about Antonio Stradivari (basically nothing at that time). Even a major English expert testifying at court on the behalf of the plaintiff couldn't change that.

 

 

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5 hours ago, martin swan said:

There have always been good experts and bad experts - I'm not sure that the situation is very different in fine art or any kind of antiquities.

I would also point out that the situation described by the OP, while all too common, also happens in reverse. Sometimes an old certificate is a bit negative ("showing the hand of so and so etc.") because the person issuing the certificate was hoping to buy it for their own collection. 30 years on it turns out to be "the best XXX in existence" and the owner is very happy.

Honesty and transparency are everything in this business - we can only deal in opinions, and those opinions should be honest ones.

Overall I agree with Michael - if you are looking for investment, get a slam dunk example from someone you trust, with a certificate from someone else who you also trust. These items only get rarer, and if their value wasn't steadily increasing there wouldn't be room for the sort of shenanigans we all wish to decry.

 

1 hour ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

First, a warning. If this thread turns to naming specific names, especially living ones, of those who produced or are producing certificates (good or bad), it will disappear in a flash. 

Second; Yes, I join those who are fascinated by the amazing number of certificates being produced for everything from generic Mirecourt workshop bows to generic instruments from all over the globe... I agree with Jacob; It simply matters what it is.

Third; A certificate is an opinion... and many of those produced decades ago may, or may not, be incorrect by na inch or a mile. Archive research is ongoing, and has accelerated, in those same decades. In addition, in many cases, the difference in value between, say, a Vuillaume bow and what was called a Vuillaume/Peccatte was not as vast in 1950 or 1960 as it is today. In other words, the stakes were not as high.

Fourth; There is risk involved in almost any transaction, and a wise buyer will do his due diligence and confirm the policies and reputation of the seller... and determine if a second opinion is warranted. The seller, representing and instrument as genuine, is the person "on the hook" for error or misrepresentation, not the person who wrote a certificate in 1960... or possibly not in 2010.

Fifth; The nasty stuff isn't just limited to those in the trade.  I've known players (although briefly, as I don't really want to be around them) who buy things with old incorrect certificates simply so they can sell them on at a profit (to students, colleagues, etc).

Sixth; I think living maker's instruments are an excellent buy if you want a contemporary one. There are many very good makers out there and they need to eat and probably have mortgages like many of us do.

Thank you, Martin, and Jeffrey, for these very excellent posts.  :)

IMHO, the authentication/appraisal situation with respect to violins is unique.  Every other expensive collectible, that I have experience with, either has an associated academic discipline, in which one may pursue advanced degrees (fine art, antiquities, mineral samples, etc.), or collector's/fancier's associations (militaria/weapons, show animals, sports memorabilia, etc), or both, sometimes together with government regulation, ultimately responsible for setting standards of quality and authenticity.  Violins also have the least in the way of readily accessible open standards and buyer education initiatives.

Given the vast public ignorance, the immense possible profits to be made, the intimate entanglement of dealers (I'd include teachers and players who deal here) and makers, with authentication, and the absence of organized consumers or an independent academic discipline (I'm not aware of any PhD. programs in Violin Appreciation :lol:), how could anyone expect things to be otherwise than they are?  :rolleyes:

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