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The Original Price of Stradivarius Violins in 18th Century (STRAD magazine, Feb 2022 "The Price is Right")


Bruce Tai
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I have always wondered, if I were born in Italy in 1700, could I afford a brand-new Stradivarius violin.

After some years of research, my wife and I finally finished a mini study on the original sales price of Stradivari violins. It is published in the Strad magazine, Feb 2022:

https://www.thestrad.com/lutherie/making-matters-the-price-is-right/14321.article 

The table below is a summary of what we found. A Stradivari violin could be purchased locally for around 100% GDP-per-capita during thre 18th century. If exported to England, the price doubles (England's GDP per capita is also double of Italy's) , according to Benjamin Hebbert's excellent research on the English market.

In today's terms, Italy's GDP is ~32K USD, and the USA ~64K USD. In a nutshell, if Stradivari were working today, an international customer could probably buy his violin for 60K-80K USD. Many professional violinists can still afford it. 

In our article, we discussed the income range of Barqoue musicians. It seemed that musicians with decent emplyment could still afford a new Strad back then. 

The biggest surprise in our research was how David Tecchler was almost starving in 1708 depite being the leading maker in Rome. 

The market for new master violins was already dwindling by 1708 and destined to be doomed very soon. String makers and organ makers were making much more money. Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu tried their best to survive by producing innovative violins that proved to be superior. Fortunately, they held on long enough to leave us with their masterpieces. 

 

Prices in Italy (GDP per capita ~600 g of silver, 1550-1750)

Maker

Price

(gram of silver)

Note

Ordinary violins

30

Similar in price to ordinary guitars

Mattheo Morales

80

Maltese guitar maker, 1698

Anonymous Brescian

180

1637

Ordinary master violin

240

1724

Michele Platner

250

1759

Francesco Rugeri

260

1685

David Tecchler

380-490

1710-1724

Cremonese (Amati?)

550-690

1637

Cremonese (Amati?)

720

1572

Antonio Stradivari

720

1729 testament

Antonio Stradivari

460-790

1750-1775, posthumous

Jacob Stainer

790

1708, posthumous

Nicolo Amati

1080

1685, posthumous

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3 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

 

The biggest surprise in our research was how David Tecchler was almost starving in 1708 depite being the leading maker in Rome. 

 

I think you will find that this is hardly a surprise, rather it seems to have been roughly normal. Few violin makers here could even afford a respectable funeral (considered important back then). Prof. Pio documents, for instance that Pietro Guarneri in Venice was little more than a beggar, and I posted an illuminating statement of the Viennese violin makers here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675

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49 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

Prof. Pio documents, for instance that Pietro Guarneri in Venice was little more than a beggar, and I posted an illuminating statement of the Viennese violin makers here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675

What could explain that violin makers were starving while string makers were very welathy in Rome?

I an interested in Pietro Guarneri's situation in Venice. Where may I find it? 

 

 

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3 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

I think you will find that this is hardly a surprise, rather it seems to have been roughly normal. Few violin makers here could even afford a respectable funeral (considered important back then). Prof. Pio documents, for instance that Pietro Guarneri in Venice was little more than a beggar, and I posted an illuminating statement of the Viennese violin makers here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675

So nothing much has changed since then.

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3 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

What could explain that violin makers were starving while string makers were very welathy in Rome?

I an interested in Pietro Guarneri's situation in Venice. Where may I find it? 

 

 

 

Planed obsolescence with the bloody gut strings, I suppose.:)

You will have to read Prof. Pio’s book, although a lot was in this thread https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/327351-michele-deconet/&do=findComment&comment=566278


 

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I imagine financial success back then depended on many of the same factors as today. Business savvy (Strad was pretty good I believe), what property you may have inherited, social standing, etc. In todays world the multi-working family is a big advantage, PG probably wasnt married to a lawyer or techie.

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When I was deciding between attending the Salt Lake school where I had been accepted or taking a job at W.H.Lee in Chicago I asked Marten Cornellissen for advice. We spent the afternoon discussing violins during which he shared his system of graduation and suggested I would be nuts to pass up a job which I would be happy to take even after going to school. He walked me out on the porch of his house and as I got to my car halfway down the block shouted at the top of his lungs; “Nate, you need a wife with a job!”:D

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On 8/17/2022 at 6:13 PM, jacobsaunders said:

I think you will find that this is hardly a surprise, rather it seems to have been roughly normal. Few violin makers here could even afford a respectable funeral (considered important back then). Prof. Pio documents, for instance that Pietro Guarneri in Venice was little more than a beggar, and I posted an illuminating statement of the Viennese violin makers here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675

Thanks to Jacob's guidance, I was able to find this information from Stefano Pio's website:

"At his death Montagnana left 22,320 Lire (3,600 Ducats), Zuane (II) Sellas left 15,006 Ducats to his sons. See: Stefano Pio, Violin and Lute Makers of Venice 1640 -1760, Venice Research 2004" https://www.veniceresearch.com/Deconet.pdf

Montagnana's wealth was quite incredible. Did he marry into money? The Sellas wealth is also considerable, and this is probably becuase their was a major string instrument dealer. So at least some string instrument makers were making good money in Venice in early 18th century.  

On the other hand, the best maker in Rome, David Tecchler,  was literally starving in 1708. What's wrong with Rome? Handel was in town to look for employment during 1708-1710. So the music business did not seem to be overall too bad. 

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On 8/17/2022 at 11:44 AM, deans said:

I imagine financial success back then depended on many of the same factors as today. Business savvy (Strad was pretty good I believe), what property you may have inherited, social standing, etc. In todays world the multi-working family is a big advantage, PG probably wasnt married to a lawyer or techie.

Didn't Antonio Stradivari "marry well", twice?

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9 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

Thanks to Jacob's guidance, I was able to find this information from Stefano Pio's website:

"At his death Montagnana left 22,320 Lire (3,600 Ducats), Zuane (II) Sellas left 15,006 Ducats to his sons. See: Stefano Pio, Violin and Lute Makers of Venice 1640 -1760, Venice Research 2004" https://www.veniceresearch.com/Deconet.pdf

Montagnana's wealth was quite incredible. Did he marry into money? The Sellas wealth is also considerable, and this is probably becuase their was a major string instrument dealer. So at least some string instrument makers were making good money in Venice in early 18th century.  

On the other hand, the best maker in Rome, David Tecchler,  was literally starving in 1708. What's wrong with Rome? Handel was in town to look for employment during 1708-1710. So the music business did not seem to be overall too bad. 

The pecuniary situation of 18th C violin makers, from what documents one can glean, was generally pretty dicey to abject poverty stricken. There are notable exceptions though. In the 18th C., an acid test of weather a life had been a success or not, was if the widow could afford a respectable funeral, to recommend the departed individuals soul to the “holy mother of god” etc. etc. This appears to have been of immense importance to people back then. One of the exceptions to this poverty rule was Daniel Acatius Stadlmann, who (or who’s “soul”) enjoyed quite an opulent funeral in 1744 https://data.matricula-online.eu/en/oesterreich/wien/01-st-stephan/03a-068/?pg=438 The prevailing standard however can be seen repeatedly, for instance Franz Hegner, who died of tuberculoses in his forty's, leaving no wealth at all, and a widow with 5 minor children, who signed the protocol with three crosses. The occasional violin maker died a rich man, Mathias Thir for instance, but most died in the workhouse, for instance Martin Mathias Fichtl, which I documented here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/340459-martin-mathias-fichtl-vienna-large-cello/&do=findComment&comment=809187 Also the statement of the Viennese Innung from 1770, which I cited above https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675 describes the pecuniary situation in detail. It would be most impolite of me to broach any opinion on weather or not David has “married well”:)

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On 8/17/2022 at 6:13 PM, jacobsaunders said:

 Prof. Pio documents, for instance that Pietro Guarneri in Venice was little more than a beggar, and I posted an illuminating statement of the Viennese violin makers here https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/339882-5-string-small-widhalm-viola/&do=findComment&comment=793675

 

Jacob, you are much more of a history expert than me. So I followed your lead to investigate Pietro Guarneri's income in Venice. 

From Pio's article https://www.veniceresearch.com/Deconet.pdf, I found this passage

"Pietro Guarneri......having opened his own workshop in the San Lio Parish in 1733, after 16 years spent as an employee at the workshop of Matteo Sellas (1717- 1733) 205 , would never have been in a position to take on an assistant, because work and money were scarce: “November 24, 1737. Iseppo Guarneri, violin maker (NB: Pietro, Iseppo‟s son) appeared at Salizada S. Lio and made a petition to decrease his debt of 12 Ducats for the Militia and Talion taxes for the current year 1737, a burden, laid on him by tax officers, that is too heavy, because he earns so little that he can hardly support his family and also has many other valid reasons, and having seriously reflected on his story, it was decided that he had to pay a one-time tax of 8 Ducati."

So, in 1737, Pietro Guarneri (age 42) negotiaited down his tax payment from 12 ducat to 8 ducat. 8 ducat is worth anout 370 g of silver. This is compared to GDP per capita of 600 g of silver in Italy. 

In 1708, David Tecchler (age 42) was thre third best paid luthier in Rome (out of 15), and he paid 0.6 scudi in taxes, or 19 g of silver. At 5% taxt rate, his "taxable income" was 380 g of silver. David Tecchler was probably living below the poverty line. 

We don't know the actual income of Pietro in Venice or the tax rate there. But Pietro Guarneri was paying almost 20 times more tax than David Tecchler, both at age 42. I think the Guarneri family name was a tremendous asset and helped Pietro with his business. The US GDP per capita is around $60K USD now, compared to Italian historical GDP of 600 g of silver. Pietro paid the modern equivalent of $37,000 in taxes while David Tecchler paid $1900. And yet David Tecchler managed to surviive for 40 more years after 1708. That probably meant Pietro was not too poor and could at least live comfortably. Jacob, I hope that you will agree with my analysis. 

 

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