Antique Appraisals

There’s good, disappointing and (perhaps) really good news about reader’s Stradivarius violin

BY TERRY MAURER

What’s It Worth?

Stradivarius violins are valued in the millions of dollars. Is this the genuine article or one of the hundreds of thousands of reproductions? And, are the case and bow worth much?
Stradivarius violins are valued in the millions of dollars. Is this the genuine article or one of the hundreds of thousands of reproductions? And, are the case and bow worth much? Terry Maurer

It’s music day at What’s It Worth? and we review a Stradivarius violin.

Or is it?

Q. My father received this violin from his father and now I have it. Our family story is it was purchased in Texas in 1897. A label visible on the inside — when translated — says it was made by Antonius Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy in 1744. The label also reads “Made in Germany.” We known Stradivarius violins have been reproduced and the Germany label has me wondering about the instrument. It came to me in a double violin case and with a bow. What can you tell us? — Russ in Kennewick

A. The news about these items comes in three different categories : Good News, Disappointing News and Maybe Really Good News. Let’s take them one at a time, starting with the case.

It was made by Lifton of New York, a high-quality manufacturer of musical instrument cases. Lifton company started business under that name in 1915 and was a successor of Keystone Leather Goods. They were in business until 1973.

We would date this case to a period “between the wars,” that is from about 1920 to 1940. In excellent condition it would sell at auction between $500 and $800.

That’s the good news.

The disappointing news is the violin itself.

It is a reproduction of what the maker in Germany thought was an instrument in the style of Stradivarius. Antonius Stradivari was the world’s most famous maker of stringed instruments. His workshop was in Cremona, Italy, and he lived from about 1644 to 1737.

Perhaps 2,000 instruments — violas, violins and cellos — were made during his lifetime. Today, about 650 survive and experts think 512 of them are violins.

Many “Strads” were lost in accidents, fires, during floods or at sea. Some were destroyed during the World War II firebombing of Dresden, Germany.

Those surviving violins are as rare as hen’s teeth. New discoveries are almost never made. Experts think every surviving authenticated Stradivarius instrument is accounted for. Each is worth at least $2 million.

They are so rare most big city violin dealers have never seen one and no authentic Stradivarius has even been brought in to the Antiques Roadshow TV program.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the stratospherically valuable ones. Hundreds of thousands of reproduction violins have been made since the mid-1800s, so there is no reason the family story of an 1897 purchase isn’t accurate.

The absolute giveaway for non-authenticity is on the label. All supposed Stradivarius violins marked “Made in Germany” are bogus. As is every “Strad” wannabee marked as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Korea, etc.

Restored to good, playable condition, this violin may be worth from $100 to $300.

The maybe really good news is with — would you believe it? — the violin bow. Tattered hair and rather grungy condition that it is in, there is a possibility the bow could be valuable. Maybe really valuable.

It has a faint mark stamped into the wood, near the handle end. From what we could see when examining the bow, the word is Bausch, a famous maker.

By the early 1860s, Ludwig Bausch had established — with his two sons — a bow making workshop in Leipzig, Germany.

They soon earned a considerable international following from the best players of the day and a stellar reputation for quality. The business operated until 1908.

Bausch bows are generally marked “L Bausch” or the initial and name along with “Leipzig”.

At the start of the 20th century, and particularly following the closure of the Bausch workshop, many reproduction Bausch bows were made.

Even those copy bows have value, between $100 and $300.

It is harder to authenticate a bow than a violin. So, the only way to find out of this is a genuine Bausch or a copy is for an expert to examine it.

That could well be worth it, as originals sell between $5,000 and $20,000.

Terry K. Maurer, Tri–Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by e-mail tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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