In 2004 Orchestrated Investments, Inc. cited research
conducted by Nobuyoshi Ozawa at the University of Cincinnati that estimated the
market capitalization for rare stringed instruments (i.e. those made over 150
years ago by the top 270 makers) to be approximately $12.3 billion, and that
100% of this market turns over every thirty years. Of these, Violin Advisor LLC
estimates that there are perhaps no more than 2000 extant violins, violas, and
cellos made by the Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri families. These instruments
have been coveted by leading musicians and collectors for over two-hundred
years, and there is increasing worldwide demand for them. Now that we have
entered the twenty-first century, violins made in the late-eighteenth and
nineteenth-century are also beginning to attract collectors and investors,
particularly as they are contemporaneous with the music of the Classical and
Romantic periods. The so-called “modern” Italian violins dating from the
late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries are also demonstrating a dramatic
Violin Price Histories).
Some of the problems encountered in purchasing violins
include the relatively high transaction cost of buying from dealers (mark-ups
range from 15% and up) and at auction (20% up to $200,000 plus 12% of amount
above $200,000 at Christie’s and Sotheby’s New York locations) as well as
relatively poor liquidity (in the traditional market, violins cannot be sold on
a moment’s notice by making a phone call to one’s dealer—this process may take a
year or more). At present, there are fewer than a dozen major dealers world-wide
and only two or three experts who are independent of the trade.
However, with the trend of ownership
shifting from musicians to collectors and investors, the violin market is
becoming more efficient.
Potential purchasers should also keep in mind that all
violins made by a particular maker do not command the same price; for example,
early and late period Stradivari violins sell for appreciably less than his
“Golden Period” (ca. 1700-1720) instruments. Condition is another important
factor (for example, a sound post crack or a replaced scroll will greatly
diminish the value of an instrument), and skillful restoration may disguise
flaws or underlying damage that may affect value. Because violin dealers and
auction houses generally do not reveal physical defects or the nature of repairs
when selling an instrument, an evaluation by an independent expert is essential.
Furthermore, some instruments sound and play better than others, so if the
purchaser is not a musician, the instrument should be evaluated by a concert
delicate construction, violins are fairly robust and generally require very
little upkeep. Insurance premiums issued by specialist firms are generally much
lower on a per-dollar basis than for real estate, automobiles, and many other
collectibles. (For example, a violin
appraised at $375,000 can be insured today for approximately $1,200 per annum.)
If violins are lent to players, they typically pay for insurance and basic
upkeep (such as replacement of strings, seasonal tonal adjustments, etc).
If placed in storage, violins do not deteriorate as is commonly believed, but
they should be examined periodically by a conservator to check their condition.
Special precautions can be taken to prevent damage if violins are stored in
As investments, fine stringed
instruments exhibit low correlation with stocks and bonds, gold, and real
estate, making them ideal additions to diversified investment portfolios.
their portability, they can be readily transported to favorable markets
The prudent collector or investor, particularly if he or
she is not a musician or has little familiarity with violins, should seek
outside professional advice before plunging into this market.
For more information see:
This Violin is Worth $3.5 Million. Why?, which originally appeared in
magazine and is now available on the
For an article about the use of scientific testing to determine the authenticity
of violins, see
False Messiah? in www.Forbes.com.
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©Violin Advisor LLC. Stewart Pollens 2011
Would you pay over $20,000,000 for this violin?
The "Messiah" has long
been considered the finest and best preserved of Stradivari's
violins, yet in 1999 Stewart Pollens examined this famous relic
in the Ashmolean Museum and discovered evidence disproving the
provenance that supposedly linked it to Stradivari's workshop. He also
discovered that a critical inscription it bears is a forgery and
that the instrument exhibits a number of stylistic anomalies. Dendrochronology
proved that the tree from which the top was made was not cut down until
after Stradivari's death!