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Attic Strads, and Why What’s Worth Something Is Worth What It’s Worth

Attic Strads, and Why What’s Worth Something Is Worth What It’s Worth

by Michael Darnton

Originally published in American Lutherie #25, 1991 and Big Red Book of American, Volume Three, 2004

One of the most common myths of violin fanciers is the existence of the attic Strad. The chances of finding a valuable violin at a garage sale are zip (or less). In recent years the number of Strads and Guarneris discovered in this world in this way can be counted on about three fingers, and they haven’t been found in attics in Kansas. Check out places like ancient European monasteries and the country homes of nobility if you want to increase your chances of finding something good. In spite of this, every large shop has several people a week coming in with a really bad violin they have been saving as a way to finance their retirement. In addition, hundreds of amateur collectors have instruments they believe are valuable Italians, which are “prevented from receiving their rightful recognition” by owners of the big shops who either “don’t want to admit that someone else has something good” or “don’t know what they’re talking about.” They are right; someone does not know what they are talking about. It isn’t the big shop owner.

In the early part of this century and the end of the last, thousands of cheap factory violins were imported into this country from Germany and Czechoslovakia. Although some of these look and sound quite nice and are made of beautiful wood, they are still just factory fiddles. Since much of a violin’s value derives from factors other than the quality of the wood and the quantity of sandpaper used in its construction, like it or not those factors don’t mean much in assessing the value of an instrument. Certainly no one would appraise a painting based on the cost of the paint and the quality of the canvas, yet many amateur violin collectors use that type of criterion for evaluating their finds.

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