The Mail on Sunday
A sound that makes us all much richer
BUYING A GOOD VIOLIN IS A WISE INVESTMENT – EVEN IF YOU CAN’T PLAY THE INSTRUMENT
FEW things are more beautiful and uplifting than a soaring melody played on the violin – except perhaps (for investors, at least), the soaring value of the instrument itself. The finest and most expensive violins were made by Italian Antonio Stradivari, who set up shop in Cremona in the late 17th Century.
The highest price paid at public auction for one of his instruments – $3.5 million (£1.8 million) – was set at a Christie’s auction in 2006 for a violin dating from 1708.
Philip Scott, director of musical instruments at auction house Bonhams, says a Stradivarius costing 1,000 guineas (just over £1,000) in 1940 sold for £300,000 in the early Nineties. He reckons it would fetch between £600,000 and £900,000 if sold today.
‘The violin is one of the great icons of European culture,’ he says. ‘Early violins were made for the eye of patrons rather than the ear of musicians. They are beautiful pieces of art as well as superb instruments. They will always be sought-after because of demand for the best quality sound in classical music – their repertoire is never going to disappear.’
Philip says Stradivari ‘had an angel on his shoulder’ in a golden period between 1700 and 1720. The acoustic quality of these violins has never been bettered, musicians claim.
Of about 1,100 instruments created by his hand, about 500 Stradivarius violins can be accounted for today. Stradivari learnt his craft alongside Andrea Guarneri, who began a separate family dynasty of valuable instruments.
Others who were involved in an Italian golden era that lasted until the mid-18th Century were Giovanni Battista Guadagnini and Carlo Bergonzi. The Amati family, who also lived in the Cremona region, are regarded as the first to produce violins, having started in the 16th Century.
Although these legendary violins were unaffordable for most music lovers, they inspired future makers to create instruments that were cheaper – and that have since become more accessible for investors.
Philip says: ‘There are fantastic violins of investment quality that can be purchased from just a few hundred to a few thousand pounds.
‘There will always be demand for instruments made by the hand of a master, and quality will always hold its value. If music is your passion, ownership will only add to this excitement and can be reflected in the way the music is played.’
Oldest is not necessarily dearest. Philip points to recent examples, such as a 1979 Italian violin by Alfredo Gianotti, costing £5,000.
Musicians on a tighter budget might enjoy playing on an unnamed French or German ‘Dresden’ violin from 1900 for between £600 and £800. However, a 1692 Italian violin by Matteo Goffriller, for £150,000, will be ‘music to the ear’ of any investor who can afford it, Philip says.
Investors are not expected to hide their prized possessions under lock and key. Violins need to be played to keep them in top condition, so joining a syndicate (see above) may be a solution for investors who are not adept musicians themselves.
Old violins can also be difficult to date accurately. The back of the instrument is made of maple while the front is pine. The most ancient violins have often been modified to improve amplification. Scientists studying Stradivarius instruments discovered an unusual narrowness of rings in the spruce wood – due to unusually cold weather – and concluded this may have contributed to creating its unique sound. Repair work to quality violins must be done with great care as the original varnishes and glues involved secret ingredients, such as ‘rotted’ fish. Novice investors should be wary of investing without seeking expert guidance as the market is flooded with fakes and there can be a huge variation in the quality of musical instruments.