Like anything, there are always exceptions, and with violins, there are more exceptions than those that follow the guidelines. So take all of these with a grain or a whole shaker full of salt. Many of these characteristics will be based on comparison to other schools of work and so they don't do much good if you can't compare them or don't have an eye for remembering what you have seen, crucial to proper evaluations. Violin appraisers spend their entire life learning and the viewing of thousands and thousands of violins is critical to becoming a good and respected appraiser.
There are also cross school similarities and the more modern the instrument, the less the individualism of the school. As you can see from the map below that shows the major hubs of violin making in Europe, many were/are located relatively close to one another. Violin making started in Cremona Italy and spread from there. The towns of Markneukirchen and Klingenthal in Germany are just over the border from Schonbach (Luby) in The Czech Republic. And the towns of Fussen and Mittenwald in Germany are just over the border from Absam in Austria. This makes it often impossible to tell exactly where an instrument was made, as the makers crossed the borders to sell their instruments in other towns. The instruments were often labeled from the country they were sold from, and not the one they were made in.
The chance of finding a "Strad" today in a basement or attic is near impossible. I have received hundreds if not thousands of inquiries over the years from customers who have an old instrument with a label stating that it is a "Stradivarius," a "Guarnerius," or an "Amati," or another famous violin maker. Dealers know that the chance of stumbling upon a previously unknown authentic instrument by one of these great makers is next to impossible. Very few undiscovered violins by the most famous makers have turned up since 1960, while over the past century and a half, millions of commercial instruments containing fake labels have been made. See more about these Factory Instruments from Germany Czechoslovakia and France.
This has not for the most part been a practice of deception. When these instruments were made, it was clear to the consumer that this purchase was only a copy. It was considered fashionable to have an instrument which had been made to look "aged" with an antique-type varnish with a facsimile label by a famous maker. In more recent years, almost every violin shop has it's own 'label' violins. This is partially so that it makes it harder to compare apples to apples. It also makes it so there is name recognition between the 'brand' and the shop.
Many of these instruments were made in assembly line factories in Germany and France; they could be sold at much lower prices than instruments which were hand-made by a single craftsman. These instruments were mostly made to be exported and as such they were deemed as Trade Instruments for more information and a list of many of them. There were also many catalogs that were printed and sent to American dealers to order different grades of these copies at varying prices; they could also buy in bulk. One French company had a model that was available by the piece, by the dozen or by 100. This is a link to a page from a catalog from the 1920's showing a few of the different copies available. http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/oldvln2.html During the period from 1880-1914 it is estimated that just from the town of Markneukirchen Germany as many as 7 million bowed string instrument were exported. In Mirecourt France, one firm is known to have produced more than 150,000 instruments in just one year with over 1000 violin makers in their factory. A great number of these were simply labeled with the model and not the actual firm that made it.
The value of instruments depends on many different factors. Value is based on 1) Who made it 2) Where it was made 3) When it was made, 4) Condition, and last 5) Sound. The sound of an instrument is the most subjective making it the last on the list for valuation. Who, Where and When cannot be changed and that created an instruments "Value Range". The Condition and Sound do change and thus set the value within the range. Typically these instruments come into the shop in poor condition and need from $100 - $500 in professional repair. Much of any previous repairs may have been done by amateurs and may need to be reversed or have completely destroyed the value of the violin. As some of these labels are very convincing, the only way t know for sure about the quality, authenticity and value of your violin is to have it seen in person by an expert.
I have had a few experiences where someone brought in an instrument that was passed down or purchased at a yard sale that turned out to be a very fine instrument valued from $2500 to $25,000. However that is only a few out of thousands of these "finds". If you have a "Strad", the only way to be sure about the value of the instrument is to have it appraised by a professional. Many violin shops will give you an oral appraisal for little or no cost. Even if you discover that your violin was not made by one of the masters, it may still have some value and be enjoyed for years to come.
A violin's authenticity (i.e., whether it is by the name on the label) can only be determined by comparing it to know examples of the makers workmanship, wood characteristics, and varnish texture. This expertise is obtained over many years of examination of hundreds or thousands of instruments, there is no substitute for an experienced eye. This knowledge can't be summed up in a few lines of text or even pages of text.
The following information on Stradivari and Guarneri labels has been worked out over the last 150+ years by the foremost authorities in the field, but remember that the label is the last thing a true violin appraiser will look at before rendering an opinion. The inserted label may confirm the appraisers opinion but rarely will sway it.
Stradivari never roamed very far away from his home in Cremona and never learned English, so he would never have used any English on his labels, like "Made In".
We have seen false labels in instruments as early as 1685 in Italy, 1760 in England and the early 1700's in Germany.
Many Gagliano violins actually have original Stradivari labels
The 1660's were the last time that he made a new label block for printing labels and the block had the "166" printed. From the 1670's through the 1690's he just altered or erased numbers to make the change. In 1698 he made a new label block with just the "1" printed and he always hand wrote the last three numbers until his death in 1737. Any instrument dated after 1700 with more than the "1" printed are false labels and thus are in copies as no one would put a false Strad label in a real Strad.
The monogram with his initials although not used on all of his labels, is on most and was a separate block and thus was not always in the exact same place.
Until 1729 he used the Latin form of the "v" and thus it appeared as a "u" making his labels read "Stradiuarius". From 1730-1737 he used the Roman v
He almost always affixed his labels abutting the left (bass) side "c" bout lining.
As the years progressed, his label type became courser probably because it became worn or dirty. On some labels a line can be seen above his name. This was from the block and was from too much pressure being applied when printing and thus the edge of the block also printed. Most of his labels he trimmed to be just above the printing and thus this line is not visible.
A real Strad label:
If all that isn't confusing enough, here is a fake Stradivari label - notice the v instead of the u (a very good fake)
Here is a common fake label in a 1920's Czech violin::
Joseph Guarneri Labels - He was also known as Joseph Guarnerius Del Jesu and his given name was Giuseppe.
He used the Latin spelling of Joseph which replaced the "s" with an “f” making his labels read Jofeph Guarnerius. So if it is spelled Joseph or Josef it is a copy.
In addition his labels spelled the name of his town as Cremone, not Cremonae as it is frequently spelled in the copies.
He always printed the 17 and then hand wrote the last two digits. His labels were very, very similar from year to year.
On many of the copies the “IHS” was separated a fair bit from the “fecit”.
An authentic label would look like this:
And a fake label might look like this:
A violin's authenticity (i.e., whether it is the product of the maker whose label or signature it bears) can only be determined through comparative study of design, model wood characteristics, and varnish texture. This expertise is gained through examination of hundreds or even thousands of instruments, and there is no substitute for an experienced eye.
Appraisals of instruments are done for Insurance or Fair Market Value purposes. The difference between the two appraisals is that an Insurance Appraisal will generally be for a higher amount--this allows the owner of the instrument to replace it with an instrument of like value, if the insured instrument is destroyed, whereas a Fair Market Value is the amount that an instrument should be sold for between two individuals.
With an Insurance Appraisal, previous repairs have less to do with the instrument's replacement value. If a violin has a repaired crack or a non original scroll and you lose the violin, you are not going to go shopping for another violin with a repaired crack and replaced scroll. Unlike the Insurance Appraisal, the Fair Market Value Appraisal takes in all of the factors that affect price, especially condition. With this in mind, a violin with an Insurance Appraisal could be valued at $2000.00 but have a Fair Market Value of $500.00. A person will ask for this type of appraisal if he or she is selling the instrument or looking to buy the instrument from someone. What you pay for an instrument has little to do with the Insurance Appraisal Value.
In general, the newer an instrument is, the better the condition it is in, and the "cleaner" the provenance; the closer the Insurance and Market Value will agree with each other. When you purchase an instrument at most violin stores, the price you pay is based on the Fair Market Value, not the Insurance Value. In addition, when you purchase an instrument from most violin stores, an Insurance appraisal is usually available for that instrument at no charge. Appraisals should clearly state which version of appraisal you are getting and should be prepared using guidelines from the Appraisers Association of America.
Please note: Due to the numerous factors involved in determining an instrument's value, any good violin store will only offer appraisals (written and verbal) for instruments physically seen in the store. Photographs of an instrument or a description of the label do not provide enough information about the instrument for them to accurately determine a value, nor are they usually enough to say where the instrument was made or who may have made it. If you wish to have an evaluation of an instrument, we recommend bringing the instrument into a reputable violin store near you for identification, it is always best to have an instrument seen in person to determine its age and value. There are so many makers of instruments and no individual violin appraiser can ever know them all. Sometimes all that can be determined about an instrument is the country of origin and approximately when it was made. A good appraiser will know his limitations and not give an opinion on more that what he knows to be sure.
There has been much written about violin fraud and fictitious labels being placed inside instruments. The label that appears inside an instrument may have little to do with its actual origins. It only takes moments to place a label into a violin. There are many books with actual reproductions of labels, like those above, in them that many unscrupulous violin dealers or individuals have copied and inserted inside violins. The true appraiser will only look at the label after they have determined the most likely origins of the instrument. The inserted label may confirm the appraisers opinion but rarely will sway it.
Reminder - A violin's authenticity (i.e., whether it is by the name on the label) can only be determined by comparing it to know examples of the makers workmanship, wood characteristics, and varnish texture. This expertise is obtained over many years of examination of hundreds or thousands of instruments, there is no substitute for an experienced eye. This knowledge can't be summed up in a few lines of text or even pages of text.
Serial numbers - Up until around the 1950's, serial numbers weren't typically used in violins and even dates were only sometimes added to labels. Often times the same people that were making violins that were labeled with one name, were making other models for the same or different exporters, the same model might even be sold with two or more different labels to different exports, maybe with just a different varnish. Many companies also purchased the instruments unvarnished from many different small output makers, and then varnished them in-house so they would all have a similar look. Often times these labels weren't even inserted until they arrived in the US or other country (all that was required by import laws was a country of origin and possible the words - "Made In"- see below). Serial numbers in violins also in general denoted lower quality as it implied mass production rather than being hand made in the cottage industry like many violins were made. A few makers added dates and/or serial numbers, but they were generally the top tier ones such as Roth. Many times you will find that the dates added were not correct anyway as the maker predated the instruments by a few decades or just used the same pre-printed labels for many years. The firms that were US companies, often did include serial numbers starting somewhat earlier than the 50's. As they were selling directly to the dealers with no exporter or importer in the mix, the instruments were always known exactly what they were. Typically violins were made to denote a model and the actual maker was of secondary importance.
There may be some clues on a label that make it very evident that an instrument is not as labeled. Rarely would someone insert a label of a lesser makers work in an instrument. So you won't see a JTL label in a high end Roth.
Before jumping to the conclusion that you have a rare violin by one of the great masters, consider the following because the chance is extremely high that you don't. In the end. the best way to know is to take your instrument to a violin shop to have it looked at in person.
What is Printed on the Label
If its label says that it was made in the 1500’s - 1800's and it has any blue ink on it--blue ink was not invented until the early 1900’s, so it would have been made or at least labeled after that time.
In 1891 the McKinley Tariff Act was put into law which required that items that were imported into the United States be marked with the country of origin. Also, if the label includes any English, it was made for the US market - the vast majority of the European factory instruments were made for export to the US.
In 1914 this act was revised to require that the words "Made in" be used.
Once again in 1921 the act was revised to require that the country of origin name be in English.
Japan - A violin labeled "Made in Japan" was probably made after 1921. Prior to 1921, instruments most likely have been labeled "Made in Nippon." After WWII (1945-1952), during the US occupation of Japan; items made for export were marked "Made in Occupied Japan" or perhaps "Occupied Japan."
Chinese violins were usually labelled simply as “China” if made in the period 1891 to 1949 or post 1978. “Republic of China” if made from 1949 to 1978, or sometimes “People’s Rep. of China” in the 1970s.
Germany - Violins labeled "Made in Germany" are most likely manufactured between 1921 and 1939. After the split of Germany until its reunification in the 1990's, labels were marked "Made in West Germany" or "Made in East Germany." This basically means, if your "attic" violin says that it is an Antonio Stradivari 1707, but it also says "Made in Germany," the violin is obviously NOT an authentic Stradivari, but a factory-made copy. If it is marked Made in West Germany or just West Germany, it was made between 1949 and 1990. There are some instruments that were made in Occupied Germany in the 40's and 50's that still say "Made in Germany".
Label says “Italia” or “Deutschland”– made from 1891-1914
Label says “Made in Italia” or “Made in Deutschland”– made from 1914-1921
Label says “Made in Italy” – made after 1921
Label says “Made in Germany” – made from 1921-1939 or post 1990. From 1939-1945 instruments did not flow out of Europe due to the war and only trickled out from 1945-1949
Label says “Made in West Germany” or “Made in East Germany” – made from 1950-1990. Marked "U.S. Zone Germany” are from 1945 to 1950
If your label says simply "Saxony" or “Saxony law” it’s probably post-1891, but before 1914. Before 1891 it might say Sachsen.
Label says “Made in Czechoslovakia” - from 1918-1993. It was spelled Czechoslovakia from (1921–1993) It was spelled Checoslvacia from 1918-1921.
Label says “Made in Bohemia” made from 1914-1918 when Czech and Slovaks state was formed, just Bohemia from 1891-1914
Label say “Made in the Czech Republic” made after 1993
For more on Strad and Guarneri labels, see the section above.
Note: Keep in mind that the country of origin did not have to be part of the main label, and often it was on a second label inserted by the first. That way, no mater where the instrument was to be exported to, it was easy to oblige any specific countries laws. Sometimes this second label has been removed and other clues need to be applied.
The look of a label.
In addition to what is written on a label, how the label looks is just as important.
Prior to around 1850, labels were primarily made form what is called "laid paper". This was a technique that uses linen fibers from old rags, The fibers were divided by size and color and put in a water bath. The fibers were then screened and let to dry, the paper was rarely an even thickness. Once the fibers were dry, this formed the "paper" and the wire screen left an imprint in the paper. Old paper violin labels will never be really smooth and white. The print was also hand done with lead type, like old books and newspapers were printed and this the type was pressed to the paper.. The pressure from the press would leave the printing slightly indented and the ink that was used would not run in the paper leaving a very crisp and clean outline.
Here is a piece of laid paper from a manuscript from the mid 1700's showing the screen lines.
After 1850, labels were more likely made from wood pulp. This "Woven" paper will not have those screen lines and the type is less clear. The paper makers, in order to keep the ink from running, sized the paper with alum. Over time, this acidic alum coating made the labels less stable. These labels were thus more prone to curling and changing color (browning unnaturally).
So an appraiser will look at the color of the label, both the wood and the label on a very old violin will darken. Edges of a label on a more modern instrument may curl up exposing a lighter shade of wood beneath, sometimes a clue that the wood was treated to make it look older than it is. Sometimes a label will appear to have been removed, often a second line will appear where a bigger or different location label had been, sometimes a label is removed for a repair or when an instrument has been re-graduated.
However, on a well planned out forgery, it is not impossible to get old paper to print a fake label on and modern laid paper is still made.
|faciebat, fece, fecit or me fecit||made, finished||me fecit - "made me" or "made by"|
|anno||in the year||Faciebat Anno 1717 = "Made in the year 1717."|
|in or a||in or of||in Mittenwald|
|nach||after, i.e., copy of|
|sub titulo||patron saint|
|Fr. or frater||brother of|
Neck Grafts: By about 1820 or as late as 1840 most old violins, except those with the original old style baroque necks still in them, have had neck grafts. Around 1780 the pitch that the orchestra was tuned to, changed from around 420 Htz., after this time most necks were changed out. This pitch has gradually been raised, it has been as high as 450 Htz, but the standard is 440. Because of the higher tension from the strings, the neck needed to be made longer and set in at a different angle, in addition to some internal changes. These changes didn't happen over night, but it means that if your (non baroque set up) violin does not have a neck graft, it was most likely made after 1820-1840 no matter what it says inside. Sometimes these grafts are easily seen and other times they are hard to see, there are also many instruments with fake grafts, done to make the instrument look older than it is. There are some old instruments where the entire neck and scroll has been replaced for various reasons and these are a little harder to detect. As always, the instrument should be looked at by a professional to ascertain its age and value.
A lot of especially old instruments have had their edges built up, so it might look like the instrument is made from laminated wood.
There are other ways to tell an instruments age, but they get into some very close up examination by someone that truly knows what they are looking for, not things that a novice could identify by a few lines of text here and where an informed interpretation will need to be made.