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I receive large numbers of enquiries about the value of instruments – these are from other dealers and professional musicians, auctioneers and antique dealers to beneficiaries of estates who inherited granddad’s old violin, and those who simply had an old violin lie around in the garage for a long time. Many of these enquiries relate to insurance matters, or are simply out of curiousity.

However, many such enquiries are to further a private sale by an instrument owner.

The overwhelming majority of these enquiries involve low-grade and low-value factory and other trade intruments with fake Stradivari labels in them (or other faked high profile labels). Many such instruments are badly damaged and often poorly repaired. But many are not and at times some really interesting and excellent instruments emerge for assessment and for sale.

In most cases owners believe their instruments are worth very much more than they actually are, and often comments and opinions by uninformed but well-meaning individuals (mostly orchestra musicians) are cited as support of these extravagant expectations.

Such communications have in the past taken up a lot of my time, leading to nothing, and I have decided to set out these basic guidelines in this respect:

  • I will provide an assessment of the value of an instrument for free only when it is clear that the intention is for the instrument eventually to come to this dealership for sale. (In that case the terms set out in the page “For Sellers” will apply, with particular reference to exclusivity and duration of the agency.)

  • Should a value assessment be required for insurance purposes, it will be given in written form. The fee will be 5% of the written value, plus a charge of R250 per hour spent on any research and other work that may have to be undertaken to reach a fair assessment of the instrument’s value.

  • Since the majority of enquiries involve factory and other trade instruments, I outline the values normally associated with such instruments and which are normally applied throughout the world on the page “Price Structure”.

Note that in establishing assessments, only my own price research and views will be used in establishing a value. As much as I may consider and respect any assessments or comments by other dealers or musicians or authorities, I will not be led by them, nor will I accept them if I am in disagreement.

It may also transpire that my own assessment is lower than that of another knowledgeable person. This may be because economic conditions (particularly of late) and the dynamics of supply and demand impact very much on the violin market and affect prices globally. Pricing patterns of some years ago no longer apply today

For an assessment of an instrument, please contact me directly.

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I don’t certify high-value, high-profile, top-end instruments. That is because I am not qualified to do so. I could advise however on how such certification can be obtained.

I do however write assessments of instruments, reflecting my views and personal observations, but would not venture to establish certificates for top-end instruments.

Below is more information about the question of Certification, which I suggest should be read:

A certificate is document asserting the origin of an instrument, and sometimes (but not necessarily) its value. Having a certificate for an instrument is fundamental in establishing its value and in facilitation its eventual sale, all the more so in the case of high profile makers and instruments.

A certificate’s worth is equal only the experience, expertise and reputation of the person who established it. This means naturally that a certificate by a well-meaning but unknown person would hardly be considered authoritative or be taken seriously, whereas few people would dispute a certificate by a world-reknowned authority in Cremona.

I know most of the dealers, makers and experts in South Africa, and am in regular communication with most of the main players in this country with whom I generally have cordial relations. However, it is my considered view that (including myself) there is within South Africa no person who is adequately qualified, or who has enough experience or who has had adequate exposure to high profile and top-end instruments, to issue certificates of such instruments, or to try to authenticate them – and I say this with much respect to all.

Many of South Africa's violinmakers have excellent background and have spent many years abroad studying and working in excellent studios in top centres, and at times in handling top-end instruments. However, the true experts are mainly in the large centres in Europe and in the USA. There are only a handful of individuals internationally who can state with any certainty what the true origin of an instrument is and who can commit such a statement to paper and thereby validate a transaction worth large amounts of money. Because very big deals can hinge on their opinions, their services cost a lot.

The violin market is riddled with fakes. Furthermore, we learn routinely of instruments once thought to be by a great master, later on attributed to another maker, or of an obscure instrument turning out to be the work of a high-profile maker.

Furthermore, many of the certificates issued before the advent of the internet (from the 20s to the 80s) are now routinely invalidated by today’s experts. This is because we today have the internet and have access to much bigger databases of photos of instruments and can easier make an assessment of a maker’s work than say 60 or 70 years ago. Back then experts had little to go on – being their own limited exposure to instruments and what is written on the label, which was often accepted at face value. Today kids with computers can do a deeper study on the f-hole shapes of the Gagliano family than could a Chicago-based expert in 1920 who has only handled 5 Gaglianos in his life. This means that a certificate from Berlin the 30s could be invalidated today by a London-based expert who has a much larger database at his disposal.

In this respect labels are virtually worthless and is the last thing a true expert would look at. Any label can be stuck into any violin at any time. For more information on fake labels, click here.

Knowing all of the above it stands to reason that if a buyer is about to spend R500 000 on an instrument, he needs to know exactly what he is buying, that it is not a fake, that it is what he believes it is. With such a perspective certificates are critical documents in transacting instruments and in securing their value, hence the credibility of a certificate is directly proportional to the background, knowledge, experience and reputation of the authority who establised and signed it.

The top authorities would certify an instrument for a percentage of its potential retail value at that time – usually somewhere between 4% and 6% but at times at high as 10% or more. Alternatively they will issue a certificate in exchange for the indefinite and exclusive mandate to sell the instrument. Upon selling it they take their slice of pie and pay the seller out the balance.

They expect to be paid for their signature.

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