I have a violin that says Stradivarius (or Guarneri, or Stainer, or Amati or Maginni…) on the label. It is dated 1721 (or 1615 or 1688 or …). Is it authentic, is it really that old, and what is it worth?
Nope, it’s not a Strad. We need to see your instrument (in person) in order to tell you anything more. If you don’t live in this area, take your instrument to a violin dealer in your area.
Is it authentic? In a word, no. There are countless copies of all of these makers and many others as well. They range in quality from worse than bad to fairly good. The bulk of them probably date from between 1870 and 1930 or so, though there are earlier and later ones as well. What is it worth? It is absolutely impossible to place a value on a violin without having it examined by a knowledgeable dealer or appraiser. The factors that determine the value of this sort of violin are in the subtle details of construction and condition. These cannot be adequately conveyed by photographs or verbal description. Many instruments of this sort are of no value whatever, most are of no more than modest value, but a few are quite nice. Go in with realistic expectations and you may be pleasantly surprised. Go in with high expectations and you will certainly be disappointed.
A few more words of explanation. A hundred years may sound old to you, but to a violin it’s recent. Violins were imported to this country from Europe (mostly) in huge quantities around the turn of the century, and were even sold through catalogues such as Sears or Montgomery Wards. These instruments often had labels that helped to sell the instruments to people who otherwise could not evaluate the instruments independent from the label. Hence the prevalence of the Stradivarius name on so many instruments. We’ve all heard this name. The label is actually the last piece of information that is taken into account when evaluating a violin.
So, do you have a decent instrument? Maybe. Has your attic just yielded the musical equivalent of winning the lottery? Sorry, but….
For more information about Stradivarius Violins, visit Encyclopedia Smithsonian.