Have you found an old violin in the attic and wondered how much it’s worth? Well, it might have tremendous value (or not). Here’s how to identify a vintage violin.
I was recently contacted by an old friend who had inherited a rather weathered-looking violin from his grandparents. Now, I’ll admit, I’m not much of a classical music fan nor do I play the violin, so when asked “How much is it worth”, I had no idea. It looked old, it looked well-used and it didn’t look like it was in any condition to be played in anger again. It was also missing a bow, an essential component of the whole “violin playing” process.
Now, what I do know, is that a vintage violin carries with it a sense of history, craftsmanship, and musical artistry that modern instruments often strive to emulate. These aged instruments, often hand-crafted decades or even centuries ago, possess a unique charm and tonal quality that violinists and collectors appreciate. Therefore, this tatty-looking violin might just be something, it may be even worth a small fortune.
I reached out to a local expert, who has spent the best part of four decades buying, selling and appraising antique violins. So, if you’re interested in identifying a rare violin, here are some tips they shared with us, which will help you understand if your violin is a rare find, a well-made copy or just a plain old violin, which, will still look great next to your bookcase.
Examine the label and inscriptions
One of the first things to inspect when trying to identify a vintage violin is the label inside the instrument. Most violins have a label glued to the inside back, usually under the tailpiece. The label might provide valuable information, such as the maker’s name, the place of origin, the year of manufacture, and sometimes even the model or serial number.
Keep in mind that labels can be faked, so further examination is necessary to confirm the violin’s authenticity.
Study the construction and materials
Inspect the violin for signs of hand-craftsmanship and traditional construction methods. Vintage violins are typically made of high-quality materials like spruce for the top and maple for the back and sides. The scroll, purfling (the inlaid decoration around the edges), and f-holes should be meticulously crafted.
Look for signs of wear and ageing, like patina on the wood, signs of repair, or varnish wear. These aspects can provide insights into the violin’s age and history.
Assess the wear and patina
Vintage violins often have a distinct patina that develops over time. This patina is a subtle ageing or discolouration of the varnish due to exposure to light, oils from the player’s hands, and natural ageing processes. Authentic wear patterns on the fingerboard, chinrest, and other areas provide clues about the violin’s age and usage.
Examine the varnish and finish
Vintage violins usually have a well-aged varnish that has mellowed and changed over the years. The varnish should appear genuine, evenly aged, and consistent with the style and era of the violin. Pay attention to any signs of over-varnishing or inconsistencies that might indicate refurbishing or repairs.
Consult a professional Luthier
If you’re uncertain about the authenticity or age of a violin, it’s advisable to seek the expertise of a qualified luthier. A luthier, specialising in the repair and restoration of violins, can perform a thorough evaluation and provide you with a professional assessment of the instrument’s age, authenticity, and condition.
Research and documentation
Invest time in researching the specific maker or region associated with the violin. Numerous books, online resources, and databases can help you identify vintage violins and their characteristics. Gather as much information as possible to cross-reference with the details of the violin in question.
As somebody who knew nothing about violins, I learned that identifying a vintage violin can be a fascinating and rewarding endeavour, similar to that of identifying valuable artworks. The combination of careful examination, historical research, and consultation with experts will help you determine the authenticity and value of the instrument. Remember, each vintage violin tells a unique story and carries a piece of musical heritage, making it a treasure worth discovering and preserving.
In our case, my friend’s violin turned out to be an unloved instrument, a student violin which his grandfather most likely bought from a car boot sale and intended to learn to play. It looked like it might have been a vintage violin, from the period of the great makers, however, it was not to be. Although, with a bit of love, it will look great as a display item in his study.