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Authentication and Certification of Fine Stringed Instruments

An especially knowledgeable violinmaker can identify the origin of a violin. This goes beyond an appraisal – a certificate of authenticity applies to insuring a fine instrument.

The enduringly popular Public Broadcast System program, “Antiques Roadshow,” has multiple episodes in its archives where a violin is appraised at large sums, as much as $50,000 and more. Some instrument owners are delighted that a long-ago purchase by a parent or other relative now puts great value in their hands.  But those stories are the exception to the rule.

But whether the violins were obtained by inheritance or other legitimate means, or even through criminal acts, the actual origin of fine stringed instruments is about more than monetary value.  A highly trained professional can usually ascertain the authentication of the maker, which in part tells the story of value. The professional will then provide written documents that certify the origin, value and authenticity of that instrument.

The same can be said of a fine cellos and violas. There are clues in the craftsmanship, the wear, and the wood. Interestingly, the label in a fine violin can be unreliable because even in the 18th and 19th centuries there were forgeries, while other, better-quality violins were labeled as homage to a great predecessor. If the label says “Stradivarius,” it mostly likely means it was not made by that master but an acolyte or admirer.

What’s most important is that a qualified, trained eye of an authoritative expert be employed in the authentication and certification process. This expertise comes from years of education, work, and exposure to great violin makers of the past, and an instinct for the many fine details and clues. Not every local violin shop is going to be able to provide this expertise.

Aside from relying on expertise, the certifying professional will perform meticulous research in order to ensure the accuracy of the certificate issued. The certificate includes the name, qualification and seal of the author of the certificate. It certifies the name of the instrument’s maker or workshop, the place of its origin, the date of its making, its estimated value and a description of the instrument, its dimensions and condition. High quality images are attached to the certificate.

Aside from learning the value of an instrument, the additional purpose for achieving this certification is to get proper insurance for it. This certification adds value to the instrument and is necessary to properly insure any fine violin, viola, cello or bow.

For the musician who travels with his or her instrument, this is an important consideration.  The cost for certification is typically 5% of the appraised value. In some cases, the absolute certainty of an authentication is not possible, even if the value can be appraised. The luthiers of the past did not always make it easy to identify who created what.

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