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Types & Labels

Instrument Appraisal Information

Yanfu Tong performs Appraisals of instruments for Insurance or Market Value purposes.  The difference between the two appraisals is 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.

Insurance Appraisal

With an Insurance Appraisal, previous repairs have less to do with 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.

Fair Market Appraisal

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 $2,500.00 but have a Fair Market Value of very little.  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.

Other Factors

In general, the newer the instrument, the better the condition it is in and the “cleaner” the provenance, the closer the Insurance and Market Value will agree with each other.

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 in violin from the outside.  There are many books with actual reproductions of labels in them that many unscrupulous violin dealers have copied and inserted inside a violin.  The true appraiser will only look at the label after they have determined the most likely origins of the instrument.

More About Labels

In 1891 the McKinley Tariff Act required that items that were imported into the United States be marked with the country of origin.  In 1914 this act was again revised to require that the words “Made in” also be used.  Once again in 1921 the act was revised to require that the country of origin name be in English.  So a violin that is labeled “Bavaria” would most likely be made between 1891 and 1914.  “Made in Italia” might be before 1921.

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 during the US occupation of Japan, items made for export were marked “Made in Occupied Japan” or perhaps “Occupied Japan.”

Violins labeled “Made in Germany” are most likely manufactured between 1921 and WWII.  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.

Labels may be printed or hand written.  Stradivari normally used a printed label that said: “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonenfis; Faciebat Anno 17__” and has a circular logo device with a cross and the initials AS.  The text on this label is in Latin which means “Antonio Stradivari, Cremona (the city he worked in), Made in the Year 17__.” The last two digits of the year were written by hand in pencil or ink.  This is the most commonly copied label of all, appearing on untold thousands of shoddy to fair-quality instruments.

Violins by famous makers such as Stradivari, Guarneri, Maggini, Amati, or Stainer had numerous followers and imitators.  Often a disciple placed a facsimile label in his violin to acknowledge or honor the master whose model had inspired his work.  Also, commercially made instruments often bear facsimile labels to identify the mode of the product.

The presence of a label with a famous maker name or date has no bearing on whether the instrument is genuine.  Thousands upon thousands of violins were made in the 19th century as inexpensive copies of the products of great masters of the 17th and 18th centuries.  At that time, the purchaser knew he was buying an inexpensive violin and accepted the label as a reference to its derivation.  Catalogs from the period show that these instruments were advertised for less than $10.  As people rediscover these instruments today, the knowledge of where they came from is lost, and the labels can be misleading.

A violin’s authenticity (i.e., whether it is genuinely the product of the maker whose label or signature it bears) can only be determined through comparative study of design, mode, 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.