Viewpoint: The Case of the $2 Million Violin

By Ryan Paveza | September 3, 2020

Born circa 1644 in Cremona, Lombardy (today’s Italy), Antonio Stradivari is one of the most famous luthiers (a craftsperson of stringed instruments) to have lived. His creations, including violins, viola, cellos, and guitars, are some of history’s most beloved instruments. Often named after their owners, both original and beyond, these high net worth instruments such as the “Paganini,” the “Dragonetti,” the “Lord Newlands,” and the “Dolphin” are regarded as the finest bowed instruments ever created.

Stradivari’s violins are still played by violinists such as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, and Joshua Bell. The “Messiah Stradivarius” is considered the most expensive violin globally, with a value of approximately $200 million. It is currently in a collection at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

There are approximately 960 Stradivari produced violins, but only those instruments crafted by Stradivari himself are considered authentic. They all bear a label written in Latin stating “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno” and the date of manufacture. Today, roughly 244 Stradivari violins have survived, many of which are owned by museums, the Nippon Music Foundation, and private parties.

The Situation

Our team was called to determine the authenticity and value of an “authentic” Stradivarius violin, damaged due to a roof leak where rain eventually found its way into the violin’s case. The insured stated the claimed violin was from 1730 and has been in his family ever since. The insured initially provided a single photo of the claimed violin with a declared value of $2 million and restoration cost of $30,000; however, the insured was unable to provide any appraisal documentation verifying the instrument’s provenance.

Cracking the Case

When requested, our team will go onsite to identify distinguishing qualities that will aid in determining authenticity and value. We follow all Centers for Disease Control guidelines, including wearing appropriate masks, gloves, and remaining socially distant from the policyholder. While onsite, I learned from the insured that the loss occurred as a tree fell on the roof of his home, allowing rain to come through directly into his second-floor closet, eventually flowing down into the first floor. The rain fell onto the violin (in its case), breaking the strings and bridge, which floated away somewhere.

Upon physical inspection, I was able to distinguish the lower quality of the violin by the craftsmanship and the weight. It is my professional opinion that the bridge and string loss occurred quite some time ago, and the instrument hadn’t appeared to have been played for a just as long. Furthermore, violins will typically have a paper label with the maker, city, region, country, and manufacture date and year. An Internal inspection revealed the words “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonenfis Faciebat Anno 1730” stamped directly onto the violin’s inside rather than writing on a paper label — a clear indicator the violin was not an original Stradivarius, but a well-built copy.

The Results

There have always been numerous copies of Strads since the death of Antonio Stradivari. The quality and makers vary greatly. Based on the information provided, Enservio has valued the claimed item as a vintage 20th-century copy of a 4/4 Stradivarius violin with 2-piece back and stamped on the inside, “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonenfis Faciebat Anno 1730” with vintage hardshell case and bow. There is some pre-loss damage to the violin, including a chip in the wood on the edge of the violin’s front upper left side. Throughout our research of comparable vintage violins of like kind and quality (LKQ) available in the current market, we determined $600 to be a reasonable vintage retail replacement value as compared to the original insured stated value of $2 million. So, in the end, if someone finds a Strad in their attic, it is 99.9% likely a copy as almost all the original Strads are accounted for, completed with detailed records.

About Ryan Paveza

Paveza is an antiques and collectibles specialist for Enservio, a provider of contents claim management software, payments solutions, inventory and valuation services for property insurers. Paveza worked at the Art Institute of Chicago as a collection manager and research assistant. He is certified by the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) and has passed the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). Contact him at

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