Rare Violin Recovered by Police to be Auctioned by Insurer

March 5, 2007

A violinist whose missing instrument valued at about $50,000 was recovered by police says it will be auctioned.

Meanwhile, police continue to investigate how the instrument ended up in the hands of a Billings, Mont., man who allegedly tried to sell it to undercover officers.

The violin’s owner, Evan Price, said his insurance company plans to auction the instrument May 7.

Price gave the violin, made in Italy in 1879, to the company after it paid the insurance claim he filed when the violin was lost. The company will try to recover its cost by selling the violin through the Skinner auction house in Boston, he said.

Price, a member of the Turtle Island String Quartet of San Francisco, said he has replaced the stolen instrument with a violin made by American Andrew Ryan in 1999.

“I’m happy with it,” he said. “It’s fun to play, and I’m getting to know it better and better.”

Price discovered that the older violin was missing last April.

He and the quartet had played at the Alberta Bair Theater on April 7 and left the next day for a concert in Whitefish. The group had rented a car at the Billings airport and had driven as far as Butte before Price realized his prized instrument was missing.

Price told police he last saw the violin with the group’s bags and instruments stacked at a curb at the airport as they loaded the rental car.

He played a borrowed violin for the concert in Whitefish, then went home to San Francisco.

The case was cold for months, until a violin dealer in Canada received a call from a man in Billings. The dealer reported that the man was interested in selling an 1879 violin made by the well-known luthier Eugenio Praga. The dealer knew about Price’s missing violin and called the authorities.

On Dec. 20, Billings officers posing as violin buyers contacted the man and arranged a meeting. The officers met the man at a Billings business and recovered the violin. The man told police he got it from another man, and was released.

Capt. Dave Hinkel said Thursday that the investigation into how the man obtained the violin continues. No charges have been filed.

About $12,000 in cash also was in the violin case and has not been recovered.

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