Antonio Stradivari (1644(?) – 18 December 1737) was an Italian maker of stringed instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars, violas, and harps. He is generally considered the most important artisan in this field.
Stradivari is thought to have been responsible for the production of about 1,100 different instruments. It is believed that about 650 of these have survived and out of these 500+ are violins.
It is the dream of every yard sales prowler and thrift shop buyer to find that long lost Stradivarius violin and reap the millions of dollars that would be the results of such a find. Unfortunately many unsuspecting buyers make the mistake of finding one of the thousand and thousand of reproductions that were produced and, thinking that they found the real deal, pay way too much for a knockoff.
Most of these reproductions were built in Czechoslovakia or Germany from the early 1800s to about 1920 and number in the tens of thousands. The vast majority of these have the label “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno” with a hand written or printed date below this. These labels are glued to the inside of the violin and clearly visible through the “f hole”.
These are “Stradivarius” Style Violins or reproductions. When they were produced they were not really meant to deceive the buyer. It was more of a marketing strategy to indicate the violin was designed after originals made by Antonio Stradivari.
Because of this fact the date on the “f-hole” labels are usually correct as to the year that the instrument was produced. A label dated 1865 should be a clue that this is a reproduction as Stradivari died in 1737.
When the original buyer was purchasing this violin he knew that he was getting an instrument that was a cheap copy of a priceless Stradivarius and not the real thing. Over the years the facts surrounding these knockoffs were forgotten and thus a rash of “found” Strads began turning up in antique stores, pawn shops and garage sales.
A lot of these have labels printed in English to conform with U.S. import regulations at the time. If your Strad has a English label it was not made by a 18th century Italian stringed instrument maker.
On most of his violins Stradivari used a printed label with the last 2 numbers of the year it was made in handwritten in ink or pencil.
If you are looking at a labeled Stradivarius Violin you can be 99.99% sure that it is one of these bogus instruments. Out of the 500 or so violins known to made by Antonio Stradivari only a hand full are not accounted for. These are thought to be lost or stolen and never recovered.
Starting in March 1891, after enactment of the McKinley Tariff Act, all goods imported to the U.S. were required to be marked in English with the country of origin. In 1914 the Tariff Act has amended to make the words “Made In” in addition to the country of origin mandatory. This was not rigorously enforced until around 1921 so some pre 1921 pieces can still be found without “Made In” added on. If your violin has a label with a country of origin then is was more than likely made after 1891 and most assuredly is a Stradivarius “Style” Violin or fake.
As the American market was the largest one at the time, most musical instrument manufacturers were very quick to comply with the Tariff Act, producing thousands of these Stradivarius copies with the “Made In” label during the closing years of the 19th and early 20th century.
The quality of these reproductions varies a lot from quite good to really bad. The current market values for these late 19th to early 20th-century Strads vary greatly. Their worth depends on the quality of construction, condition and sound. This is something that would have to be determined by a specialist who deals with stringed instruments.
That said I often see these German or Czechoslovakian copies selling for less than $75.00 at auction. However, if you have one of these knock offs all may not be lost. Do a little research on the bow as I have seen $2,500.00 bows with $75.00 violins.
Today, a genuine Stradivarius can sell for enormous amount of money. One of his most famous pieces is a violin he completed in 1721 and is known as the “Lady Blunt.” It was named for Lord Byron’s granddaughter, Lady Anne Blunt, who owned it for 30 years. The “Lady Blunt” sold on July 21, 2011 for a sum of $15,932,115.00 at the Tarisio Auction. It was sold by the Nippon Music Foundation in aid of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami appeal.