Unloved Antiques: ‘Stradivarius’ Style Violins

A violin with a label stating: “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno, which was used a part of a marketing strategy, indicating the violin was designed after originals by Antonio Stradivari. It is worth, usually, around $75.

The twelfth item in this series of “Unloved Antiques” is the world-famous “Stradivarius Violins.” Nothing hits the popular-culture’s buttons better than the idea of a found treasure, which shows like “American Pickers, “Storage Wars,” “Auction Hunters” and the venerable “Antiques Roadshow” highlight on a weekly basis. The rarer the item, the more a collector’s heart goes pitapat, and nothing makes it beat faster than finding the name “Stradivarius” on a violin.

If genuine it’s—the rarest of the rare—it’s a ticket to early retirement to the south of France or wherever your fancy may take you.* The name is so ingrained with “treasure” in popular culture that even those who haven’t collected anything but shiny shells on the beach as a child know it means a rare violin of huge value, made by a master craftsman.

The legend of the Stradivarius is an old one regarding an Italian luthier (a maker of stringed instruments), one Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737). While his legendary violins are best known, he also is said to have produced cellos, guitars, violas and harps. In all, it’s been estimated that Antonio Stradivari was responsible for 1,000 to 1,100 instruments, of which some 650 have been identified to have survived. Of this 650, references claim that 450 to 512 of these survivors are violins, of which the whereabouts are well recorded. But this important piece of knowledge is not as common as the stories of their value.

In the course of my career, I’ve probably had dozen “Stradivarius” violins a year lovingly placed in my hands at antique appraisal events, all of them glued inside with the immortal label “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno” (with the date printed or hand written). These labels were not really meant to deceive the buyer when originally used; it was more of a market strategy to indicate the violin was designed after originals by Antonio Stradivari.

The quality of these bogus “Strads” varies tremendously, from terrible to quite good. Nearly all these examples were made in Germany or Czechoslovakia from the turn of the 19th century through the 1920s. Some, those made before 1891, will have country-of-origin marks, such as “Germany” or “Made In Germany” clearly visible, a practice necessary to comply with America Trade tariff laws. As the American market was the largest one at the time, most musical instrument manufacturers were very quick to comply, producing tens of thousands of these Stradivarius copies during the closing years of the 19th century.

In the current market values for these late 19th to early 20th-century Strads vary, depending on the quality of construction, condition and sound; something that would have to be determined by a specialist who deals with stringed instruments. That said, one often see these German or Czechoslovakian copies selling for less than $75 at auction.

*Today, a genuine Stradivarius can sell for enormous sums. One of the most recent and famous of his pieces is a violin he completed in 1721, which is known as “Lady Blunt.” It was named for Lord Byron’s granddaughter, Lady Anne Blunt, who owned it for 30 years. The “Lady Blunt” sold for on July 21, 2011for a sum of $15,932,115.

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Previous “Unloved Antiques” articles:

Unloved Antiques: ‘Limited Edition’ Collectors Plates
Unloved Antiques: Singer Sewing Machines
Unloved Antiques: Decorator Prints
Unloved Antiques: Commemorative Whiskey Decanters
Unloved Antiques: ‘Bronze’ Flatware
Unloved Antiques: 1847 Rogers Brothers Flatware
Unloved Antiques: Hummel Knockoffs
Unloved Antiques: National Geographic Magazines
Unloved Antiques: Dragonware
Unloved Antiques: 19th Century Religious Prints
Unloved Antiques: Depression Glass


Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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3 Comments

  1. Bill Baker says:

    Where’s the info on “Know the difference before you get played by a con man.”?

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Hi Bill,

      It’s pretty much covered in the article, as is mentioned in it most of these copies have Country of origin markings, and of the surviving originals their locations and history are well documented. The chance of finding an undiscovered original is probably close to Nil. The quality of the copies ranges tremendously and determining that is in the realm of the Specialist, not something that can be described in a short article.

  2. Erin says:

    Hi, can you tell me where the violin pictured is from? I have the exact same outfit (same violin, same bow, same case) that belonged to my great great grandfather. I am trying to find out if the outfit was sold by Sears. I looked in their old catalogs but can’t find that same Bulls Head case (very distinctive case). Any information would be greatly appreciated!