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Note: The Smithsonian Institution, as a matter of legal and ethical policy, does not determine the monetary value of musical instruments. For such an appraisal, we recommend that you have your instrument examined by a reliable violin dealer in your area. Although we are not allowed to recommend a particular appraiser, we suggest you contact the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, Inc. to obtain a membership list. If there is no maker convenient to your area, you may elect to send to one of these members three black-and-white photographs of your violin showing straight-on front, side, and back views of the instrument.
Antonio Stradivari was born in 1644, and established his shop in Cremona, Italy, where he remained active until his death in 1737. His interpretation of geometry and design for the violin has served as a conceptual model for violin makers for more than 250 years.
Stradivari also made harps, guitars, violas, and cellos--more than 1,100 instruments in all, by current estimate. About 650 of these instruments survive today. In addition, thousands of violins have been made in tribute to Stradivari, copying his model and bearing labels that read "Stradivarius." Therefore, the presence of a Stradivarius label in a violin has no bearing on whether the instrument is a genuine work of Stradivari himself.
The usual label, whether genuine or false, uses the Latin inscription Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno [date]. This inscription indicates the maker (Antonio Stradivari), the town (Cremona), and "made in the year," followed by a date that is either printed or handwritten. Copies made after 1891 may also have a country of origin printed in English at the bottom of the label, such as "Made in Czechoslovakia," or simply "Germany." Such identification was required after 1891 by United States regulations on imported goods.
Thousands upon thousands of violins were made in the 19th century as inexpensive copies of the products of great Italian masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. Affixing a label with the masters name was not intended to deceive the purchaser but rather to indicate the model around which an instrument was designed. At that time, the purchaser knew he was buying an inexpensive violin and accepted the label as a reference to its derivation. 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 the product of the maker whose label or signature it bears) can only be determined through comparative study of design, model 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.
Stradivarius Instruments at the Smithsonian
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH) has the 1701 "Servais" cello made by Stradivari, uniquely famous for its state of preservation and musical excellence. It takes its name from the 19th-century Belgian, Adrien Francois Servais (1807-1866), who played this cello. The Herbert R. Axelrod Stradivarius Quartet of ornamented instruments is also housed in the NMAH collections. These instruments can be heard in concerts and on Smithsonian recordings.
Boyden, David Dodge, et al. The New Grove Violin Family. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.
Doring, Ernest N. How Many Strads? Our Heritage from the Master: A Tribute to the Memory of a Great Genius, Compiled in the Year Marking the Tercentenary of His Birth, Being a Tabulation of Works Believed to Survive Produced in Cremona by Antonio Stradivari between 1666 and 1737, Including Relevant Data and Mention of His Two Sons, Francesco and Omobono. Chicago: W. Lewis & Son, 1945.
Goodkind, Herbert K. Violin Iconography of Antonio Stradivari, 1644-1737: Treatises on the Life and Work of the Patriarch of the Violinmakers. Larchmont, NY: published by the author, 1972.
Hamma, Walter. Meister italienischer Geigenbaukunst. rev. ed. New York: Baerenreiter Music Publishers, 1964. Text in German, English, and French.
Henley, William. Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers. 1956-60. 5 vols. + supplement. Reprint. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England: Amati Publishing, Ltd. 1997.
Heron-Allen, Edward, 1861-1943. Violin-making, as it Was and Is: Being a Historical, Theoretical, and Practical Treatise on the Science and Art of Violin-making for the Use of Violin Makers and Players, Amateur and Professional. London: Ward Lock; New York, NY: distributed by Sterling Pub., 1984. (Originally published 1885.)
Hill, William Henry, Arthur Frederick Hill, and Alfred Ebsworth Hill. Antonio Stradivari: His Life and Work, 1644-1737. 1902. Reprint. New York: Dover, 1963.
Jalovec, Karel. Enzyklopadie des Geigenbaues. Trans. into German by Charlotte and Ferdinand Kirschner. Prague: Artia, 1965.
Lutgendorff, Willibald Leo, Freiherr von. Die Geigen und Lautenmacher vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, nach den besten Quellen bearbeitet. 2 vols. 6th ed. Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1922.
Lyon & Healy. The Lyon and Healy Collection: Rare Old Violins, XVI, XVII, XVIII Centuries; Also Fine Modern Instruments. Chicago: Lyon & Healy, 1909.
Orcutt, William Dana. The Stradivari Memorial at Washington, the National Capital. 1938. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977.
Sacconi, Simone F. The Secrets of Stradivari: With the Catalogue of the Stradivarian Relics Contained in the Civic Museum Ala Ponzone of Cremona. Cremona: Libreria del Convegno, 1979. Translation of I Segreti di Stradivari.
Vannes, Rene, and Claude Lebet. Dictionnaire universel des luthiers. 3 vols. 5th ed. Brussels: Les Amis de la musique, 1981.
Woodcock, Cyril. Dictionary of Contemporary Violin and Bow Makers. Brighton, Sussex, England: Amati Publishing, 1965.
Prepared by the Division of Music, Sports