Violins General Information on Violin Authentication and Appraisals


Violins by famous makers such as Stradivari, Guarneri, Maggini, Amati, or Stainer had numerous followers and imitators. Often a disciple placed a facsimile label in his violin to acknowledge or honor the master whose model had inspired his work. Also, commercially made instruments often bear facsimile labels to identify the model of the product. 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 by United States regulations on imported goods.

The presence of a label with a famous maker name or date has no bearing on whether the instrument is genuine.Thousands upon thousands of violins were made in the 19th century as inexpensive copies of the products of great masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time, the purchaser knew he was buying an inexpensive violin and accepted the label as a reference to its derivation. Catalogs from the period show that these instruments were advertised for less than $10. 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 genuinely 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.

The Smithsonian, 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.

Selected Bibliography

Bachmann, Alberto. An Encyclopedia of the Violin. 1925. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1975.

Hamma, Fridolin. German Violin Makers: A Critical Dictionary of German Violin Makers, with a Series of Plates Illustrating Characteristic and Fine Examples of Their Work. Translated by Walter Stewart. London: William Reeves, 1961.

Hamma, Walter. Meister italienischer Geigenbaukunst. New York: Baerenreiter Music Publishers, 1964. Text in German, English and French.

Henley, William. Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers. 5 vols. supplement. 1956-60. 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. The Violin-Makers of the Guarneri Family (1626-1762): Their Life and Work. 1931. Reprint. London: Holland Press, 1965.

_______. Antonio Stradivari: His Life and Work, 1644-1737. rev. ed. New York: Dover Publications, 1963. Jalovec, Karel. Enzyklopädie des Geigenbaues. Translated into German by Charlotte and Ferdinand Kirschner. Prague: Artia, 1965.

Lütgendorff, Willibald Leo, Freiherr von. Die Geigen und Lautenmacher vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, nach den besten Quellen bearbeitet. Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1922.

Poidras, Henri. Critical and Documentary Dictionary of Violin Makers Old and Modern. 2 vols. Translated by Arnold Sewell. Rouen: Imprimerie de la Vicomte, 1928-30.

Roda, Joseph. Bows for Musical Instruments of the Violin Family. Chicago: William Lewis and Son, 1959. Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John, eds. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition. 29 vols.  London, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Vannes, René, and Claude Lebet. Dictionnaire universel des luthiers. 5th ed. Brussels: Les Amis de la musique, 1981.

Wenberg, Thomas James. The Violin Makers of the United States. Mt. Hood, OR: Mt. Hood Publishing Co., 1986.

Prepared by the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment
in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, Smithsonian Institution
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