What’s your favorite thing about musical instruments? Perhaps it’s the fantastic tones they produce, the gorgeous aesthetics, or the skill that it takes to play them. All of that is incredibly important, but for me, I have always found the rich culture and history of instruments to be truly magical.
Every musical instrument has its history, from ancient drums to the modern synthesizer. However, I’ve always been particularly fond of violins, vintage violins to be more specific. The history and culture behind them are sometimes utterly unbelievable, and it’s always been my mission to see them in person, even if only in a museum.
However, it can be pretty difficult to know where to start – where on earth are you supposed to find vintage violins? Whilst not many people reading this will realistically be able to afford a vintage violin (including me), the thrill of searching for them is still incredibly exciting, and I am here to tell you how to experience that for yourself. Read on to find out how to find a vintage violin!
Bottom Line Up Front: Vintage violins that have been preserved for over 200 years can generally be found in museums and auctions. However, you may be able to purchase a vintage violin at a reasonable price from your local violin shop or favorite online marketplace if it is around 100 years old and doesn’t have too much of a cultured history!
What Makes A Violin Vintage?
Before we take a look at exactly where you can find vintage violins, it will make sense to first explain exactly what makes a violin vintage. There are tons of expensive modern violins out there, but we’re not concerned about them today – we’re talking exclusively about vintage violins. Let’s investigate.
This first point probably comes as no surprise due to the definition of the word ‘vintage’ being directly related to age. Age is an essential factor in deeming a violin as vintage – however, I’m not just talking about 25, 50, or even 100 years. If you can believe it, most violins that are considered to be vintage are actually at least 200 years, with some even dating 300 and even over 400 years!
That can be difficult to imagine – it’s hard to vision people crafting and performing with violins such a long time ago, let alone them still existing to this today. However, they absolutely do – music historians spent enormous amounts of resources ensuring that the oldest violins in the world are preserved to the best of their abilities. After all, this is musical history we are talking about!
The next important factor that contributes to the title of a “vintage violin” is the luthier that crafted the instrument. These days, modern violins are often made in a factory, manufactured in bulk to meet low production and purchasing prices. This sadly makes the instrument somewhat uniform and takes away a lot of the magic. However, violins that are more expensive and high-quality will always be hand-crafted, just like the vintage violins of the past.
Whilst I have always found it incredible that anyone could hand-craft a violin, it is undeniable that some luthiers were better than others, with some of the best of the best existing hundreds of years ago. Ultimately, this means that vintage violins almost always originated in the hands of a world-renowned luthier. Of all of the famous luthiers, three have always stood on top in my books – Andrea Amati, Giuseppe Guarneri, and Antonio Stradivari.
If you found a violin crafted by any of these luthiers, let me tell you – the price would be truly ridiculous, and 99% of the time they would not be for sale. We are talking tens of millions of dollars – wrap your head around that!
The luthier that crafted a violin contributed massively to the vintage status of an instrument, but it isn’t just about who made it. In some cases, vintage violins have been crafted by pretty average luthiers, but they gained their vintage status due to the paths that they followed after being created.
In some cases, a violin may have been passed from violinist to violinist, spanning some of the biggest names in musical history. In other cases, interesting incidents such as finding a long-lost violin, or a famous person damaging a violin could result in it being considered vintage. There are even cases where violins were preserved from day one, never even being graced by the presence of a bow!
One thing remains consistent here and it dates back to my first point – they are all old. Some violins may only be 100 years old but have a rich history, and therefore still find themselves being sold as vintage violins. However, most vintage violins have a combination of being at least 200 years old and rich history of luthiers and performers.
Where to Look for Vintage Violins
You should now understand exactly what results in a violin being considered to be “vintage”, so let’s now focus our attention on our initial intention of discovering how to find a vintage violin. You know what to look for now, so you’re going to need to search in one of the following places!
People often assume that online marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist are fertile ground for the sale of vintage violins, and they’re not wrong. Search for the term ‘vintage violin’ on any online marketplace, and you will quickly realize that there are hundreds of results. However, whilst these violins will certainly be old and could even have some history behind them, we’re not talking about anything too special.
Instead of the violin being over 200 years old, we’re talking more like 50. Instead of the violin being hand-crafted by Stradivari, we’re talking about it being hand-crafted by an unknown luthier outside of Italy. There’s nothing wrong with that at all – I have come across some truly stunning vintage violins online, but it’s important to remember that if they were truly something special, they would not be being sold to any old punters online. So, where would they be sold? Let’s continue searching!
This next idea may seem very obvious – after all, if anywhere is going to sell a vintage violin, it’s going to be a violin shop, right? Well, sort of – you can find vintage violins in a violin shop, but don’t get your hopes up. Ultimately, you’re going to find very similar results to that of online marketplaces.
If you’re looking for a violin that is 50 to 100 years old, has been preserved well, and is being sold to be performed with, you absolutely can find this in violin shops. Violins of this sort of age will often have been treated in a specific way to allow the wood to age finely, facilitating rich tones that simply cannot be projected through the modern-day violin.
However, much like online marketplaces, there is simply no way that the violin shop in your local town is going to sell a violin that is much older than 100 years. Imagine what would happen if someone broke into the shop and stole it – that would be a seriously big deal, and their insurance is not likely to cover a 250-year-old vintage violin! You can certainly find some delightful vintage violins in violin shops, particularly those found in historic locations such as the Italian cities that provided the roots of the instrument. However, you’re going to need to look further for the real deal!
In case you hadn’t already noticed, those last two ways of finding a vintage violin were a little disappointing. That’s because whilst you certainly can find vintage violins at online marketplaces and violin shops, the age and price of them are going to be significantly limited. We’re talking about paying $10,000 for a 100-year-old violin, not $10,000,000 for a 300-year-old Stradivari!
So, where do you find such a violin? Surely they can’t be available for general sale? There’s some truth to that – no violin seller in their right mind would sell a million-dollar vintage violin without seriously thinking about how they are protecting it, who the potential buyers are, and how the systems that are in place to protect the financial potential of the instrument. As a result, auctions are one of the most common places to find a true vintage violin.
I’m not talking about eBay auctions – I mean in-person, Dutch auctions, complete with that weird singing that the auctioneer does! Auctions happen many times a year and often concern the sale of some of the most expensive vintage violins in the world. It will usually be impossible for any old violin enthusiast to bid – you will have to have some form of exclusive status and be invited. You will also need to prove that you have that five, ten, or even twenty million dollars to pay – your word isn’t going to be enough!
It should be added that whilst physical in-person Dutch auctions are typical for the sale of vintage violins, online auctions do present an alternative in some cases. A recent example of this was during the COVID-19 pandemic – in-person auctions were not possible, so online auctions were used instead for the sale of luxurious vintage violins. However, don’t get it twisted – this is a completely different thing from the online auctions of websites such as eBay.
When reading about vintage violins, it’s common to hear that a certain violin crafted by a famous luthier was only produced 50 times, with one such violin being sold for millions. It raises the question if this violin is so darn valuable, where are the other 49, and why are they not being sold? Well, the answer is simple really – because they are in the violin collection of some of the best violinists in the world, and they will not part with them regardless of the price they are offered.
Much like how rich people will pay millions for fine pieces of art to display in their living rooms, famous violinists will be delighted to show off a million-dollar vintage violin that is mounted in their hallway. Some may even perform with the instrument, valuing the gorgeous tones and resonance of the finely aged wood over the clout of simply owning a vintage violin.
Overall, it’s a sad fact of life that some of the absolute best vintage violins are downright inaccessible because they are not for sale, and they never will be. They are owned by some extremely wealthy people who are very passionate about violins, and owning it will mean more to them than their monetary value ever could.
There’s just one last place that you must look if you are wondering how to find a vintage violin, and it is perhaps the most significant of them all – museums. Much like the previous heading where I explained that some vintage violin owners simply do not want to part with their instrument, this is also the case for cultural preservation centers such as at museums and art galleries.
Museums are where some of the most valuable vintage violins of all time get their monetary value in the first place. A museum might spend ten or twenty million dollars to ensure that they have access to a one-of-a-kind vintage violin, only to display the violin to the public with absolutely no intention of selling it.
You might think that’s a bit greedy, but I think the complete opposite. Sure, spending such a huge amount of money massively increases the value of a violin and therefore prevents anyone else from purchasing it. However, the motive of doing this is to display it publicly, allowing anyone from classical musicians and music historians to college students and kindergarteners to take a peek at the beauty of the instrument.
You asked how to find a vintage violin, and that is my number one answer – museums. Some art and culture museums will have one or more vintage violins as a permanent fixture. However, some museums even revolve completely around violins such as the Museo del Violino in Cremona, and I could not think of a better place to find a vintage violin than that.
My 3 Favourite Vintage Violins
I’ve been highly passionate about vintage violins ever since I started learning the instrument many years back, and this has fuelled many travel experiences and web browsing sessions where I have sought only the best of the best vintage violins. It’s been difficult, but I’ve worked hard to compile my three favorites into the following list. I hope you find them as interesting as I do!
Da Vinci, ex-Seidel Stradivari
The first vintage violin that I would recommend you check out is Antonio Stradivari’s ‘da Vinci, ex-Seidel’, crafted back in 1714! There are a ton of interesting features about this violin, namely the fact that it is over 300 years old and produced by Stradivari himself! However, the number one reason that I simply had to list this violin is that it will be sold at an auction in Berlin on June 9th, 2022!
It’s crazy to think that such a violin, made during Stradivari’s Golden Period, is still on the market! I am hoping to attend this auction if they will allow for spectators, and considering that you are reading a guide called “How to Find a Vintage Violin”, I think it is an opportunity that simply cannot be missed by any vintage violin enthusiast!
The next vintage violin on my list is another Stradivari violin – what can I say, I’m a huge fan of his work, and so is the entire violin community! This isn’t just any old Stradivari violin though, it’s the most valuable Stradivari violin and the most valuable violin in the entire world!
That’s right – this absolute beauty of a violin was crafted back in 1716 which was two years after he made the previously mentioned ‘Da Vinci, ex-Seidel’, and this may lead to believe that this would make it less valuable. However, this is not the case – as we discussed earlier, there is a lot more to the price of a vintage violin than age, and this particular violin excels due to its history of owners. Not only was it crafted by Stradivari, but it was also owned by Nathan Milstein, Joseph Joachim, and Jean-Delphin Alard!
So, how much did this violin cost, and where can you view it? Believe it or not, it is valued at a whopping $20,000,000 and is on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, United Kingdom. So, you better get saving if you want to find this vintage violin even just for a photograph because it’s going to cost you a flight to England!
Andrea Amati’s Charles IX
For my final favorite vintage violin, I’ve decided to take a step back from Stradivari to give a little bit of love to an equally incredible, if not more incredible luthier – Andrea Amati. If you’ve never heard of this luthier, where on earth have you been hiding all these years? He was only the man who was credited for inventing the violin, and amazingly, some of his violins have lived to tell the tale.
Of all the violins that Amati crafted, the oldest one to still survive to this day was the Charles IX, made once again in Cremona in 1564. That is almost half a millennia-old, it’s completely mindboggling – especially when you see how well preserved it is! The aesthetic, whilst it looks pretty impractical, is stunning, and I was fortunate enough to view it in the previously mentioned Ashmolean Museum in Oxford a few years ago.
I highly doubt that it would sound any good, and it certainly is not for sale, but if you are looking to find the very best vintage violin, a trip to visit the Charles IX in Oxford whilst also checking out the Messiah Stradivarius should be on your bucket list!
Phew – that truly was an intense time-traveling journey through the ages of violins. We’ve discussed a ton of information such as what makes a violin ‘vintage’, how to find a vintage violin, and three of my favorite vintage violins that are still in existence. To round all of this information up, I’ve taken the time to create this quick FAQ to answer any final questions you may have. I hope that it’s helpful!
Answer: Vintage violins under 100 years old can commonly be found on online marketplaces, and at violin stores, but truly vintage violins that are over 200 years old can be found at Dutch auctions and most commonly of all, museums.
Answer: The oldest violin in the world to have its age confirmed is the Andrea Amati “Charles IX” from 1564 making it almost 500 years old, but The Metropolitan Museum of Art has another Amati violin that could be even older but waits for confirmation.
Answer: The “big three” vintage violin luthiers are Andrea Amati, Giuseppe Guarneri, and Antonio Stradivari.
Answer: The most obvious contributing factor towards a violin being ‘vintage’ is its age, but the history behind it and the luthier who made it are equally important.
Well, there you have it – that was everything that you need to know about how to find a vintage violin! There’s no denying that it’s pretty difficult, and it certainly isn’t going to be as easy as turning up to your local music store, but keep your eyes peeled and you may just be able to find one in a nearby museum or even an auction!
I doubt that I will ever be able to afford one of these vintage violins, and frankly, I doubt that you will too unless you are a millionaire! However, you should never let this detract from the fact that vintage violins are beautiful parts of musical history, and we should embrace that!
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