Investing in Antique Violins Part 2 – Health

By Andrew Takla

Just like one needs to look at the fundamentals of a company, i.e. the financial health of a company before investing, one of the most important factors in determining whether to invest in an antique violin is the health of the instrument.

In the same way an investor would examine the liquidity, operating efficiency, solvency and profitability to determine the financial and operational health of a company before investing, I must determine the structural and cosmetic condition of the violin before I decide on whether the violin is an investment for me.

There are many fundamental factors in play when it comes to my investment decisions. These are the quality of the wood, the maker, age of the violin, appearance of the violin (unique designs, varnishes or finishes). Quite often, the most valuable antique violins are original instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri, Andrea Amati, Gasparo da Salo or Giovanni Paolo Maggini. This is the case since these makers have had a reputation for exquisite craftmanship, utilising thick, high-quality wood and high-quality varnish, all of which contribute to producing a powerful and warm sound.

When crafting a high-quality violin, only top-quality wood is used. The top plate of the violin is made from high-quality spruce which comes from a spruce tree, a type of pine tree from the fir tree family. Spruce has great vertical graining which makes it an appropriate material for the top plate. The back, and side plates of the violin are made from high-quality maple wood, due to beautiful flaming (striations) in the wood grain pattern. These are amongst the materials to watch for in a quality violin. 

It must also be noted that since highly valuable violins are associated with those makers previously mentioned, there are several reproductions of violins with violin labels from these makers. If you come across a violin with a label from any of the makers mentioned above, you have most likely come across a copy violin, since the majority of original violins have already been accounted for, either located in museums or by private owners.

Reproductions can significantly vary in quality, with the value of those reproductions ranging from anything between a $100 and $20,000+, depending on condition, quality of wood used and craftmanship. A qualified violin luthier or appraiser is best able to determine the quality of the reproduction relative to the original as well as its associated price. 

Whilst I do not necessarily expect to collect antique violins that are in perfect condition initially, I must compare the combined cost to acquire and repair the instrument, and what the instrument can be worth on the market.

Some repair/restoration jobs are far pricier than others, and thus some antique violins with specific restoration requirements are not worth investing in. For instance, the cost of repairing an antique violin with a hairline crack laterally on the belly (front) of the violin is far less expensive than repairing an antique violin which has a crack running centrally on the belly, down the bass bar of the violin or a split running down the back of the violin.

The location of a crack can have significant ramifications when it comes to the nature of the restoration job required to repair it. This highlights one of the many ways that I need to be discerning when it comes to purchasing violins which require restoring.

Similarly, whilst a cosmetically blemished violin may produce an amazing sound, quite often, it is extremely expensive and not financially viable to cosmetically enhance the violin. Violin players do not only buy with their ears, but they also buy with their eyes! Thus, cosmetic condition is an important consideration to be made.

To be guided in my decision-making process, I have criteria in place which states what a violin must have so that I do not find myself trapped holding antique violins which are not desired by buyers. In the same way, it is important to be discerning and have a set criteria and strategy in place when investing in a company listed on a stock exchange, or with any form of investment for that matter.

I hope the second part to this three-part series has provided valuable insight into the lessons I have learned collecting antique violins. Please stay tuned next week as I enter the third part of this series and talk about liquidity.

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