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Violin/violin identification

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Question
Dear Mr. Lashof, I am 70 years old. I bought a full size violin at an auction for a ridiculously low price. I want to begin playing again after a 10 year layoff and this violin is well suited for that.  It is sound, no cracks or separations at glue joints, good varnish and has pleasing tone.  I want to see if I can find out more about its source.  The label says "Joannes Ornatis / Anno Domini 1971" with the "71" written in ink.  There is a small oval label to the right of this label with the number "199" written on it.  I'm not particularly concerned about its value (I don't th8nk it has any great value) but I am very curious about where it was made and who made it.  I have not been able to locate any information on the internet about "Joannes Ornatis" and I wonder if you can help me. Many thanks for your help!

Answer
Hi Mr Carlson
I looked at my reference materials and I too cannot find a listing for a Joannes Ornatis. It could be that it is a made up name going after the notoriety of Guiseppi Ornati from the first half of the 20th century. He also used a second small oval label/brand but it had his name and not a number which is probably just the serial number. Many makers buy violins unvarnished (in the white) and then varnish them and sell them under made up names. Sometimes they do this to get better at varnishing, others that have never made an instrument to begin with do this so that they can pretend that they are makers. In either case, I have seen some really bad ones and some that are very good. Without seeing the instrument close up I wouldn't be able to tell where the instrument was actually made as they are available from many countries.  If you decide that you want to find out, take it to a violin shop and they should be able to at least tell you what country the "white" violin was made in.  

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David Lashof

Expertise

I can answer questions on violin, viola, cello and bass making, repair and maintenance as well as supply general violin value ranges and information on instrument makers’ assuming the instrument's as labeled. I don't give values for modern makers as many of these modern makers are yet unknown to me. I can only give you feedback based on what information you give me, and no authority on the instrument can know every maker's work that ever lived. I have access to many books on makers and auction prices on over 25,000 makers, as well as having 36 years of experience with selling and appraising violins. Without having the instrument in hand, any estimate over the internet is just a guess as the label inside an instrument is more often wrong than right, so just having that information is not very useful. Pictures can sometimes be helpful but only so much, as the "feel" of the instrument along with small clues in workmanship and varnish cannot be seen in pictures. Any pictures should be high quality close-ups of the top and back. Additional photos of the front and treble side of the neck are also useful. It is always best to have an instrument seen in person at a violin shop that does appraisals. I can also provide advice on bows, rosin, strings and other string instrument accessories. As I am now retired, I have no bias towards selling anything; I only wish to share my knowledge and experience by providing information for those that may be getting confused by misinformation, misdirection or conflicting statements. (While I have seen many thousands of instruments and have performed numerous appraisals; if I have not evaluated an instrument in person, any information I set forth in an opinion is just that, an opinion based solely on what you have provided. Thusly, no financial decision should be based on that opinion, but rather, further investigation should be performed by having the instrument examined in person.)

Experience

I am a retired violin maker and repairman with 35 years experience having worked in Chicago and Maryland at 5 different violin shops and music stores including the first violin repairman at William Harris Lee in Chicago, the head repairman at Weavers Violins in Maryland, and in my own shop of 25 years. I have made 160 instruments and have restored countless professional level and student grade instruments. I am an accomplished violinist having performed with semi-professional as well as amateur groups although I haven't played for years and mostly stay away from questions about playing. I have taught violin making and restoration to about 20 students; three of which have gone on professionally and now have their own shops. I know violins from playing, selling, repairing, making and teaching.

Organizations
Violin Society of America (VSA). American String Teachers Association (ASTA)

Education/Credentials
I graduated from the prestigious 4 year Chicago School of Violin Making in 1981 under Master Violin Maker Tschu Ho Lee. I also studied with violin maker Willis M. Gault in Washington DC from 1973-75, who was the former owner of the oldest known example of an instrument from the modern violin family, an Andreas Amati Viola.

Awards and Honors
2008 Chester Petranek Award for service to the music community. ASTA award for service. Top All Expert in Violin for 2014 and 2015.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with many professional musicians from DC area Symphonies as well as players from all over the US. Here are just a few, Leonard Slatkin - Former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Doris Gazda - Nationally renowned string specialist and composer. Bernard Greenhouse, Tanya Anisimova - Internationally renowned Solo Cellists. Jody Gatwood, Mark Pfannschmidt, Lori Barnet, Doug Dubé, Judy Silverman - National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Blatt, David Hardy, Glen Garlick - National Symphony Orchestra. Eddie Stubbs, Brendan Mulvahill, Nate Leath - Professional Fiddle Players. David Basche, Pat Braunlich, John Knudson, Romano Solano, Ed Ferris, Fred Lieder - freelance musicians.

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