Violin/old violin

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Question
I have a real old violin it is not in good shape it was my great grandfathers.The front looks as tho it has been sanded no varnish or stain on it The chin rest has Beckers model chin rest it is a small rest black in color.The back of violin has a design with white shiny shells .Do you have any idea as to how old it would be ? It has no markings or labels.My granny was born in 1900 it was her dads. The bow has no markings either nor does the case .Thanks

Answer
Hi Leona

Given the very limited information that you have provided with no pictures, the only thing that I can say is that your violin sounds like it could be one of the many thousands of "fancy" violins produced between 1880-1920.  That fits with your timeline. The chin rest has no bearing on the violin, it is just an accessory. The Becker model was patented in 1904 and has changed over the years, it is still available today, although I don't believe it has been marked with the model name since the 1950's.  These fancy instruments came in many different varieties and were made in Germany, France or Czechoslovakia by firms that employed many different makers either in house or in cottage industries in the surrounding region. These instruments are called "trade instruments" and were illustrated in catalogs during that time period. Many of these instruments were sold by various violin shops and even through the Sears catalog. Some are better than others but they tend to have values in the $250-1000 range as they are more suited for display purposes than as instruments for musicians. The reason for this is that the inlay of materials tends to hurt the sound of the instruments and frequently on these inlayed instruments the wood is left thicker so that the inlay will be more stable.

The only way to get a better sense of the instrument is to have it seen in person at a violin shop where it can be properly evaluated.  Even with pictures or an in person evaluation, nothing more accurate may be obtained. As I said these were almost always factory made, often with no reference to which factory.  If an exact match could be found in a catalog, that may only say what firm might have imported it, and not the firm that actually made it.  Most trade instruments have false or misleading labels, if they are labeled at all.  Hopefully you would at least come out with an approximate date and country of origin. Because of the damage to the varnish, I suspect that the instrument no longer has any actual monetary value.

More on trade instruments - http://violininformation.webs.com/tradeinstruments.htm
More on factory Instruments from Germany Czechoslovakia and France - http://violininformation.webs.com/germanfactoryviolins.htm

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David Lashof

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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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