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Violin/Carlo Bergonzi Violin


I have, like many, an old violin, complete and apart, with a inside label that reads Anno 1740 Carlo Bergonzi fece Cremona, there was a rip in the label before my ownership and there is also very old varnish that has drip on part of the label and runs to the side looks to me this happened when it was constructed, the neck back reads imperial violin. After I gently cleaned the rosin from the face just south of the finger board I noticed it was not ordinary even if probably it is a copy, the varnish is brilliant in spots the rosin build up seemed to protect it, I would not hesitate if it were available to use this varnish on my classic car, if I had one lol, just trying to relate how magnificent the varnish appears. The back is two pieces in very good to excellent condition sides are OK front needs repair as its in 3 pieces split very uniformly along the direction of wood grain. I have no doubt it is old and if someone told me it was made like the label reads in 1740 I would not be surprised, if you look up label on the web and go to images you will see a display that's questionable, mine does look authentic but seeing other posts probably is not. The part that throws me off is the back of the neck that reads "IMPERIAL VIOLIN" as I thought all Violins with that label were made in Germany. Could of been an early repair with a switch fingerboard well perhaps but as it is apart it would of had to been replaced soon after it was made as there are imprints that the two were joined from the beginning. Hope someone can help me understand what I have as I do find it very interesting, TIA.

Hi George

Given the information provided, it could be either German or Japanese from the early 1900's but it is almost certainly German as I know of no Japanese Imperial violins with the engraving.  During WWI, no violin exports came out of Europe and so any Imperial model instruments imported then were Japanese and there were a number of different models. So yours is probably early 1900's German. Any violin with that engraving on the back of the scroll is a trade instrument from the early 1900's and the name Bergonzi is only a model name.  The only way for someone to determine if the neck is original with the body is to have it examined in person, but no violin repairman would put a trade neck on a real Bergonzi. These violins often had varnish that was both nice and applied to make the instrument look old. Varnish on the label also indicates to me this quality of instrument as a fine hand made instrument will be varnished prior to the label being inserted. Typically these trade instruments sold when new in the early 1900's for $15-75.  They are worth today up to about $2000, but the poor condition of the top may make it almost worthless as the repair would cost a good portion of that possible value. Pictures might help, but the only way to get an accurate value is to have it examined in person at a violin shop where all aspects of it can be seen.


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David Lashof


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.)


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.

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

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.

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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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