The violin market is always looking to new world record prices as the inevitable progress of inflation mixes with the phenomenon of finite supply in a growing marketplace. However with the finest and most coveted instruments selling periodically for yet greater and unimaginable sums of money, it is easy for the market to become excitable and speculate about a trajectory far steeper than reality permits. In 2000, as the controversy over the “Messiah” Stradivari hit the headlines in the Times Newspaper, an interview with Charles Beare revealed the presence of customers in the marketplace willing to spend £10million to acquire the instrument, if only it were on the market. In 2010 Bein & Fushi put the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” del Gesu up for sale at an eyewatering $18million, and if that seemed an improbably high sum for the finest Guarneri on the market, it suddenly felt like reality when in the following year, the second-best Stradivari, the 1721 Lady Blunt made an astonishing $15.9million.

With these sales in mind, many in the market place are baying to see the $100million sale within our lifetimes, and new voices constantly try to compare the universally understood brand-impact of Stradivari with the likes of Van Gogh or Picasso whose entry-level paintings go for more than a handful of decent Strads. But a look back on history reveals how intimately connected the art and violin markets have always been, with paintings and instruments selling in the same sales to the same kinds of buyers, but over more than three-hundred years they have been consistently separate because they serve separate needs. This look into record prices of the past, written at the time of Tarisio’s historic sale of the Lady Blunt, is just a part of my ongoing research into the way the violin market developed. I apologise for the meaningless and misguided ‘conversions’ into real money: One of the many editorial interventions that make me nervous about writing for Strad Magazine.

Read on here: record instrument prices of the past