Million Dollar Fruit

Albert Einstein asked “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what more does a man need to be happy?”

Einstein wasn’t a noted virtuoso, so perhaps his violin was not exceptional; the kind of violin that may "only" set you back a couple thousand dollars. But, let us discuss a different sort of violin, shall we?

In 2008, Russian lawyer and violinist Maxim Viktorov purchased a 250-year-old del GesÃ, once owned by Tsar Alexander II’s court violinist, at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for nearly $4 million. 

But that bit of wood and string is a pittance compared to another Giuseppe Guarneri creation. This one became the world’s most expensive violin and the most expensive musical instrument in the world in 2010. Chicago’s Bein & Fushi, dealers of rare and costly musical instruments, offered the instrument for a mind-bending $18 million.

These two examples, and the myriad multi-million dollar examples that inhabit the Stradivari family, could raise the question - how in the world did these instruments earn such enormous value?

First and foremost, there is the name. For example, even people who know absolutely nothing about violins or music history may know that Stradivarius enjoy a very special status. That sort of name recognition translates into a built in price tag, one that can be higher than the rest. 

Throw in with that name recognition the fact that Stradivarius, and violins akin to that brand, are known the world over for their incredible quality and sound and, again, the price tag is not only capable of being much higher than an average, every day violin, it is expected and consumers are willing to pay at or above those expectations.

But, then again, Stradavarius has a bit more going for it. Not only is The Strad an extremely rare instrument, it is also the standard by which each and every violin is held up to, even to this day. In fact, the design itself solidified the actual shape of violin design. The modern day violin, whether it be a Stradivarius or not, is a product of Stradivari genius.

Finally, we have lineage and the maintenance of the instrument itself. Since each Stradivarius is centuries old, it has been around the block a few times, as they say. Usually owned by something akin to a master, these instruments have been repaired and maintained by master artisans. So, in effect, the maintenance history of these violins makes them all the more valuable.

Then, as mentioned, there is the lineage.

Owners have included King Charles IV of Spain, Reynier and Count de Lachenais - gifted by Napoleon III, Napoleon Bonaparte himself, Itzhak Perlman (this guy owns at least 2) and many more distinguished and infamous individuals.

The Red Mendelssohn inspired filmmakers to create 1998’s The Red Violin.

At least four are currently listed as “stolen,” whereabouts unknown. People love intrigue.

These violins are so treasured that they are even listed as casualties of war, as exampled by the Brancaccio, listed as “Destroyed in an allied air raid on Berlin”.

The mystique, the mystery, the back alley dealings and the pinnacle of artistic perfection. These elements combined make for an instrument that is highly sought after and dearly paid for.

How does one come into contact with a Stradivarius? Better yet, how does one find one in the hands of a master? Well, perhaps that one should visit Interlochen Center for the Arts on May 4! The “ex-General Dupont”, of 1727, is currently listed as “on loan” to Jennifer Koh. Perhaps she’ll bring it along for her concert on campus? There is only one way to find out!


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