If you don’t know whether your violin is made by Stradivarius, it probably isn’t. Most Strads have a provenance and are photographed, known and played by the best musicians. However, instruments made by Antonius Stradivarius are still being discovered. Anyone who says that there aren’t any Stradivaris left to be discovered is just plain wrong; it just doesn’t happen often. If right, a Strad can be worth anything between £1m – £10m, quite a chunk of money.
So that’s the good news.
Nothing is impossible. Your violin by Stradivarius may be by the greatest violin maker of all time, and will allow you to spend your retirement in luxury.
Now for the bad news.
Instruments with fake labels and bogus attributions far outnumber the genuine article. The mere fact of having an instrument with the Stradivarius label inside does not give you the winning lottery ticket. In the mid-to late 19th century, and beyond, instruments were produced by German and French factories, a fake label put in (often Stradivarius, sometimes Amati, Stainer or Guarneri) and sold through music retailers.
It was a disaster. People bought these violins, thinking them to be genuinely to be a violin by Stradivarius, and rang their Congressman in fury when the instrument turned out to be fake. This led to the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 – and you know things have become widespread if they are legislating against it – to force makers to put the place of origin on their labels.
If your violin says Antonius Stradivarius Faciebat Anno 1723, made in Germany look no further.
It is almost certainly an instrument made after 1890. If the label doesn’t have the place of origin, I am afraid you are still most likely to have an instrument made in Germany pre-1890, but it might be worth doing a bit more checking.
The bottom line is that while it is possible to find a Van Gogh at a jumble sale or charity shop, it is infinitely more likely that you have bought a print. Yes, it has the signature, yes, there are sunflowers on it, but don’t get too excited. Don’t quit your job quite yet. I don’t know if fake Strads are as common as Van Gogh prints, but the point remains, most violins with a Strad label are copies.