Attributions are desperately important. A violin that is definitely by an important maker is worth vastly more than one which merely looks very like the work of that maker. The auction houses generally list various grades of "correctness of attribution", reflecting how sure they are of any particular description concerning the maker. Thus, "attributed to", "ascribed to", "workshop of", "family of", "style of" and "school of" mean subtly different grades of "we're not prepared to guarantee" that an instrument is by the maker concerned. "School of" in particular, is a minefield: some places take this to mean that the unknown maker actually worked alongside the famous named luthier, and others merely mean that some appalling amateur has attempted a copy two hundred or so years later.

The only safe guarantee a private buyer can have is if an instrument is purchased from someone who is prepared to guarantee its authenticity, and to refund the purchase if a concensus of reputable experts should disagree with the sale description. In practice this seldom happens - few dealers want to get involved in litigation which does not concern them, and commercial rivals cannot be truly independent. The best advice, therefore, is for buyers to check the attribution of an intended purchase with as many authorities as possible before parting with any money. Buyer beware!

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Labels inside violins should, as a rule, never be believed. Everybody knows that violins can be worth a fabulous sum, and, as these instruments are notoriously difficult to identify, there is an obvious opportunity for deception. The problem stems from the fact that the violin was more or less perfected in the early 18th Century, and ever since then later makers have tended to copy as faithfully as they can these early masterpieces. A very perfect copy, with a convincing forgery of an early label inside, is indeed a trap for the unwary.

This begs the question, when is a copy a fake? The answer is when there is an element of fraud involved in the sale. Many respected copiers put their own label inside an instrument, and often state what is being copied: later, less scrupulous traders substitute apparently earlier labels. The passage of time will usually give an instrument a convincing patina of age, which is enough to deceive most.

The problem is further compounded by later makers, letís say from the 19th Century, whose work is well-respected and today expensive, being themselves copied. Itís an almost endless cycle. Consider the case of a clever luthier who I used to know, (now sadly died) called Cyril Jacklin. Cyril copied a 19th Century maker called Giuseppe Rocca (because Roccaís works are expensive, and sound well), and Rocca copied Stradivari (for the same reasons). I remember showing a violin labelled Cyril Jacklin to the man himself, in 1981. Cyril hadnít made it . . . another fake. Although annoyed at the fraud, he remarked that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.

Fake violin labels

It is very easy to put a fake label inside an instrument. This image is a detail from a fakerís sheet of labels. Facts to remember are :

  1. ) Statistically, most violins have a fake Stradivari label inside.
  2. ) Of those that donít, most have a different name, but will still be fake.
  3. ) Few violin experts know much about printing or manuscripts.

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Andrew Hooker Violins
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