Just because a violin appears to be old, that is not a guarantee that the instrument is great quality, or that it may be worth a lot of money. There is also the possibility that some instruments may have fake signs of ageing or may not be all that they appear.
The best way to be sure about a violin’s age, origins and value is, of course, to take it to an expert for a professional and opinion.
The Signs of Age (and of Quality)
If you look online, for example, you will notice that there many, often differing pieces of advice about how to identify the signs that you may have an old, and perhaps a good quality, and potentially more valuable violin. These may include (in no particular order):
- Studying the varnish. Softer, brown (rather than red) coloured, and less shiny oil varnishes, particularly those which have small cracks, perhaps blistering, and more obvious areas of wear can be consistent with the surface appearance of older instruments. The fact that wood reacts to temperature and humidity changes over time, and that the violin’s surface may have been worn through playing, are signs that may be consistent with an older violin.
- Looking at the peg holes – do they look as though they have been filled? When you think about it, assuming that an instrument has been played a lot, it makes sense that the turning of the pegs over time is likely to wear down the wood and make the peg holes larger (and loosen the pegs). Filling in the holes (also known as bushing) could indicate age in a violin.
- Studying the grain of the wood (body, neck, and scroll). For example, a spruce top that has evenly distributed fine to moderate grain, and a back of attractive, flamed maple are features that are often associated with higher quality, older violins.
- Looking at and feeling the quality of the scroll and the purfling, and of the general quality of the carving of instrument, even in the less visible areas e.g. the underside of top and back. These characteristics, and how the thickness of the top and back have been crafted may all provide clues as to whether you have an older, better quality instrument.
- Looking for evidence of repairs / maintenance work e.g. around the edges. With older instruments, the wood around the edges can become weaker and thinner (and sometimes the seams can open). Some older instruments, therefore, may have been lined with extra wood where the top meets the ribs (sides) as part of some repair work.
- Looking at labels. Labels, printed or hand-written, found inside the violin, can of course be fake. Looking at the other aspects of the violin e.g. the design, the characteristics of the wood, the varnish, the quality of the carving and finish, and many other factors is a better place to start than the label. A professional, violin expert should be able to tell if the features of the instrument are consistent with the label, and whether a label is genuine or misleading.
Take It To An Expert
If you have what you suspect to be an old instrument, one sure and trusted way to learn more about its true origins is to take it to an experienced fine stringed instrument specialist.
We can inspect, appraise, and value your instrument, as well as being able to carry out any necessary repair / restoration work. We employ only the finest restorers who have been trained at some of the world’s premier institutions. All of our work is guaranteed.
Also, if you are looking to upgrade your current instrument we can often offer a part-exchange or to sell your instrument on a commission basis through our store, helping to maximise the value of your existing investment.