Did you hear that a violin played on the Titanic sold for $1.6 Million dollars? Sure, the sale of a piece of Titanic memorabilia is exciting and everybody loves a good story, but what I take away from this news story is that everyone thinks all their stuff is worthless except for their old violins. For some unknown reason, everybody thinks that their old violin is only valuable object in the family. Before you bring your violin to one of my events or send photos for my review, read my three points about this news story, violins and the Stradivarius mark.
1. Don’t Buy into the Story
While the story surrounding the sale of this Titanic violin has all the components of a good love story—the violin owned by the brave musician playing on the deck of the sinking ship until the bitter end recalling the famous scene from the movie, an object that has remained under the sea for 94 years at last offered up for sale to a sincere collector, and a tender engraving on the instrument itself from the musician’s fiancée speaking of their century-old love story—OK, the cynic in me just doesn’t buy all the hype. But the appraiser in me knows that all that hype is certainly why that un-playable musical instrument sold for close to $2 million bucks. You bunch of softies with deep pockets!
My questions include: how did the violin (no less a legible engraving) survive in the salt water for nearly a century? How is the violin’s authenticity confirmed and by whom? A seller can’t authenticate the object he is trying to sell. The seller stated that the violin is authentic “beyond a reasonable doubt” which is great for courtrooms but not for auction bays. Either it belonged to the famous Titanic Musician Wallace Hartley or it didn’t. And the seller needs to prove it. It is his burden of proof, in this case. So if you are trying to evaluate your old violin or the old violin that sank with the Titanic, remember this… some stories are just that, stories! Real experts don’t rely on a well-crafted tale.
2. Stradivarius mark not the Holy Grail
Everyone believes that if their violin is marked Stradivarius or if there is a label with Stradivarius on the inside of your violin that you have a multi-million dollar violin. Stradivarius violins are like Leonardo da Vinci paintings—there aren’t a lot of them out there that the experts have not accounted for. There are not a lot of them out there that are not already residing with a major collector or prominent institution. If I had a dollar for every violin that I have reviewed at my appraisal events worldwide with the label Stradivarius inside, I would be able to buy a real Stradivarius violin. Don’t forget that it is easy to forge a signature, reproduce a famous mark, or fake a label.
3. The Press likes Buzz words
Famous historical items seem to always get the attention of the press and sell for top dollar. Do you have a piece from the Titanic, a copy of the Declaration of Independence or the bassoon or what have you that belonged to President Lincoln? The media loves to cover these stories and the antiques relating to them. To bring top dollar when selling most items, sellers will try hard to connect their object to an historic event—the Kennedy assassination, the sinking of the Titanic, the last Disney blockbuster movie. This helps them attract market interest to their piece. When you are selling your antiques, you should try to find a link to history in order to sell it for more money, too.