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My early forays into antiques auctions

Elizabeth Ward

Following the demise of Omega Music the liquidators put a catalogue online of all the stock that was up for auction and called me to alert me.  Well, naturally, once I had looked at that catalogue it made sense to see if there were any other violins.  And other auction sites.  And so it went on.

It is something like 15 years since I had any dealings with antique violins, and those were either ebay finds or ones I had found locally.  They needed a lot to be done to them and I didn't make enough on them for it to be worthwhile.  But I think I know a bit more now.  Anyway I had a go.

Here are a couple of things I have learned that may be of interest whether you are selling or buying at auction:

1. Expect anything you buy to need a full set up (that might seem obvious, but I have had some come that looked completely playable from the photographs but when they arrived I wondered how on earth anyone had managed to keep them in tune long enough to play).

2. General auctioneers (as opposed to specialist musical instrument ones) seem to have no idea at all of the value of a violin.  It is common to see old Stentor students put up with the same estimate as good antique violins.  Who in their right mind is going to pay £30 for a used Stentor student when you have to add about 24% minimum to the hammer price and then unless you are actually at the auction or very near, you have to pay for them to post it - and if they won't, there is a specialist company who will collect and post.  This company has quoted me from £45 to £103 for a single cheap violin!

Worse from the seller's point of view is that one auctioneer at least seems to completely ignore any notes provided with the violin concerning its value.  I got a very good buy from one such auction.  The seller would have been less impressed!

What a buyer wants to see more than anything else is the back, but general auction houses rarely photograph the back.

Anyway it's an interesting hobby I suppose.  Whether I will make any money on it overall remains to be seen.  Depends whether my repairer gets fed up with me first, perhaps.  Certainly it is not a case of immediately reselling for a profit since, as I said, they all need attention.

But if you have your heart set on an antique violin, well, keep an eye on my website.  I am not giving them away (would like to make a bit of a profit) but I won't be selling at the sort of prices charged at bricks and mortar specialist shops either .  I don't have their facilities or their overheads.  I am in a different market.



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  • Elizabeth Ward on

    Thank you Stewart. I am in Huddersfield. Liz

  • Stewart on

    Just visited your site and find it refreshingly open and honest.
    Where are you located ?
    I am in between Derby and Nottingham.
    I play the violin (an 1996 German Strad model) with a beautiful tone (as quoted by Kato Havas).


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