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How to Tell If You Have an Antique Violin

Look inside your violin through the F-hole to see if you can spot a label inside.
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If you come across a violin and don't have any way of knowing where it came from, you might wonder if it is an antique. Most often, when given a violin, the giver will tell you about the violin's origin, age, and condition. Although the odds are low, you might find a mysterious violin (say, in your grandmother's attic) that looks old enough to be antique. If this is the case, there are a number of ways to discern where the violin came from and when it was made. Keep in mind that antique violins are not necessarily valuable, and value will depend greatly on the condition of the instrument.

Look inside the violin through the F-holes (the spaces on the front of the violin) and check for a label inside the instrument. It may be glued to the inside back of the violin. If the label clearly says in English, "made in (country)" then it is a factory-produced violin, not an antique. All imported items, including violins, made after 1891, were required to have the country of origin on the label. The jackpot of violins would have a label printed with "Antonius Stradiuarius Cremonenfis" and other Latin text. If the label is in another language (especially Latin or Italian), or is not present, there is a chance the violin could be an antique. Also keep in mind that sometimes labels are forged.

Ask a professional for advice. Professional antique dealers who specialize in musical instruments (and even specifically violins) can tell you more about your violin. You could also consult the head violinist in your local orchestra if your city has one, as he or she would probably have more specific knowledge of violins. A luthier (violin maker and repairer) also would be a good professional to show your violin to if you suspect it could be an antique.

If contacting a local expert isn't feasible, or no local experts are available, look at the many online resources. Learn all you can about violins and their history. Examine your violin carefully and then contact an expert online if you are still curious about its age and origin. One of the resources, David Bonsey, appraises instruments for PBS's "Antiques Roadshow."

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