World of many fiddles

EVERY week, one of the world's most respected violin dealers, Charles Beare, is asked for an opinion or valuation on around 25 instruments. Every week, two or three of them are not what they are thought to be.

Forgery is rife in the violin world. Modern imports from foreign factories can be turned into '19th-century' instruments, inferior violins 'upgraded' with misleading labels and forged certificates of provenance, and bits of old wood are used to construct 'old' instruments. Even the contents of vacuum-cleaners are emptied into soundholes to give the instruments dust.

Older instruments are prized for their superior sound quality. Skilled forgers stand to make tens of thousands of pounds from each sale. Even at the lower end of the market, one Birmingham dealer duped customers into paying hundreds for violins worth a fraction of the price - until Trading Standards officers investigated his business earlier this year. He admitted 45 charges under the Trades Descriptions Act.

Roger Hargrave, a British violin maker and a brilliant copyist, once had to convince the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna that he had made a 'Guarneri, 1714' that it was selling. Some time after the instrument had left his workshop in Bremen, Germany, the Hargrave stamp had been removed and a Guarneri inserted. The difference in price: pounds 150,000 against pounds 7,000.

But forgers generally keep off the 'old masters', such as Stradivari and Guarneri. Genuine ones can fetch more than pounds 1m, but are too well-documented. Copying a 1920s or 1930s model is much easier because forgers do not have to worry about ageing.

The pitfalls for anyone buying a violin are described by Brian Harvey, formerly Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Birmingham, in Violin Fraud: Deception, Forgery, Theft, and the Law published by Oxford University Press this month. Professor Harvey describes how forgers alter labels and provenance certificates, faking or swapping them for genuine ones from instruments that have been destroyed.

To age an instrument, forgers darken the wood with acid - which can weaken the instrument - or rabbit urine. 'But that smells awful,' said one maker. 'The violin has to be hung out in the sun to get rid of it.'

There are usually some giveaways. The varnish, for example, can show a pattern of artificial 'distressing' untypical of genuine wear. But the best forgers know the most frequent points of contact, where to simulate worn varnish; they know that chinrests were only introduced in the 19th century, so that there is likely to be a mark on older instruments. The wood should look darkened with age, but the bass bar is likely to have been changed at some stage, so it should look newer.

Mr Beare says that he looks first at the back, the outline, the wood and the quality of the varnish. 'That's where the messages are.' Developing a good eye is more use than scientific equipment, he says. For example, dendrochronology, for dating the wood, offers no guidance if a forger has used old wood.

If anyone is caught out they can console themselves with the thought that faking has been going on for almost as long as 'straight' violin-making. Professor Harvey relates how, in 1685, one Tomasso A Vitali complained to the Duke of Modena that he had been deceived into buying an Amati violin. Under the Amati label was another label with the name of Ruggieri - 'a maker of much less repute'.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes