Historic stringed instruments have proven to be exceptional investments and analysis of numerous Stradivari and Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ violin sales figures since 1946, shows that the high-end of the market has been rising at an average and sustained compound annual growth rate in excess of 12%, even during periods of global economic recession.
The success story of violin investment really began in 1971 when the violin market was taken by storm by the sale of ‘The Lady Blunt’ Stradivari of 1721. ‘The Lady Blunt’ was sold for £84,500, more than four times the existing world record auction price and this sale was the catalyst for the boom of the 1970s and 1980’s fuelled by unprecedented demand from the America, Japan and South Korea. By 1988 the auction record for a Stradivari was just under £500,000.
The auction house monopoly on top-end violin sales diminished in the 1990s with the emergence of individual and institutional collectors who preferred the privacy of buying through a dealer. In addition, the owners of instruments realised that significantly higher prices could be achieved when sold on the private market.
The demand for antique Italian violins remains very strong in what is now a de facto global market. Depending on the year of construction, provenance and condition, the current price for a fine Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu violin can range from US$4,000,000 to US$16,000,000. In the last 5 years, and during the worst economic recession in living memory, amounts paid for exceptional examples have soared, ‘The Lady Blunt’ was sold in 2011 for £9,808,000 and in January 2013, the ‘ex-Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesu sold privately for over US$16,000,000.
The trend of growing demand, diminishing supply and subsequent value increases will most likely continue during this decade, compounded by the emerging strength of not only the Russian but particularly the Chinese market. These factors could trigger a boom in all categories of instruments, not seen since the 1970’s.
In recent decades many institutions and foundations have acquired important collections of instruments which are loaned to students and top artistes in order to further their careers. Past and present recipients include many of the world’s most celebrated string players and these collaborations have proven to be extremely successful for all concerned. The benefactor retains ownership of the asset but by an act of philanthropy, and under strict conditions, loans the instruments to a musician who otherwise might not have access to a high-quality instrument on which to develop their technique and artistry. The importance for a musician to perform on an exceptional instrument cannot be understated and an attempt to excel on the highly-competitive international stage without a fine violin is made all the more difficult.
It is a wonderful gift to us that we in the 21st Century are able to appreciate these historic masterpieces live in concert halls, much to the support and philanthropy of sponsors who generously allow them to be played by world-famous musicians.