The other day, there was a bit of excitement surrounding the appraisal of an instrument that had been sitting in someone’s home. After the elderly people who had lived in the home passed, the sons wanted to put the house on the market—so they called a company in to take out the personal belongings that were no longer needed and clean the place up.
In doing so, they discovered a violin. In the case with the violin was a certificate of authenticity stating that it may have been crafted by Testore, a famous Italian instrument maker from the 1700s.
The company took photos of the violin and the certificate, and started distributing them in the hopes of finding an interested buyer. A local man offered to purchase it for 1500 euros in cash, saying he wouldn’t insist on seeing it for himself before making a decision. If the sellers agreed, he asked them to bring him the instrument three days later.
The company was bewildered when this person came forward with a massive offer just based on the photos. If the instrument was truly a Testore, it could be valued at around 250,000 euros—so doubts began to surface as to its true identity. Then, through an unexpected series of events, someone in the company brought the violin to me and my colleague.
At first glance, the violin appeared to be worthless—far from a famous instrument. But it had also been repaired in several places—cared for in a way that simply didn’t make sense for a shoddy instrument. Some of the repairs had clearly been expensive to do.
The certificate of authenticity had been handwritten by the appraiser in distinctive script decades ago, making it difficult to even decipher. The phrasing was ambiguous, gradually becoming clear only after several readings. Essentially, it said:
This piece has an air about it that makes it impossible to deny the possibility that it may have been the work of Testore.
In my mind, this vague wording hardly served as a “certificate of authenticity.” But in any case, neither I nor my colleague were capable of making that determination. We decided to take it to the workshop of a nearby instrument craftsman and have him look at it. Perhaps because of the mystery surrounding the instrument—including someone willing to buy a worthless old violin for 1500 euros—the craftsman also was at a loss to decide. Ultimately, we ended up taking it to an appraiser.
Up until a few years ago, there were several instances where a famous violin was discovered among the items left in an attic of a home that had been in a family for generations, or where someone in the community unknowingly purchased a violin at regular market price from a pile of junk at an open-air market—only to find out later that it was a famous, expensive piece. Those stories even made it on the news, so everyone’s been paying extra attention when they discover instruments in unlikely places recently.
Italy is a country littered with adventures where you may have the opportunity to discover a treasure where you least expect it!