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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Musical Instruments and Lost Scores

( Orginally published 1962 )



Every treasure hunter in the world knows the story of the "Strads," the missing Stradivarius violins which mean a fortune to anyone who can find one.

Yet, the finding of a "Strad" is an amusing paradox even to the veteran treasure hunter: since everyone knows about them, there obviously are no "Strads" left-or someone would have found them by now.

The skeptics claim that if anyone, anyone at all, had a "Strad" he would be aware of it because the information is so widely known. One fact, however, which the skeptics have overlooked completely is that Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) made approximately eleven hundred violins-yet only about six hundred of them have ever been found!

Simple subtraction shows that there are approximately five hundred Stradivarius violins which have never been found-and five hundred violins simply do not disappear from the face of the earth. Some may have been destroyed, a few may have been damaged beyond repair, but somewhere there are enough "Strads" to make a fortune for anyone who can find them.

The price you could get for a Stradivarius would depend, of course, upon the condition of the instrument. In fine condition it could demand a very high price. I have seen prices for a "Strad" range from $13,000 to $80,000.

One other factor that would determine the value of a "Strad" would be the incontrovertible authenticity of the instrument. Naturally, over the years there have been many fakes produced-naturally, because a fake, if it could be palmed off as the genuine article, would bring the maker a great deal of money.

There are, however, various ways by which the experts can tell whether or not a certain instrument is authentic or not.

One method of helping to identify a "Strad" is by comparing the instrument with Stradivari sketches, some of which are in the local museum at Cremona, Italy. Also, the science of acoustics is a great deal of help in identifying authentic "Strads." An acoustical laboratory is being set up in Cremona by the Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria for this purpose.

Experts can check the tone of a violin. They can check the "varnish." There are many ways of telling whether or not what you have is actually a "Strad," but before you take your violin to the experts there is one way you yourself can tell whether or not it is at least called a Stradivarius. This is by looking on the inside of the instrument.

If you are lucky there will be on the inside part of the violin a label, proclaiming it to have been made by Stradivari. Yet here again you must watch for the fake, for it was here that the violin forger marked his model-the label just as much a fake as the violin he had just manufactured.

If you do have a Stradivarius you will have something very rare in the world of music. Before the time of Stradivari (and Nicolo Amati, who taught him) the violin was not the instrument we know today. It had a shrill sound, and it was only the work of these masters that gave their violins the sweet tone which, even today, is considered to be the very finest of violin tones in the world. It has never been excelled.

The shape and size of each piece of a violin are measured to a hair's-breadth in the making, and Stradivari was the master at it. Thus his violins have the magnificent tones that have fascinated music lovers since the 1700's-tones which today can bring you a fortune if you can find a violin that can produce them.

But the "Strad" is not the only violin which the treasure hunter should watch for. It would be rather horrible if, in his search for a "Strad," the treasure hunter should pass by a Guarnerius, because these violins made by Guarnieri are worth many thousands of dollars.

Most authorities rank the Guarnerius violin second to the Stradivarius, although there are many who consider the Guarnerius to be equal to if not better than the "Strad" itself.

Guarnieri was an Italian, born 1683, died 1745. His full name was Giuseppe Antonio Guarnieri del Gesu. The del Gesu part of his name, however, was added as a result of the nickname "del Gesu" which was given to him because he inscribed LH.S. on his labelsan important fact for the treasure hunter to remember.

There were other members of this family who also made violins, but it is del Gesu whose violins are the most famous and the most valuable and, as a result, the most desired by the treasure hunter.

The Guarnerius violin, the Stradivarius violin, and one other instrument-the Bergonzi cello!

Bergonzi was a pupil of Stradivari and from him learned to make magical instruments that even today are famous both for their extraordinarily beautiful tones and their beautiful shapes.

Every music lover and every owner of a music store wait for the day when they will find a Bergonzi. Such was the case of Jan Paul, owner of a music store in San Francisco, when he purchased six second-hand musical instruments. They had belonged to a musician who was moving and who had to dispose of the instruments.

Paul took all six off his hands for the nominal sum of $2,600. However, when Paul finally had them in his own store, he noticed that one of the cellos seemed different from the rest.

A violin-maker in his own right, Jan Paul examined the instrument carefully. He cleaned it with caution, not really knowing what he might find-but always hoping to find, as every lover of fine instruments does, a rare instrument.

Once the cello was cleaned, Paul realized he had made his find. The instrument was made in 1733 by Carlo Bergonzi of Italy. Over two hundred years old, the instrument was valued at $6,500. Today there are other Bergonzi cellos missing-each waiting for the treasure hunter to recognize it as one of the most beautiful musical instruments ever made.

When Francis Scott Key first had the inspiration for writing the Star Spangled Banner as he watched the attack on Fort McHenry, he had no paper with him and he scribbled the now immortal song on the back of an old letter.

Unfortunately, for the treasure hunter, this letter is now the property of the Walters Art Gallery, and the flag which Key described as "the Star Spangled Banner" is now in the National Museum in Washington, D.C.

However, even if these objects are safely in the hands of the museums, there are "first" copies of the Star Spangled Banner which are missing, and which could bring over $3,000 to the treasure hunter if he can find a copy.

The Carr first sheet music edition of the Banner should be on your treasure list. These editions have sold for anywhere from $1,000 to over $3,000 each.

At the Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, a very rare first edition of the Banner was recently sold for over $3,000.

Although the actual price paid for this copy is undisclosed, it is known that it was well over $3,000 since there were two other bidders who had quoted above this price, and they had underbid the actual buyer.

Not even the Library of Congress has a first edition of the Banner, but maybe you do-in that old trunk in your attic, in the storage bin in the basement, or hidden between the pages of your old family bible. Prices quoted for the Banner are known prices paid for copies which have been held up for auction, but there is much discrepancy in the field of music as to listed prices for rare treasures and the actual prices which the collectors will pay.

In order to sell rare music, you must have an authentic copy first -and then find a collector who wants it badly. Some collectors, for example, would pay almost any price for a collection of Caruso's records on the old Victor label. Others would not give you a dime for them. Jazz lovers are always in the market for the early jazz records, but lovers of classical music would not think they were even worth bidding for.

A point in illustration would be the scores of Victor Herbert, with particular reference to Herbert's operetta, Prince Ananias. A copy of Prince Ananias could turn up at any time almost anywhere and be sold for as little as $5, yet there is one collector who has gathered together the scores of all of Herbert's operettas-with the exception of the score for Prince Ananias. He has made an offer of $100 to anyone who can sell him a copy of it, an offer of two thousand percent over what the score would sell for normally.

It is, therefore, important to find a collector who really wants what you have found. The treasure hunter can only say "It was missing and I have found it. What will you pay for it?"

This, however, would be a simple question for anyone who could find the missing music from Thespis, the musical debut of Gilbert and Sullivan, this famous duo of the English operatic stage.

All of the music of Thespis has disappeared with the exception of one song, "Little Maid of Arcadee," and one chorus, "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain."

"Little Maid of Arcadee" has not disappeared, because it was published as a separate ballad. "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain" has not disappeared, because it was used again in The Pirates of Penzance.

Today, certain collectors badly want the missing parts of the score of Thespis. Many people have tried to find this music-and they have failed. Yet perhaps you will be luckier than they and return the missing music from Thespis to a world of music lovers who will reach out eagerly for it.

This music of Gilbert and Sullivan would, of course, be valuable, because it is the work of such famous composers, but sometimes missing music is important because it is indicative of a certain period or age from which few examples are extant.

For example, the period of Colonial (pre-Revolutionary) America. During this era many songs were written, yet material from that time is almost negligible in either printed or manuscript form.

Any printed score or musical manuscript from this period would be worth investigation. At least there is one surviving relic of Colonial music. This is a priceless manuscript, dated 1759, which contains four songs by Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791). This manuscript is now in the Library of Congress.

There are, of course, many missing manuscripts, and here, again, as with so much in the music field, the only thing you can say is that they are missing. And if you can find them they will be worth whatever the collectors are willing to pay, and if you are lucky the collectors will be willing to pay a great deal.

A contemporary of Hopkinson's was James Lyon, who was also a composer, and yet, unlike Hopkinson, none of his songs are extant today-unless one might be found in your attic or in that perennial old trunk in the basement.

Another musician from the same period whose works are also missing is William Billings, who wrote secular music.

Another gentleman of roughly the same period (1767-1836) is, however, a musician of some mystery, and we have no idea of whether or not you should look for his music. Not only because there is no way of telling how much the collectors would pay for his missing music, but because we do not know whether or not he ever even wrote music.

Was he a songwriter or wasn't he, is a question which very much bothers the historians of early American music. There is a great deal of doubt as to whether or not this man, by name Johann Christian Gottlieb Graupner, actually composed any music at all. It is a supposition that he did. It is at least known to be a fact that lie was one of the leading musicians of the city of Boston, and it seems more than likely that he did compose, but, if he did, his songs have never been found.

Perhaps you will be the one to find a missing song by Graupnerand fill in one of the missing pages of our nation's musical historyand if the collectors want the manuscript badly enough, fill your pocketbook as well.