Antonio Stradivari (1644 - 1737) When you think violin the first name that comes to mind is Stradivarius. To keep this article brief, I will try to address why this is the case as succinctly as possible. You may think you have a Stradivarius Violin for sale. But is it really a Stradivarius or is it a copy?
Stradavari was possibly a student of Nicolo Amati but this is not confirmed. He did definitely set up a shop in Cremona in 1680 and his originality and innovation was immediately apparent. The uniqueness has everything to do with the way the violin was made and the wood it was made with.
It is known for certain that the wood used included spruce for the harmonic top, willow for the internal parts and maple for the back, strip and neck, and that the wood was treated with several types of minerals, including potassium borate (borax), sodium and potassium silicate, and vernice bianca, a varnish composed of Arabic gum, honey and egg white.
Technique innovations included various degrees of thickness in the wood being more exactly determined, the formation of the scroll was altered, and the varnish was more highly coloured. During the 1690s, he worked to perfect a "long pattern" violin, with a longer, narrower body. These are nice but he made his best violins from 1698 to 1720 or 1725 depending on which expert is writing. During this time Stradivari reverted to a shorter, wider design, his "grand pattern".
The uniqueness of the Stradivarius violins is that the sound is scientifically a challenge to explain and even more of a challenge to reproduce consistently 300 years later. There are articles about every facet of how the wood was treated and how he constructed them. They have been forged and attempts have been made to duplicate the sound with modern materials. Forgeries fail and duplicates fail to impress experts and the masses. Whether Stradivari had a magic ear that could discern that he had to make an asymetric violin to get the most perfect sound out of his uniquely sourced and treated woods or if it was just the unique woods is an endless question.
The core of the value of the Stradivari violins is that they are the unique standard to which all other violins are compared to. Over 650 of these instruments survive (some were lost in the firebombing of Dresden). Even if modern made instruments could duplicate the sound, they are new and not 300 years old. It is not an argueable point that they will sound as good 300 years from now because the Strads will be 600 years old then.
The final point is that something is only worth what someone will pay for it. A Stradivarius made in the 1680s or during Stradivari's Brescian period from 1690-1700, could be worth several hundred thousand dollars or more at today's prices in auction. If made during Stradivari's "golden period" from 1700 to 1720, depending on condition, the instrument can be worth several million dollars. They rarely come up for sale and the highest price paid for a Stradivarius (or any musical instrument) at public auction was The Hammer, made in 1707, which sold for US$3,544,000 on May 16, 2006. Private sales of Stradivari instruments have exceeded this price.
For a more detailed history of Antonio Stradivari you may wish to buy this book. It has good reviews and if there is a complaint it is that it is too thorough.