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Breaking: Some fool just paid $700,000 for a violin bow

December 1, 2017 by norman lebrecht

24 comments.


A French auctioneer is crowing that last night he sold a François Xavier Tourte bow for 576,600 Euros, which is $686,973.88.

Add coffee, croissants and a pack of Gauloises and you get $700k.

This is a world record.

It is also madness.

The auctioneer was Millant.


Comments (24)

  1. Scotty says:

    There was an auction of stuff from the Millant collection. I think that’s not the auction house, however. Is there a link?

  2. andy lim says:

    correction:
    The Auctioneer was Etienne Laurant from the French auction house Vichy Encheres.
    And the bow not from the Millant Collection.
    but indeed madness!

  3. Robert King says:

    And if the photo is of the actual bow sold, the buyer will need to spend another €80 on a re-hair…

  4. herrera says:

    Like Harry Potter’s magic wands, you don’t choose the bow, the bow chooses you.

    1. Robert Roy says:

      Exactly!

      And if you’re not in a position to be able to pay €700,000 for a bow then you’re not in a position to criticise those who do.

      I paid a ‘mere’ £5,000 for my violin bow. You know why? Because I’ve worked sufficiently hard to be good enough to justify such an investment.

  5. Augustine says:

    For us poor non string players, why would someone want such an expensive bow?

    Does it make you a better player?
    Are they collectible items that appreciate?
    Are they made of special materials, no longer obtainable?

    I’m curious.

    1. bratschegirl says:

      “Are they collectible items that appreciate”: QED (Tourte is the Stradivari of bows)

      “Do they make you a better player”: No, not in and of themselves, but they are capable of executing the very best that you can do, which a lesser quality bow may not be. Imagine running Le Mans in a Ferrari 459 vs. a Toyota Corolla. A colleague who studied with Josef Gingold once told me about a lesson in which she was beating her head against the wall with a particular bow technique, and after many, many repetitions Prof. Gingold opened his case and handed her his Tourte bow, with which she instantly executed the passage flawlessly.

      1. Max Grimm says:

        I’d qualify some modern bows – https://www.gillesnehr.com/tete-beche – as “collector’s items” as well (as for whether they will appreciate or not, time will tell).

    2. Robert Holmén says:

      Elite players comment that the best bows have a larger “sweet spot” in the middle where certain rapid articulations and maneuvers are possible and that old bows by a few certain makers are better at this than any others, possibly because they were made from a wood that really can’t be had anymore.

    3. but the difference is difficult to hear. So the better the player the better the degree of improvement. says:

      Yes it does.
      A great bow makes a great player better.
      It also makes a good player better.
      It also makes a bad player less bad, but the difference is difficult to hear. So the better the player the better the degree of improvement.

  6. Nigel Goldberg says:

    This bow was from the Millant collection surely one of the greatest collections of bows to have been brought together in the last 50 years. It’s a great shame it’s now been broken up by this sale.
    On the question of value and the difference a great bow makes to the player one would say that, like the great violins, if not more so, the bows of the greatest French makers are a disappearing resource. They are very delicate and can be easily damaged or broken. Over time there will simply be less of them in the good playing condition. When a bow is well ‘loved’ the wear froom the players hand also has a negative impact on the stick where it is handled. Added to that, they give to a player a range of nuance and colour that ‘lesser’ bows don’t achieve to the same extent. A great bow can make quite a difference to the sound of a lesser violin and in fact, Milstein would tell his students to sell there fiddle in order to buy a good bow.

    1. andy lim says:

      This bow was not from the Millant Collection.
      A mentioned before.

  7. Beinisch says:

    There is a very good short book about these kind of bows by Paolo Jori and Bernard Millant.
    It is like old bottles of wine,very expensive but sometimes not really so good. They are a collection items.

  8. Augie L says:

    Milstein (my favorite violinist of all time) was right. What is done with the bow is half the instrumentation side, the other half obviously being the violin (or viola or cello or bass). The difference between a fantastic bow and a very good bow is as great as the difference between a bad bow and a very good bow. Then there’s the scarcity question: Fantastic bows are really, really hard to make. There’s only one contemporary bass bow maker (Sue Lipkins) who, in my opinion, is now making fantastic bows, and her waiting list (for bows that are fairly priced but expensive) is years long. All that said… $700k is a swat-ton of money. But if it’s what the market wants to pay, I don’t have standing to argue the point.

    1. andy lim says:

      don´t forget Parisian bow maker Boris Fritsch who is an extremely sought after bass bow maker, especially in the US. so many principal bass players fly in to Paris for ordering his bass bows.

    2. Qwerty1234 says:

      7 year wait-list the last time I checked!

  9. Chateau Blue says:

    Money laundering? There might have been more being purchased than just a violin bow. Just check out the art “market”, where $186 MM are paid for a few coloured Rothko stripes or $450 MM for a fake Leonardo, to see the phenonenon on a larger scale.

  10. Scotty says:

    An American postage stamp, an “Inverted Jenny,” sold for almost 1.2 million US dollars. I’d take the bow.

  11. The buyer may be a fool today, but not tomorrow! says:

    The buyer may be a fool today, but not tomorrow!

  12. AB says:

    Why exactly, praytell, is it “madness”? This is an extremely fine example of an asset nearly guaranteed to appreciate. If I had the scratch, I’d have bought it too.

    Let the buyer cry all the way to the bank when he/she sells it for a million in 5 years.

    1. Robert Roy says:

      Exactly!

  13. Michael Selman says:

    The fool is the guy that wrote this story. There are 2 aspects to consider regarding fine old French bows. First, do they possess extraordinary qualities that make them more desirable for performing artists? The answer to this is widely accepted as being in the affirmative. Secondly, if so, how should they be valued? This is determined by the market which has only moved in one direction in the last 100 years.

    As someone mentioned, there is a finite number of bows that are very delicate by nature in a market of musicians that has exploded in numbers in the past 50 years. These are perfect conditions for price appreciation.

    1. but the difference is difficult to hear. So the better the player the better the degree of improvement. says:

      You are exactly correct.


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