Why people spend millions on an instrument they'll never play

In the August issue of The Strad, out now, I question the saleroom aura attached to fine instruments that are often past their play-by date. A notable case was the Lady Blunt that went last month for $14.2 million after half a century of disuse.

Why pay such fortunes? Is it prestige, investment, or perhaps something else?

Here’s a sample:

Why are people are prepared to pay record sums time after time for the Lady Blunt, which is practically unplayable after years of disuse, when 20,000 Euros would buy an instrument made last month in a German workshop with a blend of ancient craft and modern technology that ensure it sounds like Cremona, almost? The premium people pay for a Vieuxtemps or a Lady Blunt is less for high performance than for emotional transference…

Any further thoughts?

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  • David Snyder says:

    Perhaps the buyers have more money than is good for them.

  • Galen Johnson says:

    Restore it and play it.

  • John Soloninka says:

    Whether playable or not, the artistic, historic, and provenencial (is that a word??) value of a fine violin rivals that of any Old Master painting, Chippendale table or rare archeological artifact (none of which are “played”). When you add to it that many of these 300 year old instruments produce some of the finest sound, and are used as professional work tools by professional musicians…it is quite astounding. However, I fully agree that modern instruments are virtually indistinguishable, from a playing/sound perspective, from great Cremonese instruments (as shown by the experiments run in parallel with the Indianapolis Violin Competition last year). People will still buy Strads just like they buy Davinci’s and Rembrandts. What they should do is get them tonally copied (a la Martin Schleske, Luthier), use the new copies for performing, and keep the old ones for posterity.

  • Frank says:

    Investing, I guess.

  • Guilherme Fontão says:

    Ivry Gitlis wisely says that no violinist owns a Strad or a Guarnerius: he just go through the life of the ancient instrument that must be carefully preserved to be played successively by other violinists in the future. I could say that great instruments must be only in great violinists hands – even by means of philanthropic foundations. It’s a complete absurd whether bought by vain profiteers who keep the instruments hanging on the walls of their homes or offices. In my opinion, it’s a crime!

  • Sebastian says:

    Some day this old instrument bubble is going to explode. They are totally overrated.

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