An Axelrod Stradivarius is up for sale

An Axelrod Stradivarius is up for sale


norman lebrecht

May 26, 2023

Tarisio are auctioning a 1708 Antonio Stradivari, once in the possession of Catherine the Great.

Its subsequent provenance is less distinguished.

it passed through the collections of violinist Henri Belville, French coffee magnate Prosper Maurel, violinist Leo Guetta, his daughter Peggy Guetta Finzi, pioneering Philadelphia radiologist Jacob Gershon-Cohen, tropical fish expert Herbert Axelrod, and industrial entrepreneur Giorgio Feige, whose heirs are offering it for sale. 

Axelrod, a tropical fish expert, was jailed in 2005 for US tax fraud. He had donated four Strads to the Smithsonian and another 30 instruments to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, some of dubious quality.


  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Axelrod donated the Strads to the Library of Congress, yes, but he *sold* the 30+ instruments to the NJSO for around $17m—no donation there.

  • A. says:

    I recall playing a concert on this Strad around 2002 when Machold brought it to Moscow, wishing to find a buyer in the country of Catherine the Great. Violin seemed to be wonderful. No one bought it then, and years later Machold was jailed. Was he an owner, too?

  • Joel Kemelhor says:

    Beyond the violins themselves, Dr. Axelrod was obsessed with Jascha Heifetz. My bookshelf is weighed down with his 744-page biography of the “greatest violinist that ever lived.” The cover of this book describes it as the “Third Revised Edition,” from Paganiniana Publications in Neptune, New Jersey.

    On page 557 we learn that, “When Heifetz smiles the whole world lights up.”

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Just to be fair to Axelrod it is less that the instruments he donated to the symphony were of dubious QUALITY than that they were of dubious ATTRIBUTION, which of course is what he used as the basis for valuation for tax deduction purposes. Their quality is what made their attribution plausible.

  • drummerman says:

    It was amazing how the New Jersey Symphony got duped by his “generosity.” (Like they say: if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true.)

    Then again, the NJ Symphony also got duped when they hired this guy

  • Martin Andersen says:

    As a long-time member of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, I’d like to offer a correction: 30 17th, 18th and 19th century Italian stringed instruments were sold – not donated – to the Symphony for $18M. They were later sold to two brothers, one of whom is referenced in the article.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I wrote “donated” too casually and stand corrected. But my recollection is that Axelrod and his tax attorney treated it as a “bargain sale” and that he took as a tax deducation the difference between the supposed market value of $49 million and what the orchestra agreed to pay.

      Axelrod’s Paganiniana Publications published more than his own “biography” (mostly reprints of newspaper reviews and interviews) of Heifetz (who threatened to sue Axelrod for writing that Isaac Stern had more friends than Heifetz did). He also published many volumes of reprints of older artist interviews conducted by violinist and editor Samuel Applebaum and his wife Sada, as well as some from Henry Roth. Those volumes, nicely illustrated with rare photos, are an invaluable resource for a person with a serious interest in the violin.

      I do not want to come across as Axelrod’s chief defender but fair is fair.