So You Think You've Got A Strad...
Your Grandfather's Strad.
Unfortunately, the odds that the violin tucked away in your grandfather's attic is an authentic, genuine Stradivarius are very low. But don't turn Granddad's fiddle into a planter just yet, there may still be some value to this hidden heirloom!
A Little Bit About Instrument Labels. An instrument label can be a wonderful way to verify an instrument's maker, but it is not the first thing an appraiser evaluates when determining an instrument's origin. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous makers have copied and inserted actual reproductions of labels into instruments as a way to sell the instrument as something it is not. This does not mean all labels are fictitious, but it does mean an appraiser is going to look at the instrument's other attributes before considering what the label has to say.
Why Does the Label Say " Antonius Stradivarius" if the Instrument is not a Strad?
The Cremonese masters who created the modern violin design are the most imitated makers because of their innovation and skill. During the 19th century in particular, hundreds of thousands of instruments were made in the design of these great makers (the Amatis, Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Maggini, etc.). The 19th century makers would insert labels into the instruments as a way to distinguish the different models of instruments they were distributing (see the image above for a common "Strad" model label). The customers who purchased the instruments during the 19th century were aware the instrument they were purchasing was not an original, but was modeled after a great maker and was, therefore, labeled with his name.
Today, as more people are beginning to unearth instruments which have been passed down through generations, the original understanding of the instrument's origin is often lost and many people, after reading the inside label, are misled into thinking they have an authentic Amati or Strad. Many of these "Strad" or "Guarneri" instruments which remain from the 19th century vary in price, so it still may be worthwhile to have your instrument evaluated by an appraiser if you would like to know more about its value or maker.A Little More About Labels.
In 1891, the McKinley Tariff Act was passed which changed how items imported into the United States were labeled/marked. From 1891-1913, imported instruments now had to be marked with their country of origin. From 1914-1920, imported items were required to be marked/labeled with the words "Made in." After another revision in 1921, the act was revised to require the country of origin name be written in English. So, assuming the label is authentic, a violin labeled "Bavaria" would most likely have been made between 1891 and 1913. "Made in Italia" might be before 1921.
A violin labeled "Made in Japan" was probably made after 1921. Prior to 1921, instruments most likely have been labeled, "Nippon" or "Made in Nippon." After WWII, during the US occupation of Japan, items made for export were marked "Made in Occupied Japan" or perhaps "Occupied Japan."
Violins labeled "Made in Germany" are most likely made between 1921 and WWII (the late 1940's). After the split of Germany until its reunification in the 1990's, labels were marked "Made in West Germany" or "Made in East Germany."
So, if your attic violin is labeled an "Antonius Stradivarius 1707," but it also says "Made in Germany," the violin is, sadly, not an authentic Stradivari, but probably a factory-made copy. In this instance, you don't need an appraiser to tell you your instrument is not authentic, but you still may wish to seek out a professional opinion to find out the actual value of the instrument.