Hidden Guadagnini, star Pressenda, and Russian aristocracy spice up spring auction sales


Every appraiser dreams of discovering a long-lost treasure tucked away in an attic or closet. And Bonham's celebrated one such find at its June 10 auction with a highly important violin by G.B. Guadagnini (Piacenza, 1745). Peter Horner of Bonham's musical instrument department found the violin during a routine visit to the United States. "The owner had no idea what he had—and was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, when I told him how much it might be worth. There has been a lot of interest in the violin, which is in almost perfect condition and sounds as you would expect from this superb maker," said Horner prior to the sale. The violin had been with the American owner since 1925, when it was brought from Switzerland by relatives. The instrument was estimated at £100,000–£150,000 ($70,422–$105,633), and sold for £145,000/$99,315.

Bonham's March 12 sale saw a good French violin by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (Paris, c. 1860) sell for £40,000 ($28,169)—the low end of its estimate. Also notable, a fine, handsome, and rare viola by Benjamin Banks (Salisbury, c. 1780) sold with a certificate from Dykes & Sons (London, May 24, 1979). The instrument was featured in The British Violin (BVMA, Oxford, 2000, pp. 120–129) and brought £10,500 ($7,394) at gavel.

Christie¹s celebrated two strong sales this spring. The March 13 South Kensington sale presented one of the top lots for London's spring season: a good Italian violin by Giovanni Francesco Pressenda (Turin, 1828). The instrument fetched £102,750 ($72,359) at the auction's close.

Christie's East hosted its first auction at the new Rockefeller Center location in New York on May 30, featuring items from the estate of an unnamed private collector that brought fierce bidding. Says Genevieve Wheeler of Christie's East, "Having a broad selection of bows in such pristine condition brought clients in weeks in advance of the public viewing."

A fine silver-mounted violin bow by François Nicolas Voirin was considered a prize lot by collectors. Estimated at $6,000–$8,000, it took $10,158 at close. Also notable, a silver-mounted violin bow by Hippolyte Camille Lamy sold for $5,975.

A Nicola Gagliano violin (Naples, 1734) was well received by attendees, and brought $95,600 at final bidding. It was especially popular among the players at the auction as it was a strong example of a "grand pattern model."

Skinner had very good sales and several high-quality lots in its May 5 auction in Boston. David Bonsey of the musical instrument department reports, "It was one of our best sales ever—92 percent of the lots sold. And we had ten world records." One record-breaker, a violin made by the son of well-known Dutch maker Johannes Cuypers, Johannes Franciscus Cuypers, sold for $28,200—a price establishing J.F. Cuypers as a quality maker in his own rite.

A rare French violin by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (Paris, 1874) showcases inlaid ebony fleur-de-lys designs and is one of the last instruments to come out of Vuillaume's workshop, made a year before his death. Crafted for the famous violin dealer David Laurie, it's a copy of a Nicola Amati violin originally belonging to Prince Youssoupoff (a Russian aristocrat and pupil of Vieuxetemps). Only six copies were made. Estimated at $50,000–$70,000, the violin took $38,775 at gavel.

A Nicola Gagliano Neapolitan violin (Naples, 1759) sold to a musician for $62,275. A silver-mounted viola by Eric Lane and a violin bow by Francois Malo and Eric Grandchamp (collaborative work), were also noteworthy. Proceeds of these two sales were donated to the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI). Bonsey explains, "We would like to include at least two bows in each auction to support the IPCI." (Lane's bow sold for $940 and the Malo-Grandchamp work took in $1,645).

One of Skinner's most significant lots was an Italian violin catalogued as an instrument from the Mantua School—estimated at $15,000­18,000. It was the object of intense presale speculation, and musicians bid on its sound quality alone. It eventually sold with speculation as to its real maker for $154,500‹over ten times the low estimate.

Sotheby's March sale saw an Annibale Fagnola viola (Turin, 1904) sell for £40,750 ($28,697). Tim Ingles of the musical instrument department reports that this lot was especially nice to see as "[we are] in a market where violas are not guaranteed sellers, by any means." Also of note, an "ascribed to Gennaro Gagliano" violin garnered £35,000 ($24,648) against an estimate of £8,000–£12,000 ($5,634–8,450). And an Alfredo Contino violin broke a previous record, selling at £18,900 ($13,310).

Ingles notes, "there were also good results for Giuseppe Pedrazzini (£22,350 [$15,739]), Johannes Theodorus Cuypers (£23,500 [$16,549]), and Giovanni Floreno Guidante (£18,900 [$13,310]) violins, and an H.C. Silvestre violoncello (£25,800 [$18,169]). Amongst the bows, £4,560 ($3,211) for a W.E. Hill Fleur-de-lys was excellent, and a Dodd violoncello bow also did well at £7,200 ($5,070)."

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