What Is an Antique Violin?

An antique violin is a type of stringed musical instrument that is prized for its age, which must be at least 100 years according to the generally accepted definition of an antique. Because there is no accepted international standard for defining an antique, this definition is open to interpretation, but most collectors and dealers regard it as the gold standard for determining antique status. Antiques are usually valued for their rarity due to age, but other factors such as condition, rarity, and quality can increase the value of an antique violin. Master luthiers such as Antonio Stradivari created antique violins that could be worth millions of dollars.

While any violin older than 100 years is considered an antique, the most desirable antique violins date from the period 1600 to 1750, which is considered the golden age of violin making, when the greatest masters of the art created their instruments. Violins from later centuries, up to around 1900, may still be considered antiques, but those from earlier centuries are generally much more valuable, both in terms of age and rarity, as well as quality.

Violins made today can be very different from those made in previous centuries. Modern violins may contain parts made of man-made materials, though they are still primarily made of wood. There will be no synthetic materials in a fine antique violin. This is one of the most straightforward ways to tell if a violin isn’t an antique.

Authenticating an antique violin, on the other hand, can be extremely difficult. Many antique violins have been restored or repaired, with new parts added where necessary. Some unscrupulous parties have even cannibalized authentic master violins for parts to combine with less valuable violins in an attempt to pass the results off as works of the master violin makers. This can lead to parts from one of Antonio Stradivari’s violins being used in several other violins, which are then marketed as being made Stradivari despite the fact that they are not true Stradivari violins.

Only an expert can tell the difference between an antique violin and a more modern instrument, a replica, or a forgery. Potential buyers of one of these violins should exercise extreme caution and only buy from a reputable dealer. Many antique violins sell for tens of thousands of dollars, or even millions of dollars in the case of certain Stradivari instruments.