The history of the violin extends far back to the 16th century in Italy. Throughout history, many violins have been maintained and passed down over generations of people. While most violins have survived it throughout the course of history, there are several violins that have made it through these centuries.
Some of these violins have been developed, held, and played by very notable figures in history, giving them tremendous value in the eyes of historians and collectors. The value that many historical violins have is intangible.
In this post, we’re going to look at 10 of the most expensive violins of all time and what makes them so valuable.
1. The ‘Messiah’ Stadivari (1716) – $20,000,000
Probably the most expensive violin in the world, The Messiah is a violin that was crafted by Antonio Stradivari, the creator of the well-known Stradivarius violin brand, in 1716.
The Messiah, as a result of its age and history, has a valuation in the region of $20,000,000 but has never been sold or purchased by anyone.
While Antonio Stradivari was alive, he kept The Messiah in his violin shop as a prominent display of his skilled work, and in fact, it’s never been played!
The Messiah remained with Antonio Stradivari until his passing in 1737, after which it was carefully handed down through multiple generations of violin collectors and historians.
The Messiah now safely sits on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.
A large part of what makes The Messiah such a valuable violin to collectors around the world is that it was created during the years when Antonio Stradivari crafted his best violins.
The Messiah, aside from a few modifications that were made in the 19th century, is still nearly in the same condition as Antonio Stradivari left it in.
Crafted out of maple and spruce woods, the craftsmanship of The Messiah is impeccable and still allows the violin to remain as one of the most finely crafted violins in the world today.
2. The ‘Ex-Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesú (1741)- $16,000,000
The ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri is a violin that was crafted in 1741 by the highly skilled luthier, Giuseppe ‘del Gesú’ Guarneri.
The violin finally received the first part of its name when it was purchased by Henri Vieuxtemps, a Belgian composer and violinist, in the 19th century.
The Vieuxtemps Guarneri is now owned by a private buyer, who purchased the violin in 2012 for an undisclosed value that was upwards of $16,000,000 but has loaned it to Anne Akiko Meyers, a famous professional violinist, to use for her lifetime.
Prior to the 2012 sale of the violin, the Vieuxtemps Guarneri was purchased by Ian Stoutzker, an investment banker from London, England, through J&A Beare Ltd., who later assisted in its sale as well.
The Vieuxtemps Guarneri is valuable due to its extensive and notable history.
Several well-respected violinists, such as Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, have had the opportunity to play the Vieuxtemps Guarneri.
The violin, with nearly three centuries of history behind it, has been well-kept during its lifetime and has not needed to have any major repairs or patchwork done on its body.
3. The ‘Lady Blunt’ Stradivari (1712) – $15,900,000
The ‘Lady Blunt’ is a violin that was crafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1721 and purchased in 1860 by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, a prominent businessman from Paris, France.
During his ownership of the violin, Vuillaume made several modifications to the violin to improve its playability.
In 1864, Vuillaume sold the violin to his student, Lady Anne Blunt, from whom the violin received its name.
The ‘Lady Blunt’ was exchanged through the hands of various violin collectors over the years after Lady Anne Blunt sold the violin in 1895.
It was sold to a private buyer in 2011 through Tarisio Auctions for $15,900,000.
Tarisio Auctions and Nippon Foundation, the previous owners of the violin, donated all of the proceeds of the violin’s sale to victims of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that severely impacted Japan on March 11, 2011.
The ‘Lady Blunt’ is so valuable because of its history and the fact that, along with The Messiah, it is one of the best-kept Stradivarius violins in existence.
Upon examining the violin, original remnants of Antonio Stradivari’s craftsmanship can be observed on the violin, such as varnish and tool marks.
There are several inscriptions, like “PG” on the violin’s pegbox, that are included on the Lady Blunt that serve as testaments of its heritage.
4. The ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri del Gesú (1743) – $10,000,000
The ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri is a special violin that was crafted by Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’ in 1743, one year before his passing.
Some of the same prominent figures and violin collectors that were involved with the history of the Lady Blunt, such as Jean Baptiste Vuillaume and Eller, were also involved with the ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri.
Upon its ownership by John Carrodus, an English violinist who purchased the violin from the W.E. Hill & Sons violin shop in 1886, the ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri received its full name.
Richard Tognetti, of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, currently has access to perform with the ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri after it was purchased for $10,000,000 in 2007 by a supportive patron of the orchestra.
The ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri is one of the last violins that was crafted by Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’, making it a tremendously valuable instrument that represents the peak of Guarneri’s craftsmanship.
It also displays violin-crafting traditions of the time.
There are influences from many nations, both musical and artistic, that can be observed through the skilled craftwork of the ‘Carrodus’ Guarneri.
5. The ‘Kochanski’ Guarneri del Gesú (1741)- $10,000,000
Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’ crafted the ‘Ex-Kochanski’ Guarneri in 1741.
The first known owner of the Ex-Kochanski Guarneri is a figure who is known as Enthoven.
The violin has been owned and preserved by several well-known violin collectors and dealers, such as W.E Hill & Sons, during its lifetime.
In 1927, the Ex-Kochanski Guarneri was sold by W.E Hill & Sons to Paul Kochánski, a Polish violinist, from whom it was named after.
The Ex-Kochanski was most recently sold in 2009 by Aaron Rosand, a violinist who owned the model for over fifty years, to a private Russian violin collector.
The craftwork of Ex-Kochanski Guarneri features elements from many of the additional violins the remain from Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’.
For example, the Ex-Kochanski Guarneri and the Vieuxtemps Guarneri were crafted using the same wood, which can be seen from similar wood grain patterns on their bodies.
There is also a signature red varnish, which is notably used on Carrodus Guarneri, that is used on the Ex-Kochanski Guarneri.
This violin serves as a representation and almost as a foundation for many of Guarneri’s later works.
6. The ‘Mary Portman’ Guarneri del Gesú (1735)- $10,000,000
Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’ created the ‘Mary Portman’ in 1735.
Much of the history of the ‘Mary Portman’ is unknown until the violin was acquired by Fritz Kreisler, a professional Austrian composer and violinist, and, in the early 20th century.
Following Kreisler’s ownership, Lady Mary Isabel Portman, a figure who was responsible for the construction of The Kranzbach Castle and the daughter of a friend of Guarneri’s, purchased the violin.
In 2013, after being loaned to Yi-Jia Susanne Hou for professional performances by the Stradivari Society of Chicago, the ‘Mary Portman’ was returned to Clement Annison and Karen Annison, its current owners.
The ‘Mary Portman’ is another masterpiece of the luthier Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’ that has been passed down through many careful hands.
Much about the violin is unknown, but it is currently acquired through auditions and temporarily loaned by the Stradivari Society of Chicago so that skilled violinists have opportunities to draw out the best sounds from the violin.
These performances allow Guarneri’s legacy to continue.
7. The ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri del Gesú (1742)- $6,000,000
Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesú’ is the luthier who was behind the ‘Lord Wilton’ as well.
Crafted by Guarneri in the popular violin-making town of Cremona, Italy, the ‘Lord Wilton’ has a deep heritage behind it.
It was crafted in 1742 and was named after the fourth Earl of Wilton, Seymore Egerton. However, Egerton did not take ownership of the violin until the 19th century.
The ‘Lord Wilton’ is also called Ex-Yehudi Menuhin due to the fact that it was owned by the world-renown violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, from 1978 until his death in 1999.
It was purchased in 1999 from Menuhin’s estate by David L. Fulton for $6,000,000.
The ‘Lord Wilton’ is a violin that has been well-maintained since its creation in 1742 and has even been gracefully played by Itzhak Perlman, Zlatko Balokovic, and Lady Speyer.
As with many other antique violins, the ‘Lord Wilton’ was owned by W.E. Hill & Sons at some point of its extensive lifetime.
8. ‘La Pucelle’ Stradivari (1709) – $6,000,000
‘La Pucelle’ Stradivari is a violin that was created by Antonio Stradivari in 1709.
Nicknamed “The Virgin”, La Pucelle Stradivari had never been played since Stradivari crafted it.
Responsible for its nickname, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume is the owner who attached pegs and a tailpiece to the violin, much like he did with the ‘Lady Blunt’.
‘La Pucelle’ is the name of the Catholic warrior who is carved on the violin’s tailpiece, another detail that was added by Vuillaume.
After being sold between several collectors, W.E. Hill & Sons took ownership of ‘La Pucelle’ Stradivari in 1903 and later sold the violin to Richard C. Baker in 1904 before taking ownership of the violin again until 1942.
David L. Fulton, the current owner of the ‘Lord Wilton’, took ownership of ‘La Pucelle’ Stradivari in 2001, constantly keeping both violins in excellent condition.
‘La Pucelle’ Stradivari has survived many historical events and has been maintained well over the centuries.
David L. Fulton has previously explained that the violin doesn’t have any cracks and has never been retouched either.
9. The ‘Dolphin’ Stradivari (1714) – $6,000,000
The ‘Dolphin’ is a violin that was crafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1714.
Jean Baptiste Vuillaume owned the violin until 1862. George Hart, a violin collector who took ownership of the violin in 1868 after purchasing it from Caspar Gottlieb Meier, gave the ‘Dolphin’ its name due to its unique physical characteristics.
In 1950, Jascha Heifetz, a highly-skilled professional violinist, owned the ‘Dolphin.’
Nippon Music Foundation, the former owners of the ‘Lady Blunt’ purchased the ‘Dolphin’ in 2000 and have loaned it to Akiko Suwanai for performances.
10. The ‘Ex-Szigeti’ Stradivari (1724)- $6,000,000
Commonly referred to as the ‘Ludwig,’ the ex-Szigeti was crafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1724.
Joseph Szigeti and Deszgo Szigeti both owned the violin, which is where it gets its main name from.
The violin is also called the ‘Ludwig’ because it was owned by Joseph Ludwig.
The ex-Szigeti features a lengthy inscription from Antonio Stradivari himself, making it a rarity among violins.
There are many notable violins that have made it through centuries of history and are all worth great value, both intrinsic and extrinsic.
These ten violins are the most expensive violins that currently exist in the world, but there are many more honorable mentions that exist as well, such as the $1.7 million Arthur Catton Lancaster model that was played as the Titanic sank in 1912.
Many expensive violins have deep roots in history that make them invaluable as well.