A Brothers Amati violin, another by a lesser-known Guadagnini and a cello by ‘the father of the piano’ all made waves at the London sales, as Kevin MacDonald reports


Courtesy of Tarisio

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There was a rich range of offerings this autumn across the London houses, but we are perhaps finally starting to see some impact of higher interest rates and economic self-doubt. Ingles & Hayday (I&H) offered a formidable 307 lots (after withdrawals), Brompton’s 270, and Tarisio increased its London presence with 62. Before aftersales, sold lots decreased below normal levels for some houses with 68 per cent selling at I&H, the same percentage at Brompton’s and 74 per cent at Tarisio. Some big ticket lots did not attract bids and most instruments in lower price ranges tended to stay within estimates. Yet, by value Brompton’s had the best sale it has ever had at £3,120,000.

As a possible explanation for the unevenness of the autumn results, I have noticed a gradual narrowing of the gap in prices between auction houses and more reasonable dealers at five figures or less. It is unclear whether this is because these dealers have not been raising prices with inflation or because the weak pound, and players bidding, have been driving prices ever higher at UK auctions. In other words, there are fewer bargains to be had. Regardless, the top lots and items fresh to market are still being fought over, and given the strong spring results this present weakness may be a one-off.

The top lots and items fresh to market are still being fought over

The top instrument this season was a 1716 cello (left) ‘By the Maker known as Bartolomeo Cristofori’ of Florence, selling for £383,500. Cristofori (1655–1731) is, of course, famed as the inventor of the piano. He was instrument maker and repairer to the Florentine court of the Medicis and would have known the large-model 1690 ‘Medici’ Stradivari cello on which this cello was almost certainly modelled. However, doubts as to whether Cristofori was a sole maker of stringed instruments, or rather working in concert with another, leads to some hedging in Tarisio’s labelling of this lot. All the same, it is a brilliant creation of the golden age.

I&H’s top lot this season was a c.1620 Brothers Amati violin with an Emile Français certificate, making £264,000. Paul Hayday tells me that it was held back from earlier in the year, given the weight of the ‘Rosenberg Collection’ sale (see June 2023 issue). It has not been on the market for many years, coming from several generations in a single French family, and thus attracting considerable interest. Other key lots in the six-figure range from I&H included a 1971 Poggi violin which went well over estimate at £168,000 and a 1666 Nicolò Amati violin which sold for £156,000. Both I&H and Tarisio sold important and well-certificated Vuillaume violins. Respectively, these were a late example (varnished after his death in 1875) at £168,000 and a relatively earlier example (dated 1846) at £141,600. Brompton’s most important lots included three violins: a c.1760 Nicolò Gagliano and a c.1690 Giovanni Grancino (which sold for undisclosed prices), and a very attractive 1830 Gaetano Guadagnini II violin which made £118,000. This last instrument was cited by Doring in his 1949 Guadagnini Family volume as ‘a very characteristic work bearing [an] original label’.


Guadagnini photo Brompton’s. Other photos Ingles & Hayday

As noted previously, books are still tending to shoot far over estimates. Some examples at I&H which sold at three times top estimate or more include: Biddulph’s 1998 ‘del Gesù’ volume at £2,880, Bowden’s Pajeot at £576, and Hamma’s Geigenbauer der Deutschen Schule at £384. You cannot go far wrong by building your library.

Some bows of note included a rare cello bow from Brompton’s by Nikolai Kittel (mounts possibly later) which doubled its upper estimate at £42,000. I&H offered two Nicolas Maire violin bows, one with original tinsel lapping realising £50,400, the other £33,600. Another striking example from that house was a stylish c.1790–1800 bow by Pajeot with an ornate ivory frog with pearl inlays, doubling its top estimate to £24,000.

A violin with a birdseye maple back was tantalisingly labelled by I&H as ‘Probably by Jacob Stainer’. I was told that a recent (unadvertised) dendro determination had put it in the right time and place to be indeed by Stainer. It performed over top estimate at £84,000. Another fascinating lot from I&H was a blood red and heavily antiqued violin after ‘del Gesù’ by ‘Jack’ Lott, that rogue of the Victorian violin trade immortalised by writer Charles Reade. Somehow this sort of look convinced in the 1860s, and while it seems a bit over the top today, Lott’s tonal excellence is not in dispute. This instrument returned for auction to the UK after a long tenure in Denmark and Sweden, selling for £48,000. Finally, I&H offered a rare opportunity to obtain a Balestrieri violin for less than six figures. It was a bit battered, with a scroll that may or may not be original, but still it holds the promise of being a great concert violin. It made £90,000.

Instruments by the top tier of living makers also strongly attract bidders

Brompton’s offered an exceptionally well-preserved c.1770 Joseph Hill cello with original neck, fingerboard, tailpiece, endpin and pegs, which went near top estimate at £22,200. Such high-quality instruments in their original state are becoming vanishingly rare at market. A re-Baroqued 1761 violin by Edmund Aireton, as illustrated in Harvey’s The Violin Family and Its Makers in the British Isles, was sold by I&H for £8,400.

Upper-end 20th-century Italian violins remain highly sought after. Tarisio sold a 1923 Annibale Fagnola for £106,000, while I&H sold a 1931 violin by the same maker for £90,000. Brompton’s saw strong bidding on a 1915 Carlo Giuseppe Oddone violin (branded, labelled and inscribed) which ultimately went for £80,400.

Instruments by the top tier of living makers also strongly attract bidders, and such was the case for a 2013 violin by Gregg Alf, which went over estimate at Tarisio for £36,000.

All sale prices include buyer’s premium

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