I am a terrible musician. I mean really, truly dreadful.
The totality of my musical ability can best be summed up in one halting, off-key rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on violin.
Obviously, my parents’ investment (a year’s worth of rental fees) never paid off.
But a fine violin as an investment in and of itself can be quite profitable — especially if you’re looking for an asset that offers steady, long-term appreciation.
Based on nearly 200 years of verifiable price information, the value of fine classical violins increases 3–5% per year. Which doesn’t sound all that impressive until you look at the last 20 years…
In the last two decades, many top-tier instruments have risen 12–25% in value — with almost no downside and very little volatility. Experts have also noted that the total dollar volume of stringed instrument auction sales has increased by more than 10% per year since 2006.
That’s a sure sign of a healthy market.
To be clear, I’m not talking about buying and selling just any old violins. I’m talking about investing in violins like this:
The art of handcrafting fine violins, called lutherie, can be traced to Italy as far back as 1540.
Fast-forward about 200 years to the workshops of Cremonese masters Antonio Stradivari and his colleague Giuseppe Guarneri, “del Gesù,” where Stradivarius and Guarneri violins were born.
Stradivari and del Gesù are perhaps the most famous Italian luthiers, but they are not the only names worth noting. Others include Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Domenico Montagnana and Carlo Bergonzi.
Much like it was during the 17th and 18th centuries when expensive stringed instruments were crafted exclusively for the ruling class (the only folks with wealth enough to afford them), today most fine violins are sold privately.
Top instruments command high collectible prices — from $1 million for an unexceptional violin to over $15 million for a 1941 masterpiece.
And analysts expect values to continue rising — for a couple of reasons.
First, there is a finite supply of fine violins in the world. For example, there are currently only about 600 Stradivarii thought to have survived to today. And there are only around 140 Guarneri del Gesù violins.
Which means value is automatically built in through scarcity.
Fine violins will also continue to appreciate because unlike with brass or percussion instruments, stringed instruments improve with age as each one develops its own unique sound and feel.
Professional musicians actually prefer playing older violins. And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander — because a used violin that sits unplayed will depreciate with each passing year.
That’s why some violin collectors will buy an instrument and then turn around and grant the use of it to a professional violinist. Not only does this keeps the violin in use and cared for, but it also adds the musician’s star power to the instrument’s value.
So — if you’re a music lover who wants to invest in a high-quality stringed instrument, there are two ways you can acquire one: from a dealer or at an auction.
Going to a dealer, you can avoid the frenzy of a live sale — but you’ll pay closer to full retail price. A dealer will be able to help you find the right instrument to invest in for your budget. And their connections and expertise make them a valuable resource.
That said, it’s important to find a dealer you trust. Be sure to vet any potential candidates before you write any checks. Don’t be shy about asking for references. Also, membership in the Appraisers Association of America is a plus.
If you can stand the heat, auction prices for fine violins are usually about 50% less than retail. But remember — whether you’re buying or selling, auction houses charge fat fees on both sides of the sale. Be sure to factor those in so you don’t miscalculate your potential profit.
Both a reputable dealer and auction house should be able to provide you with a report detailing the condition of the instrument, along with a complete repair history and a record of how much of the instrument (including the varnish) is original.
You may also want to request a dendrochronology report (to date the wood) and a CT scan (to show every minor flaw or repair) — if they aren’t readily available — depending on how much you plan to invest.
Lastly, a reminder to factor in insurance as well as the storage of your investment (if you don’t plan on loaning it to a renowned performer).
This asset is about as niche as it gets — it’s not for everyone.
This is a buy-and-hold kind of investment. As you would imagine, fine violins aren’t particularly liquid.
But for the right person, investing in a fine violin could be the perfect way to store your wealth in something that gives you joy… something that preserves culture, making you a steward of the arts… and something that will quietly, steadily appreciate no matter what the markets do.
That’s music to my ears.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. If you’re interested in diversifying your portfolio and delving into tangible, collectible assets, there’s no better place to start your research than the forums of JustCollecting. Talk to fellow investors, experts, buyers and sellers all… and find a like-minded community of unconventional investors just like you.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
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