Soundpost cracks – should they matter?

Posted By on December 7, 2009

I have just been shown a very beautiful smallish Italian violin, dating from around the middle of the 17th century and attributed to Andrea Guarneri.  It has an old and slightly ambiguous certificate and a recent unambiguous dendrochronology report.  The table can be definitely dated to 1630, and the report adds that, as the edges outside the purfling have been replaced, another ten lines of grain may have been lost, so perhaps the table dates from 1640.  So far so good.

The back, in one piece of quite beautiful slab-cut maple, has a soundpost crack, which however, has been neatly repaired ages ago.  The owner knows that the violin’s value has been hugely affected because of this, and indeed is pleased about it  for making the instrument affordable.  But why should it lower the price so much?  After all, it’s not going to influence the sound at all.  It’s the softwood front of a violin that vibrates and makes the sound.  Pianos, haprsichords, harps, guitars, mandolins  .  .  .  all have pine or spruce soundboards, like bowed stringed instruments.  Violin backs tend to be made of glamorous maple just because it’s glamorous. These may be in two pieces either because the maker didn’t have a single piece big enough, or because of aesthetic considerations – in other words, the maker thought it looked nicer.  But a two-piece back is, in effect, a manufactured crack, and a great big one, albeit one which does not affect the value.

A March 2007 article by a London dealer states that “Any 18th-century Italian violin of quality may well cost £50,000. So how do string players afford to play them? The answer is that the vast majority cannot.” (Gig Magazine 2007 – Simon Morris)

Well, perhaps they can, if they are not prejudiced against repaired cracks in the back, for the violin in question was sold for less than one fifth of this figure.  The proud owner has an early Italian instrument which sounds as you’d expect.  Its value will increase, too, at a rate rather better than inflation.  It will probably never be worth the same as an uncracked instrument of similar quality, but it will sound just as well.

A rare antique porcelain vase with a repaired crack is not worth so much as an uncracked example, but it will hold flowers just as well.

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