19th-century violin with fake Stradivarius label. Winterthur Museum.

Is it a Strad?

The violins made by Antonio Stradivari (1644−1738) in Cremona, Italy, are widely considered to be the best in existence. Passed down through generations of musicians, many have acquired provenances that link them to important players or events in the history of music. Stradivari was a luthier and maker of fine stringed instruments. His work was highly valued in his own time, and imitations and replicas began to appear soon after his death. Hundreds of thousands of replicas and an unknown number of forgeries exist today, varying in age and quality. A genuine Stradivarius sold at auction in 2011 for $16 million, so you can easily see why someone would be motivated to create a fake. Only some 650 true Stradivarius violins exist. Each one is more or less accounted for, so it is highly unlikely that a new one would appear out of nowhere.

Is This a Fake?

Purchased on eBay for $119.99, this violin has a printed label adhered to the inner back of the instrument. Imitations of the original Stradivarius label began to be manufactured in Europe in the 19th century. They were intended not to deceive but to pay homage to the genuine instruments. Because this particular violin is of relatively good quality, although not close to an original, it was probably not made to deceive. The purchase price indicates that neither the modern buyer nor the seller was fooled. Without an identified maker, violins are difficult to date, but this one was probably made in the 19th century.

Although difficult to see, this label was printed on wove paper, which was not in general use in Europe until the late 18th century.
Photo courtesy of James X. Sui.


The violins are being played by Xiang Gao, the Trustees Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Delaware and founding director of the Master Players Concert Series. Gao is recognized as one of the world’s most successful performing artists of his generation. In 2007 the Stradivari Society, in Chicago, selected him to be the recipient of the Lady Tennant for his international solo concerts.


Kutner, Max. “For Every Stradivarius Violin Discovered, There are Many Wannabes, Fakes.” Newsweek, November 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/stradivarius-violin-discovery-fakes-390331