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Fiddle-Dealers of the Present Day.

Mr. Herbert Kelcey, the actor, who is said to be an enthusiastic lover of fiddles, has evidently had his share  of disagreeable experiences in collecting old violins. It is also evident, however, that he has a higher opinion of American dealers than of the European variety.

“I do not think,” he says, “a more unscrupulous set of men exists anywhere than the old violin-dealers of Austria and Germany. They have absolutely no pride and absolutely no business basis. They ask one man 1000 marks for an instrument, when to the very next person that enters their shop they will gladly sell it for half the amount. Such a thing as a price-list or catalogue is unknown to them, and, consequently, an unsophisticated stranger is at their mercy.

“The public can form no idea of the demand that exists for Italian violins. It is simply marvelous, and you will see before long specimens by third- and fourth- class makers that now are worth from $250 to $500 each bringing the price asked to-day for a Guarnerius or a Stradivarius.”

Mr. Kelcey’s mean opinion of the German and Austrian dealers agrees, we regret to say, with the opinions of most experienced amateurs and professionals. It has, indeed, grown to be an incredibly difficult matter to find a fairly honest man among the German and Austrian dealers. They are fully aware of the fact that the public in general is hopelessly ignorant where fiddles are concerned, and they do not hesitate to impose upon the credulous, boldly reaping a golden harvest from the sale of either spurious or decrepit instruments.

Without questioning the justice of Mr. Kelcey’s accusation, we must, however, frankly admit that the German and Austrian dealers are hardly more unscrupulous than the majority of their brethren in other countries. The American dealer is not more saintly or trustworthy than the Austrian or the German; and as to the English dealer, he, too, has mastered the art of converting a worthless fiddle into a crisp note of the Bank of England.

It seems a difficult matter to be, at the same time, a fiddle-dealer and an honest man. Many have doubtless made the attempt, but pitifully few have succeeded. There are some dealers, however, in this and in every other country, who are unquestionably as honest as they are shrewd. That their number is exceedingly small is greatly to be deplored, but they exist, nevertheless, and their virtues are deserving of our confidence and admiration.

There are numerous reasons why the modern fiddle- dealer, unlike other business men, either finds it difficult to tread the straight and narrow path, or deliberately attempts and easily succeeds in wholesale imposition. In the first place, a fiddle, though a commercial commodity, occupies a peculiar position in the world of commerce. It has no fixed or intrinsic value. In the eyes of the law, it is worth whatever sum its owner chooses to demand for it. Nor is it possible to determine its artistic worth with any reasonable certainty, for a fiddle that may enrapture one individual may displease twenty others.

Then, again, the majority of purchasers of old fiddles are incapable of distinguishing between a Stradivarius and a Klotz. To them, the mere presence of a label bearing Stradivarius’ name is convincing proof of the genuineness of the instrument. They know, in a general way, that new fiddles are scorned by professional players, and that the instruments made by the Cremonese masters are eagerly sought and highly prized. But more than this it is quite impossible for them to know concerning the artistic or financial worth of a fiddle.

As to the price-list, or catalogue, to which Mr. Kelcey seems to attach such great importance, we fail to see how any such publication may either prevent fraud or aid the public in a better understanding of the worth of the old Italian fiddles. A catalogue can prove no guide to an ignorant and inexperienced purchaser. It discloses no facts of importance, and is in no sense a guarantee of the dealer’s integrity. It announces only what the dealer chooses to make public, and, as a printed record, will always remain valueless to prospective purchasers of fiddles.

We can see only one remedy for the present evil:

a complete moral metamorphosis of the human race.

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