Japan’s Nippon Foundation, owners of the most valuable collection of musical instruments in the world, is to sell the crown jewel of its collection, the Lady Blunt Stradivari violin, at open auction on the Internet for a figure estimated to be in excess of $10,000,000. All the proceeds will go to the Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.
The Lady Blunt will be offered for sale on 20 June by American on-line musical instrument auction house Tarisio.com, whose sale of the Molitor Stradivari last year directly to the violinist Anne Akiko Meyers for $3,600,000 brought the high-value instrument back into the auction market. It is on the back of this success that the Nippon Foundation chose to offer the most valuable Stradivari violin in the world for sale on the Internet.
The instrument was bought from an unknown owner in 2008 for $10,000,000 through a private dealer and has remained in its near-mint condition in the Nippon collection ever since. Considered to be one of the two most perfectly preserved Stradivari violins in existence (the other is The Messiah-Salabue, kept in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford), the violin was once owned by Lady Anne Blunt, grand-daughter of Lord Byron. The instrument had languished for over 100 years at the beginning of its life before making it way via Count Cozio di Salabue (who also owned the Messiah) to Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, a fine French violin maker and businessman who sold it to Anne Blunt.
Although the Lady Blunt caused a sensation when it was sold at Sotheby’s in 1971 for a then-record-breaking $200,000 – setting a new benchmark for instrument prices both in the open and private markets – most of the highest-value instruments tend now to be sold in the private market: after his death, Yehudi Menuhin’s violin, the Lord Wilton del Gesù, sold privately for a sum estimated to be in excess of $6,000,000; in 2009, Aaron Rosand sold his ex-Kochansky del Gesù for around $10,000,000, and the ex-Vieuxtemps del Gesù is reported to be on sale currently with an asking price of about $18,000,000. As well as dealers, many auction houses now offer private treaty sales of instruments of this quality to allow for the privacy that potential buyers and sellers often demand and the sale of the Molitor (and, in 2006, the Hammer, at Christie’s) was a rare occasion to see and, for some, hold and play, such a revered instrument.
Although it is commonly held that the more a violin is played, the better it sounds, it is not true that if it is not played that its quality will deteriorate. The Lady Blunt, like the Messiah, has been retained largely in the care of collectors who have kept it away from the concert platform and so, as a result, it does not bear any of the marks of wear and tear of instruments that have been in regular use show, however careful its owner may have been. William Hill, the famous Stradivari expert and dealer described the Lady Blunt in 1941 as “an example of the highest merit and, as far as its preservation is concerned, deserving to rank with the 'Messie.'” Whether the auction market will be able to bear the weight of this extraordinary instrument remains to be seen, but the viewings of the instrument will certainly be, for those lucky enough to obtain an appointment at one of its stops in America, Asia, Europe and London, a rare opportunity to see one of the most perfect pieces of human craftsmanship, offered for sale for the good of humanity.