One of the rarest and priciest violins in the world was hidden away in a closet for decades, but it is now up for auction at Christie's, with bidding starting Friday.
"Our pre-sale estimate on this is $7.5 million to $10 million," said Kerry Keane, head musical instrument specialist at Christie's, who is hosting the sealed-bid auction. Bidding will go on until June 12.
Part of why this violin is so valuable is its provenance. The violin was made in 1731 by Antonio, who is considered to be the greatest violin maker ever. His 600 surviving violins are highly sought after by collectors, giving them multimillion-dollar price tags.
The violin up for auction is known as the Kreutzer Stradivari, named for its first-known owner, Rodolphe Kreutzer.
If you learned to play the violin, you can likely thank Kreutzer, a French violinist and teacher, who penned the 42 Études, a commonly used foundation for teaching students to play the instrument.
Eventually, the violin came to be owned by Huguette Clark, a wealthy reclusive heiress. She received this pricey Stradivari from her parents, who were American royalty during the Gilded Age.
"There is a spectacular telegram that her parents sent her in Paris in 1920 that told her...when they were sailing and when they would be arriving in New York, and that her mother had just bought her, quote unquote, the most fabulous violin in the world," Keane said.
The violin is one of more than 400 items from the family collection that Christie's is auctioning. It was found in Clark's closet after collecting dust for decades, according to Keane.
This Stradivari is from his late period. "What's important about his later works is that they're the ones that are consistently the most powerful for players tonally. It has this warm gutsy sound that they produce, and with great color and complexity for the musician," Keane said.
To ensure that the violin is the real deal, Christie's analyzed the ring growths in its wood, a process known as dendrochronology.
"We did a dendrochronology of it. It matches four Stradivaris from 1730 to 1734 made from the same tree. That is a great find. It's like a fingerprint," Keane said.
-- Jennifer Schlesinger
First published June 6 2014, 12:27 PM
Bill Dedman is an investigative reporter for NBC News, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting, and a bestselling author.
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Bill is always looking for good investigative story ideas of national interest. Send him an email with a description of your story idea, with documents and sources for more research.
Bill stumbled onto the mystery of the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who was featured in a series of reports on NBCNews.com and "TODAY." The Clark series has been the most popular feature ever on NBCNews.com, with more than 110 million page views. Bill has co-written a nonfiction book about the Clark family, "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune." The book hit No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list and was chosen among the best books of 2013 by Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and others.
Bill received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for "The Color of Money," a series of articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on racial discrimination by mortgage lenders in middle-income neighborhoods. Among other awards, in 2008 he received a national award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists for his articles and video on firefighter deaths. In 2011 he received a Best in Business award for investigative reporting from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers for his narrative on Huguette Clark and her family.
He joined NBCNews.com (then known as msnbc.com) in 2006, reporting and writing investigative stories for the website and NBC television. He reports to Michael Brunker, investigations editor for NBCNews.com.
For NBC News he has uncovered stories on the Pentagon's efforts to identify servicemen and women lost in past wars, fatal problems with firefighter safety equipment, uninspected highway bridges, the Obama administration's visitor logs, coercive interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo, and strategies for discouraging school shootings. See an archive of his work, and also check out NBC News Investigations.
Bill got his start in journalism at 16 as a copy boy at The Chattanooga Times. He has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe, and was the first director of computer-assisted reporting for The Associated Press. He taught advanced reporting part time at the University of Maryland, Northwestern University, and Boston University, and created the Power Reporting site of research tools for journalists. He served for six years as a member of the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors.