Stradivarius violin sold for record $3.54 million

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NEW YORK (AP) – A nearly 300-year-old Stradivarius violin sold Tuesday for more than $3.5 million, shattering the record for the most paid for a musical instrument at auction, Christie’s said.

The instrument, made in 1707 by Italian violinmaker Antonio Stradivari and known as The Hammer, sold at Christie’s auction house for $3,544,000 after less than five minutes of bidding in an atmosphere that alternated between humorous and tense.

The winning bid, which included the auction house’s commission, broke the previous record of $2,032,000, paid for another Stradivarius, The Lady Tennant, at Christie’s in April 2005, the auction house said.

“These last two years of sales in New York have solidified the fact that the center of the fine violin market is right here in New York City,” said Kerry K. Keane, who heads Christie’s department of musical instruments and was the proxy for the anonymous telephone bidder who bought the violin Tuesday.

Keane described the new owner only as “a gentleman who is international” and a “benefactor and patron of the arts” who loves classical music.

The violin, which had been expected to sell for between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, likely will be heard soon on stages worldwide, said Keane, declining to elaborate.

The violin’s consigner, who also wanted to remain anonymous, bought it privately in 1992 from an estate, Keane said, and loaned it to violinists including Kyoko Takezawa, an orchestral soloist, recitalist and recording artist who has performed with many of the world’s top orchestras.

The violin, made in Cremona, Italy, is considered part of Stradivari’s golden period. Musicians and collectors covet the violins he made from 1700 to 1720 because of their beauty and superior sound, Christie’s said.

A violinist and teacher brought the violin to the United States in 1911. Since then it’s belonged to various owners.

Its name, The Hammer, comes from Christian Hammer, a 19th-century Swedish collector.

Bidding for the 14-inch-long instrument, which was propped in front of the auctioneer’s podium, started at $700,000 and quickly rose to $1 million. Then, two telephone bidders faced off.

Gasps, whispers and titters occasionally punctuated the room as the price tag climbed. Once it reached $1.8 million, Keane said, his bidder seemed reluctant.

“I could feel the wheels turning in his head,” said Keane, who asked the man if he wanted to cut the bidding increments; the bidder said yes.

The auctioneer, Paul Provost, cut the bidding increments to $50,000 from $100,000. The bidding crawled back and forth until it reached $3 million, when the couple of hundred people in the room erupted into applause.

After a few more rounds, it was over.

“I have to admit it took my breath away,” Keane said afterward.

Keane explained that the cachet of an instrument’s maker and its quality, condition, freshness to the market, previous owners and fashionableness determine what it will fetch.

“This violin has all six of them, and it’s rare that that happens in the auction room,” Keane said. “It’s always been fashionable to own a Stradivari.”

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