Learn How to Identify Original Violin Labels Like a Pro

Can you tell if the violin label is authentic or not? Here is a piece of advice from an expert violin appraiser.

To know if the label of the violin is original or not is very important for those who evaluate the violin from 18th to 19th century. Once the label is authentic, the violin can be considered as an antique one. The violins value will then increase due to the presence of an authentic label in it.

According to David Bonsey, a violin expert, he said that his day to day work with beautiful instruments and his twelve years spent working in an auction house, allowed him to observe thousands of antique instruments. Experts from other departments also provided him with information about rare books, furniture, decorative arts and other Classical era materials. The knowledge that had on the variety of varnishes, wood carvings, and aging tendencies is first hand as well as rare manuscripts and books and their essential characteristics. He said that with all of this knowledge, he finds himself drawing it in a violin appraisal.

Pre-1850 Violins on Laid Paper Labels

Before 1850, we can find most classical instruments have laid paper labels on it. What exactly is a laid paper? A laid paper is a type of paper that has a ribbed texture on it which appears visible on its surface. The process was laborious and handmade as manufacturers would use linen fibers collected from recycled rags. First, they would sort the cloth based on their colors. Second, they would separate the fibers and put it on a water bath. Then they would allow the wet fibers to drain its water and to be completely dried up on a wire sieve.

The wire sieve would then imprint lines on the surface of the fiber which were called “chains” or most popularly known as “laid lines.” These intersecting grid lines can easily be seen when the label is placed on high ribs, and the dust settles on it. The printing on laid paper is handwritten with lead type, having no pressure set on the paper. A little ink can run across the surface of the paper so the result would produce a crisp and clean printed outline.

Post-1850 Violins on Wove Paper Labels

Sometime after 1850, paper labels have changed. They were during these times, made out of wood pulp. Machines were utilized to mash them into sheets. This time the papers have no chains or laid lines on it.  The surface appears to have a fuzzy outline, and it’s less sharp. The alum coating sized on the paper allows the paper to become water resistant so the ink can be controlled from running. However, due to the acidity of the sizing, the label becomes less stable compared to laid paper labels. They are also prone to browning and curling.

Three Key Points that a Violin Appraiser Would look into

  1. The color of the label

The color of the original antique violin label will change as it ages. The paper will darken due to its reaction to the wood and some several changes in the atmosphere. The wood and the label should both have a similar brown shade.

  1. The appearance of the edges of the label

The edges of the label will help determine if the violin is just treated to look old was inserted by a false label or not. To do this, the appraiser would look into the edges of the label and see if it blends in cleanly with the surface of the wood. If they saw any curling at the edges exposing the wood underneath with light color, then it is not authentic.

  1. If at any point the label has been removed

The chances of removing the original label are incredibly common. “Regraduation” or the process of changing the actual thickness of the back of the instrument, repairs, or transferring it to another instrument are several causes that the label is removed. That is why it is incredibly pleasant and rare to find instruments with labels that are original and undisturbed.

If you have just found out that your violin is an antique one because of its label, you can find an appraiser to see how much is its worth.