Centuries-Old Italian Violins Come to Auction with Skinner

Liz Catalano
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Leading Skinner’s upcoming Fine Musical Instruments sale are several antique violins made by Italian masters. These include examples from Vincenzo Panormo, Antonio Sgarbi, and a more recent piece from Armando Piccagliani. Bidding for this timed event, which features the collection of Railroad Earth member Andy Goessling, will close on July 14th, 2020, at 7:00 PM EDT.

Though little is known about Vincenzo Panormo’s life, his legacy in the world of instrument craftsmanship remains clear. He was a noted luthier from Palermo, Sicily, though is most closely associated with English instruments after settling in London. Despite the political turmoil of the late 18th century, historians can track his movements: Panormo lived in Paris for the decade prior to the French Revolution of 1789, and his work has shown up in late-18th century Dublin.

Violin by Vincenzo Panormo, Paris, 1789. Image from Skinner.
Violin by Vincenzo Panormo, Paris, 1789. Image from Skinner.

Panormo was one of the earliest Italian expatriates to adopt the Stradivari model in his violins. This breakthrough has influenced contemporary violin designs, which still use Antonio Stradivari’s methods to create stronger projection and clearer sound. Panormo was at the forefront of his industry, leading the spread of the Stradivari form across England and France. His three sons, also instrument craftsmen, carried on their father’s techniques and respectively made Spanish guitars, violins, and other stringed instruments.

Featured in this auction is a 1789 violin from Panormo (USD 60,000 – $90,000), made in Paris shortly before the outbreak of the French Revolution. A faded manuscript label identifies the instrument’s maker and a 2020 dendrochronology analysis indicates that the wood was felled in the early 1780s.

Panormo’s violins tend to sell at lower prices than some of his Italian contemporaries, including Giovanni Gagliano and Giovanni Battista Ceruti. Philip J. Kass, writing for Strings Magazine, attributes this to the timing of his work: “Panormo, as one of the earliest adopters of the Stradivari model, was actually making the instruments of the generations to come, whereas these other makers were still making the instruments of their generation and earlier.” However, Panormo violins are not insignificant. His auction record was recently set at $138,102 in a London Tarisio auction, held in March of 2020.

Fender Telecaster electric guitar, 1968. Image from Skinner.
Fender Telecaster electric guitar, 1968. Image from Skinner.

This upcoming sale offers several other vintage violins, including an 1815 example from Giovanni Battista Ceruti ($20,000 – $30,000). Ceruti, who worked in Cremona, Italy, crafted his instruments from more ordinary materials than some of his fellow makers. However, he is credited with reviving the Cremonese style, which is still used by violin-makers today. This violin was made in his later career, just two years before his death. Ceruti’s work has grown in popularity and worth in the years since, reaching $258,947 in a 2013 auction.

Other stringed instruments will also be available, including guitars from Goessling’s collection. An avid instrumentalist in his own right, Goessling spent years acquiring ancient flutes, saxophones from the Jazz Age, and rock ‘n’ roll guitars. Leading these items is a blonde 1968 Fender Telecaster electric guitar with an original hardshell case ($3,000 – $5,000). Also notable are several tenor and alto saxophones from French producer Selmer. Goessling’s collection includes examples from over 50 years of the company’s development, from the 1930s through the 90s. 

A portion of the proceeds of this event will benefit MusiCares, which provides resources and assistance to musicians in need. This timed auction will end at 7:00 PM EDT on July 14th, 2020. Visit Bidsquare for more information and to view the complete listings.