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Violinist sues New York luthier over loss of $400,000 instrument

Kyung-Ah Yang, a violinist from South Korea, has filed suit in Manhattan against a dealer who was supposed to be selling her instrument, but somehow lost it.

Ms Yang claims she left her 1837 J.F. Pressenda violin in 1998 with Emmanuel Gradoux-Matt at René Morel Rare Violins on East 28th Street.

In 2011, she says she approached Gradoux-Matt at his own firm, Gradoux-Matt Rare Violins, in an attempt to recover her instrument. After various prevarications, she was informed in January 2013 by Gradoux-Matt that ‘he had let an individual in New York borrow [the] violin for a trial, and the individual never returned.’ On March 26, she filed suit. The violin is now said to be worth $400,000.

Neither side has been available for comment.

kyungah     vs   gradoux

photos: fb

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  1. So she forgot about it for 13 years or what?

  2. Is it a usual thing to leave a rare instrument at a luthier’s shop for ten years?

  3. Usually not so bad with math – actually thirteen years! Was there communication in the interim? Odd.

  4. Joep Bronkhorst says:

    What kind of ‘redacted’ comment is this?? Can I say anything I want about any dealer I want, safe in the knowledge that all details will be ‘redacted’?

  5. This says something about the often informal way that instrument sales are handled, and how it may go wrong – accidentally or not so accidentally.
    I have left an instrument with a dealer for consignment sale, and after occasional email contact over a few years, I asked for it back. I was told it was out on trial, and then that it was sold, and then I was asked how much I had expected to get for it, and strangely enough that is how much it was sold for.

    I chose to put it down to small-time violin sellers being somewhat disorganised and unbusinesslike. But it would not be difficult to put a different interpretation.

    Conversely, I have visited dealers myself, and after trying a few instruments, been allowed to walk out with quite valuable stock – without signing anything, providing ID or a deposit.
    Quite a bit is done on trust. And that is open to exploitation.

    I’d be interested to know if there are any published “industry guidelines” or good practices that sellers, dealers and buyers alike should follow.

    • Everything in this market is negotiable, but a standard commission on brokered instrument or bow sales is often 20% of the seller’s stated price, unless the buyer offers a lower price and the seller agrees, but I’ve been told that more often than not the real commission could be much more, e.g. 50% of the actual sale price. Dealers are rarely willing to reveal any sales information to their consignor (especially if they are a trusting or gullible musician) and are reluctant to set their commission based on actual sale price because they often receive trade-ins in addition to cash, and that makes a valuation of the consideration received that much more problematic. Another difficulty that often arises is the trashing of the provenance of an instrument by a competing dealer, e.g., when a prospective buyer brings the instrument in for an evaluation or second opinion. So, if you can find a buyer on your own- with the internet and direct communication with orchestras and conservatories, etc.,- and if you have good papers….and are both creative and patient…. you might do better, and split what might otherwise be an expensive commission.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’ve left a $3000 bow with a luthier for three years. I would not leave a $400,000 violin for 13 years. Guess some people don’t need the cash?

  7. Marguerite Foxon says:

    Unbelievable! Not even any signed contract or agreement? This woman needs to be a lot more I volved in future sales. And did she do due diligence on the guy before handing over her violin??

    • Too often dealers have exercised undue influence over players, even experienced ones – they are, after all, supposed to be the priests or oracles or sages that know the unknowable about the craft and the product. So, trust, with a subtle dose of intimidation, is often inherent in the player-dealer relationship. If I recall correctly, in 1998, René was still alive, and still had a reputation as one of the premier repairman in NYC- for years he was Jacques Francais’ better half- and many of the best fiddle players went to him to bandage or give hair transplants to their violins or bows. (Another was Vahakn Nigogosian, who was not only a marvelous craftsman, but honest to the core.).

      Ms. Yang is lucky that In this case, the guy didn’t try to pretend that he never had the instrument. Instead, according to the article he admitted it was borrowed but never returned, so maybe she won’t be fully fleeced. Without documentation, however, the insurance company (his) could balk, and if it does, then the deep pocket would disappear. Hopefully, she’ll have papers and he recorded that he received the instrument.

      It’s a shady enough business, and in a lawless enough society, that no one should consign anything of value without good documentation, especially with prices what they are.

  8. Does it matter how long? He either has it or he doesn’t.

  9. Well- this is a world class violin dealership/name, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the violin was left there 10+ years. I would think the trickier part of this case is that the dealership went through diff. ownership/names….so who actually owns this violin?

    This whole thing just goes to show the dark side of the violin business. It seems extremely rare for one to hear back from a dealership for a consignment – you always have to call and it seems they always want to hold your money for as long as possible (after violin is sold). Prices of violins are overinflated simply because there is standard retail baseline for violins…and parents, buyers, etc. are tricked into high prices. Do you research people.


  10. I meant to say..since the dealership went through change of ownership/names, is Matt still considered ‘responsible’ for the Pressenda? I would have checked in w/ Matt at the time of change.

  11. Maximus Backstallion says:

    It might not be particularly common for instruments to sit there for upwards of a decade, but there are isolated instances. If a performer happens to find a better instrument than the one currently being used, they will let a dealer try to handle the sale so that they can maximize the trade. A shop like Morel & Sons is bound to attract ideal clientele for an instrument in this price range. If she was pleased with her non-Pressenda and trusted the shop to eventually find customers, it could easily sit there for ten or fifteen years through economic turbulence while Kyung-Ah patiently expected the shop to do its job. Dealers are so trustworthy because they HAVE to sell these instruments in order to make their profits. They can’t afford to be leery of anybody who is offering to drop 400,000 dollars on a violin. They will gladly pounce on the opportunity to make that sale. Regardless, there should definitely be more precautions in place to prevent this type of thing from happening because honor systems are far too vulnerable.

  12. I own a Joseph Guarneri violin with 2 bows. Genuine. been in the family since mid 1800′s.
    I want to sell/auction. Went to 2 violin specialists.
    One said “I’ll have to do some work on it, it’s a German make, about $2000.”
    Another said ” it’s a German made, quite nice, I’ll have to do some work on it about $5000-$6000.
    Since when is a Guarneri a German, or am I missing something here?
    If the specialists are giving me answers like this, how can I ever hope to achieve it’s true value?
    Are they hoping I’ll leave it in the shop so they can sell it?

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