Priceless violin collection to go up for auction
Sale of the private collection of leading expert Norman Rosenberg, including a 1685 Stradivari
Born in Liverpool in 1926, Rosenberg fell in love with the sound of the violin at an early age, listening to recordings by the great violinists Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler. Coming from a family of antique dealers, Rosenberg soon became an avid collector, selling his first violin at the age of 20.
Rosenberg was hugely respected within the industry, not only for his knowledge of the detail and construction of violins, but also for his keen ear for their sound. He was often reluctant to sell the instruments in his own collection: many of those that will be going on sale have not been seen, either on the open market or in performance, for many years, and are in excellent playing condition.
When Rosenberg died in February 2022, Ingles & Hayday were invited to assess his collection. They discovered a collection of beautiful and historic violins by some of the finest Italian makers Amati, Ceruti, Guarneri and Stradivari. Indeed, one of the collection's centrepieces is a Stradivari instrument from 1685.
Interestingly, Rosenberg's collections featured several instruments from Milan (by the makers Grancino, Landolfi, Testore, Lavazza and Mantegazza, the latter a viola). These instruments are often considered good value players’ instruments in comparison with the more famous instruments from the city of Cremona.
Tim Ingles, one of the directors of Ingles & Hayday, was present on the day the collection was inspected. ‘It was the day that all auctioneers dream of – going into somebody’s attic and discovering that it’s rammed with good instruments,' he recalls. 'Knowing it was Norman, we knew there would be some treasures, but we didn’t know exactly what we’d find. There was a little door in the corner, half hidden by a bookcase, and [fellow director] Paul had to get down on his hands and knees to access it. He opened it and said, “It’s full of violins,” and started passing back one great violin after another.
'There were a lot of amazed exclamations. “Wow, it’s a great Ceruti. Oh my God, that’s a Grancino!” It went on like that for about ten minutes while Paul took these violins out of the cupboard.
'These discoveries sometimes happen in our world, but the unusual thing about Norman’s collection is that there is both quantity and quality. He kept it all under his hat, though, so most people who went to his house got to see three or four instruments, and practically no-one has ever seen the whole collection. The big reveal will be very exciting.’
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Online bidding for the Ingles & Hayday sale begins at 9am on 24 March 2023.
Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.