Tarisio Online Auction Turns Ten

Strings Magazine, November 2009

By Erin Shrader

Tarisio, the New York-based violin auctioneer, held its first auction ten years ago this month — the first preview was held in a Boston pub. With multi-city previews and the actual bidding conducted later online, the specialist auction house nimbly took advantage of the best aspects of the brick-and-mortar approach and the new online format to become a major player in the international violin trade.

Tarisio, aptly named for the itinerant violin dealer Luigi Tarisio, is the brainchild of three partners: American violin dealer Christopher Reuning, European dealer and author Dmitry Ginden, and Jason Price, at the time a young violin maker trying to finish a literature degree and desperate to get back into the violin world. It was founded at the beginning of the eBay era.

For years, Reuning and Ginden had discussed ways to improve violin auctions by offering better expertise, guarantees to the buyer, and improved customer service. The eBay format was not quite working for violins, but all three men saw the potential to make auctions more accessible. “There’s a certain intimidation factor,” says Price of standing in the auction room with a paddle, publicly committing to spending a particular amount of money. “That works very well for a certain type of buyer, but not for everyone.

“[Bidding online] also helps shrink the geographical boundaries. You can have people bidding in their pajamas in Singapore, and in the room next door in New York!”

As a start-up, Tarisio had no fixed address and no financing. “I was running it out of my little apartment in Williamstown, Massachusetts, going to classes at the same time,” says Price, recalling the manic early days. Photography was done at Reuning’s Boston shop “until Chris kicked us out! Then we moved to the back of a chiropractor’s office — it was cheap rent. I was surrounded by these plastic skeletons, and models of pelvises and skulls. It was a weird, surreal experience in the middle of the night.”

How times have changed.

In May 2000, Tarisio’s sale of a Brothers Amati viola set a record of $775,500. “That’s when we moved out of the chiropractor’s office,” Price says. The subsequent sale of Isaac Stern’s estate further established the company’s reputation. Today — with offices in New York and London — Tarisio holds seven sales annually and grosses, on average, close to $10 million.

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