"In the 1950s, the eccentric British collector Gerald Segelman--who hoarded dozens of rare violins from at least 1943 until his death, in 1992--obtained a Guarneri del Gesu from London-based William E. Hill & Sons, according to dealers who handled Segelman's collection.
But Segelman treated this instrument differently than he did his other fiddles. He kept no known insurance records for this violin nor any documentation on how much he paid for it, as he did for his other major violins. Nor is Segelman known to have held any information on the violin's provenance, except for the certificate of authenticity he received at the time from Hill & Sons, according to dealers familiar with Segelman's collection.
Andrew Hill, one of two brothers carrying on the Hill legacy today in London, said the firm's records "are private and not for public consumption." David Hill, the other brother (who does not speak to Andrew), said, "The records have been destroyed."
When Segelman sold the instrument, in 1988, it was badly dilapidated, but it also had one other, curious feature: Its original label had been tampered with, the date changed from 1742 to 1734, according to Bein & Fushi, the Chicago dealership that acquired the violin.
Bein & Fushi subsequently restored the 1742 date and fixed its cracks, added a neck and scroll and brought the instrument to a high polish. The firm's owners came to their conclusion on the date by studying the wood grain and other details of the instrument, which matched another Guarneri del Gesu fiddle made in 1742.
Is it possible that this instrument was stolen, the date having been changed from 1742 to 1734 to obscure its identity?
"It's possible," said Robert Bein, co-owner of Bein & Fushi, whose shop repaired the instrument and sold it to a California collector. "It's also possible that there was confusion about the correct date, and somebody earlier on believed the instrument was a 1734.""
How Nazis targeted world's finest violins, Howard Reich & William Gaines, Chicago Tribune, Chicago
"Consider the dilapidated fiddle -- cracked in six places and in need of a new scroll and neck--that London dealer Peter Biddulph and Chicago dealers Robert Bein and Geoffrey Fushi acquired in 1988 from the reclusive British collector Gerald Segelman. Bein and Biddulph arranged to acquire the Guarneri del Gesu from Segelman for approximately $150,000. But when Bein's top restorer in Chicago, John Becker, opened the fiddle, he noticed that the label inside the instrument had been tampered with.
Though most of the label appeared authentic, with Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu's name properly printed in Latin on yellowed parchment, the date on the label clearly had been altered.
Specifically, the last two digits of the year "1734" were written on a scrap of paper that did not appear to belong to the original label. Someone had sliced off the end of the authentic label and substituted a tiny snippet of paper, about one-quarter inch square, showing the number "34."
After paging through violin books carrying historic photos of vintage Guarneri del Gesus, Bein and Becker decided that the instrument was made in 1742, since the grain of its wood matched two other del Gesus made that year.
This was a marvelous development so far as Bein was concerned, for del Gesus made in 1742 are among the most coveted, with several revered virtuosos having preferred this vintage. Paganini himself played a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu, with no less than Jascha Heifetz and Pinchas Zukerman following his example.
"For some unexplainable reason, the last two digits of the date were altered to read '1734,'" wrote Bein in 1988 to William Sloan, who was purchasing the fiddle from the Bein & Fushi firm.
Nevertheless, added Bein in the letter, "we would unhesitatingly attribute the violin to the period of 1742, as it bears a strong resemblance to several well-known examples of that period, especially the ex-'Bazzini' and also the 'Dushkin,' which is currently owned by Pinchas Zukerman. As such, we restored the date to reflect this and it now reads '1742. . . '"
Chicago Tribune: Chicago breaking news, sports, business, entertainment, weather and traffic, Howard Reich & William Gaines, Chicago Tribune, Chicago
"In fact, despite the hyperbolic headlines, Gaines and Reich failed to produce a single credible example of a plundered instrument in their article. The Sloane del Gesu of 1742, a violin referred to in the article as possibly one of two missing 1742 violins suspected of having been plundered by the Nazi’s is an unlikely candidate. The violin was sold to Gerald Segelman, from whom Bein & Fushi purchased the violin, by the firm of W.E. Hill & Son in the 1950’s. This particular del Gesu appears in the extensive and detailed Hill diaries (which were not available to Reich and Gaines in the preparation of their article) early in the century, as residing in England with a 1734 attribution which was not corrected by Bein & Fushi until the early 1990’s. Thus this violin, which was known as a 1734 violin until the correction by Bein & Fushi, could hardly be a missing 1742 violin."
Soundpost Online | Where players, makers and connoisseurs of the violin meet to exchange news, views and information, Stefan Hersh