Old violin could be lost rarity

THE toss of a coin decided the beneficiary of an old violin, which may turn out to be worth millions of dollars.

Jerry Dangar, of Jessie St, Armidale, inherited the violin from his aunt, Joan Carroll, when she died in the 1990s aged in her 70s.

It had lost its box but it sat with its bow on a shelf in Mr Dangar’s living room until he read an article in The Armidale Express.

It told how Roslyn Manion was searching for a lost, rare Stradivarius violin that had been bequeathed to the Ursuline sisters by its owner, Englishwoman Jane Percival.

Ms Percival came to the city with 10 sisters from Duderstadt, but she never entered the order as originally planned. Instead, she changed her name to Cecile de Percevale, dressed in Spanish clothes and directed music at the sisters’ school. Little else

is known of her life except that she died penniless and alone in 1934 in a room above the city’s undertaker’s shop.

Ms Manion uncovered her sorry saga when she played her character in Barbara Albury’s Armidale: Our Town at Armidale Town Hall last year.

The single memento of her life was the Stradivarius violin.

Mr Dangar’s curiosity was piqued when he read the story in The Express and he remembered his aunt had been a violin student at St Ursula’s before World War II, about the time Ms Percival worked there. 

“My aunt was from Hillgrove and went to St Ursula’s because it was renowned for its music lessons,” Mr Dangar said.

When she died in the 1990s, her estate was divided among her few descendants, Mr Dangar among them.

“We diligently went through her home, tossing coins as to who would inherit what,” Mr Dangar said.

“The violin was one of the last items and I won the toss.”

He contacted The Express and the newspaper tracked down Ms Manion, who inspected the violin last week.

She said while the violin was in a fragile condition and the old bow was threadbare, it pointed to being certainly a rare find.

“By the antique look of it, and the fact of its still being in the hands of the local Ursulines in the 1950s, it’s all certainly highly possible,” Ms Manion said.

The celebrated luthier Antonio Stradivari lived in Lombardy, northern Italy (1644-1737). There are still 243 of his extant violins known and recorded  and worth millions. 

The fact that the violin is stamped 1744, suggests that it was therefore crafted posthumously, by members of his family company. The Armidale Express of January 7, 1884 says that “Mlle bequeathed to the Ursuline sisters her beautiful violin which bears the mark: <Antonius Stradivarius Filius, Cremoniensis, 1744>”.

“I still think a violin from 1744 would be valuable – but maybe not in the millions,” Ms Manion said.

– The Armidale Express

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