Million-Dollar Stradivarius Violin Stolen, Recovered—Then Found to Be Fake

A violin recovered in Bulgaria wasn't the real thing

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Image: Stolen Violin
British Transport Police / AP

An undated image released by the British Transport Police on Dec. 23, 2010, of a 1697 Stradivarius violin

Two years ago, violinist Min-Jin Kym had a prized Stradivarius stolen from her at a Pret A Manger sandwich shop in London. Earlier this week, she received some good news: her violin had been found.

Today, a new (and sad) wrinkle. As the UK-based Telegraph—which has been following the story from the beginning—reports, the violin recovered in Bulgaria was, if fact, a replica that was only decades, rather than centuries old. The real instrument, made by Antonio Stradivarius in the late-17th century, is worth £1.2 million—about $1.8 million—according to The Telegraph. A reward of more than $45,000 has been offered for the return of the instrument and the bows that were also in the case at the time of the theft. (The thief was apprehended  in 2011 after trying to sell the violin for a pittance, apparently unaware of its value.)

The British Transport Police released a statement about the fake Stradivarius on Mar. 27, ruling out its involvement in the Min-Jin Kym case:

Detective Chief Inspector Simon Taylor said: “After a violin bearing Stradivarius markings was recovered in Bulgaria on Wednesday, 27 February, we worked closely with underwriters, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Bulgarian police, through Interpol, to establish if it was the 1696 Antonio Stradivarius taken from Euston in 2010.

“Experts examined the instrument in Sofia and it is thought to be a replica training violin, made in either Germany or the modern-day Czech Republic no more than 100 years ago.”

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It’s not the first time a Stradivarius—of which there are only a few hundred violin, violas, and cello in the world—has made the news. Perhaps the most famous recent case was of Yo-Yo Ma leaving a Stradivarius cello in a New York City taxi in 1999; it was quickly recovered. Not every story has a happy ending, though: the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius, a $3 million violin that was taken from a New York apartment in 1995, is still on the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes list. In 2012, the story of that instrument became an Off-Broadway play, The Morini Strad.

And as British police have pointed out, media attention is not the only thing that sets a Stradivarius theft apart. Because the instruments are so famous, stolen pieces cannot be resold to legitimate dealers—which means that, despite the huge value on the violin, the item could earn relatively little money for whoever has it now.

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