Music is one of the greatest pleasures in life, tuning into our very soul. We all have favourites artists or genres, often an eclectic mix to soothe, entertain or uplift us, writes Charles Hanson.
There are times when our mood requires soft jazz, exuberant Latin, dance music, pop, classical or soul. The list is endless and it feels much the same when we talk about musical instruments. There are so many to choose from.
The date and origin of the first device considered a musical instrument is disputed. The oldest object some scholars refer to as a musical instrument, a simple flute, dates back 67,000 years.
Instruments as well as music memorabilia play an important part in Hansons auctions. We offer regular specialist sales which include everything from vinyl records and Beatles autographs to all manner of instruments including guitars, violins and banjo ukuleles.
In May we sold two George Formby banjo ukuleles for £11,000 and £10,500 respectively together with a major collection of memorabilia relating to the 20th century star and his father George Formby Snr, also a famous comedian and singer. The collection achieved a hammer total of £38,860.
Our specialist musical instrument valuer Derrick Hale, a Formby fan, was delighted to see the lots do well and produced two wonderful images from his personal archive of photos to demonstrate the nation’s passion for string instruments through the generations. His pictures show members of Derby Strand Banjo Mandolin and Guitar Club in 1932. They met in the upper floor of what became a wool shop on the corner of The Strand.
Such groups were popular at the time and served by at least one national publication. The type of music played by these groups is no longer widely heard, while the instruments used have found places in other musical genres.
Derrick says that when writing about valuing and selling musical instruments, it’s hard to know where to start. There’s such a wide range to consider, before he even begins to examine variations and thousands of musical instrument makers.
Take orchestral instruments, which are familiar to most of us. This gives us a basic 13, with additions for the performance of specific works, which could include piano or harp. There is even a classical orchestral piece for which, perhaps surprisingly, a banjo is required. The list starts to grow.
Moving on from orchestral, the Big Band or Dance Band add several more instruments, not to mention the Jazz Band. The Brass Band, with its long musical and social history, brings in its own ensemble. The list gets ever longer.
There are also less well-known instruments. One of the joys of working at an auction house is that you never know what might come through the door, and this applies to the Musical Instrument Department as much as any other.
Derrick has had the pleasure of valuing the rare and the esoteric. Early musical instruments, reproductions of those of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, have passed though the saleroom. Several 19th century guitars, including an iconic instrument made by the Martin company, have been sold. It is, of course, a pleasure to handle an even older instrument, such as a cittern or a violin which is more than 200 years old. Derrick always wonders who owned it, where it was played and what music was played on it.
The esoteric has included phonofiddles and musical saws. The latter, also called a singing saw, is a hand saw used as a musical instrument. A phonofiddle is a stringed musical instrument played with a bow which uses a phonograph type reproducer as a voice-box.
Of specialist interest but currently popular are ukuleles and banjo ukuleles (banjoleles). In total Hansons has sold five George Formby instruments but for buyers with less deep pockets, more affordable options appear in our sales.
Concertinas are popular again and quality instruments command good prices. In terms of rarity, a prototype instrument from the 1890s has been auctioned by Hansons. Guitars also appear in our sales and quality options made by Gibson, Fender, Taylor and Martin sell well.
When it comes to violins, the majority were made in factories or cottage industries towards the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century. Five million were made in Germany, many labelled ‘Stradivarius’, which raises hopes but can result in disappointment at valuation. However, violins must be valued on their quality as instruments and all need to be assessed. High quality Italian, French, German and English violins achieve strong auction results – and a bow can be as valuable, or even much more valuable, than a violin.
Whatever you own, fiddle or flageolet, banjo or bassoon, trumpet or timpani, if it makes a musical sound, we would love to see it. If you no longer need an instrument please consider it has a life of its own. We are only caretakers in our lifetime; a good quality instrument can provide pleasure for generations. Lots are invited for our October 22 Musical Instruments Auction. To arrange a free valuation, email [email protected]. Free valuations of all types of antiques, and collectables are available at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, DE65 6LS, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm, Wed, 5-7.30pm, and Sat 9am-noon.