We’ve been mulling over the tough questions of life this week: Can anyone tell the difference between the sound of a Stradivarius and any other decent violin? Is an eighty pound bottle of wine ten times as good as an eight pound bottle? What makes some Scotch whisky worth hundreds of pounds a bottle? What’s happening to the nation’s High Streets? Will Brexiteers go to hell?
Actually I made the last question up but all the rest have been raised by an auction taking place on the 26th of February that will see the stocks of one of North Lincolnshire’s most highly regarded music stores and one of East Anglia’s most upmarket wine merchants going under the hammer.
As it happens the instruments that we have been sent following the retirement closure of Paul’s Music in Scunthorpe do not include a Stradivarius but they do include one by Julius Fabian und Sohn, a German workshop that did very fine work making violins on the Stradivari pattern. The instrument that we are auctioning was made c.1894 and is expected to make £700-£900.
That is of course a tiny, tiny fraction of the millions paid for Strads, which had us musing on a question that has challenged the music world for two centuries: Is there a detectable difference between the sound of a Stradivarius and fine violins made by other makers? To date, blind tests involving world-class players and expert adjudicators, backed by acoustic analysis, have all produced the same remarkable result - that there is not.
Sounds like a bid for the Julius Fabian is really a bit of a no-brainer. And if even that is a bit beyond budget, Paul’s Music has provided another two-dozen violins of more recent vintage that are expected to go for lesser amounts.
The closure of the shop after 53 years is more evidence of the malaise currently afflicting the nation’s High Streets. There was interest in buying the business as a going concern but those enquiries came to nothing, which is why stock with a retail value of in excess of £100,000 is going under the hammer. As well as a vast array of instruments including acoustic guitars, electric guitars, drums, brass, amps and related equipment, there is also a fantastic library of sheet music ranging from traditional to modern.
Meanwhile speaking of hard times in town centre retailing, the auction will also include the stock of Anglia Wines, a distinctly upmarket wine merchant that was based on the High Street in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Another retirement with nobody prepared to take over the business.
The auction includes over 550 bottles of mainly expensive wines (think £20-£90 a bottle at retail), champagnes (up to £167 a bottle) and exclusive spirits. The stars of the show are the Scotch whisky offerings. They include a Johnnie Walker Blue Label mini-bar, one of the items in a collection that was commissioned from the Porsche Design Studio in 2012. The lid of the cube lifts off (to become an ice container) revealing a bottle of the Blue Label that is said to recreate the authentic taste of the earliest 19th century whisky blends. That retailed for £650 – but it does include four glasses too.
Another noteworthy entry is a limited edition malt whisky produced at the Mortlach Distillery on Speyside for the Carn Mor ‘Celebration of the Cask’ series. One of just 260 bottles, it was distilled in 1995, bottled in 2015 and retailed for £250.
Perhaps the most curious lot is a 3½-litre bottle of Nikka whisky, produced to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening of the first Japanese whisky distillery. It was the work of Masataka Taketsuru, a young chap who came over to Scotland to study chemistry at Glasgow University in 1918 but quit his course and became an apprentice on Speyside, learning the craft before returning home. This 80th anniversary bottle usually retails for £400 a time.
The full auction catalogue will be available at www.eddisonscjm.com next week. The viewing sessions are on Friday 22nd February (1pm-4.00pm) and on Monday 25th (10am-5pm) at the Auction Centre on Dunlop Way in Scunthorpe. The online auction is scheduled to end at Noon on Tuesday 26th February.
- Paul Cooper of Eddisons CJM Auctioneers