Priceless violin found 35 years after theft

Updated August 07, 2015

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an undated picture, released by the FBI, of the Ames Stradivarius. The FBI said on Thursday an Ames Stradivarius that was stolen in 1980 from a violinist had been recovered.—Reuters
an undated picture, released by the FBI, of the Ames Stradivarius. The FBI said on Thursday an Ames Stradivarius that was stolen in 1980 from a violinist had been recovered.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: A priceless Stradivarius stolen 35 years ago from an American concert violinist and music professor has been recovered, his daughter said on Thursday.

The violin — made in 1734 — had been lifted from the office of Roman Totenberg at a Boston area music school in 1980.

Totenberg died in 2012 at the age of 101 after a life that saw the Polish-born virtuoso, who emigrated to the United States in 1938, play for a host of major American symphony orchestras.

His daughter, NPR public radio justice reporter Nina Totenberg, said she received a telephone call from an FBI agent in June, informing her that the violin had been located.

In an NPR blog, she said it turned up in a locked case in the home of the widow of a musician named Phillip Johnson who died in 2011.

The elder Totenberg had long suspected Johnson to be the actual thief, but police did not pursue the lead, his daughter wrote.

The widow took the instrument in June to Phillip Injeian, a violin maker and appraiser, who examined it closely for 30 minutes.

“And I said these words: `Well, I’ve got good news for you, and I’ve got bad news for you’,” Totenberg quoted Injeian as telling the widow.

“The good news is that this is a Stradivarius. The bad news is it was stolen 35, 36 years ago from Roman Totenberg.”

Injeian promptly reported the violin to the FBI’s art theft unit, which decided to return it to the Totenberg family in New York.

Nina Totenberg said she and her two sisters intend to sell the Stradivarius, ensuring that it remains “in the hands of another virtuoso violinist”.

Around 600 of the highly coveted violins made by the 17th century Italian master craftsman Antonio Stradivari are still in existence.They are prized for their incredible — and inimitable — sound.

One fetched about 11 million euros ($13.5 million) in a 2011 charity auction for victims of the Japanese tsunami.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2015

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