Feeling slightly disturbed by large advert in today’s Guardian: ‘Do you know the value of your instrument?’ it asks, above a photo of ‘A Fine French Violin by JB Vuillaume’. It goes on, ‘The last 20 years have seen a huge price increase in the value of musical instruments. Please contact us for a free appraisal.’
It is so sad for musicians that the tools of the trade have become collectors’ items like this. Of course it is not true across the board that the last twenty years have seen huge increases in the value of all instruments – pianos, for example, depreciate from the moment they leave the showroom. My own piano is worth less now than when I bought it twenty years ago, despite all the money I’ve spent on maintaining it. It’s really only string instruments which have soared in value, making them the target of investors. Lots of professional string players can now only acquire such instruments by persuading investors to form syndicates and buy shares in an instrument loaned to the player, or gradually bought from the investors by the player as and when they can afford it. Such an instrument, once you’ve got it, becomes your pension in later life, and that is a unique situation too.
I can’t think of any other profession where the tools of the trade have become international art market fodder, even in professions where people value their tools very much indeed. Japanese sushi chefs with their amazing knives; surgeons with their scalpels, scientists with microsocopes, hairdressers with their scissors, gardeners with their spades. In many cases, people don’t even have to buy their tools, which are owned by their employers. And most tools never soar in value. I haven’t seen adverts reading, ‘Do you know the value of your spanner?’ ‘Contact us for a free appraisal of your tractor.’