Stolen Stradivarius Violin Returns After 35 Years

Not a Stradivarius. (Photo Phiend)

Not a Stradivarius. (Photo Phiend)

A rare Stradivarius violin that went missing 35 years ago has reappeared, after someone happened to open a box in the attic. Here’s where we get the urge to start searching grandma’s attic.

A renowned violinist named Roman Totenberg stashed his violin — known as the Ames Stradivarius — in his office after a concert in 1980 while he chatted with fans and other folks. When he got back, it’d vanished. He’d purchased the rare violin in 1943 for $15,000 (about $200,000 today) and it was the only instrument he ever performed with — that is, until it was stolen. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 101, never to see his Stradivarius again.

Now the violin has been recovered, after an appraiser who was asked to look at it called the police. Totenberg’s daughter Nina, who’s a legal affairs correspondent for NPR, said she got a call from the FBI one day saying they had the violin, and she couldn’t have been more surprised.

“This loss for my father was, as he said when it happened, it was like losing an arm,” she told the Associated Press. “To have it come back, three years after he died, to us, it’s like having him come alive again.”

At the time, Totenberg said he thought he knew who had swiped his violin, but police didn’t have enough evidence to pursue a suspect. The wife of a late violinist reportedly brought the violin to the appraiser, who called the police immediately upon recognizing the violin as the missing Ames Stradivarius. Totenberg’s daughter says the young, aspiring violinist had been seen hanging around her dad’s office at the time of the theft.

“There was nothing to be done, and eventually he just moved on and bought another violin and lived the rest of his life,” she says of her dad. He had to rework his entire repertoire after the loss, she adds.

Though the Stradivarius has some wear and tear, it was in pretty good condition, which Nina says means it likely wasn’t played much. She says prosecutors aren’t planning on charging anyone in connection to the theft, and her family will then sell it — to a musician.

“I’m just glad that the violin, once it’s restored to its full potential again, will eventually be in the hands of another great artist,” she said, “and its gorgeous voice will be heard in concert halls around the country.”

You can listen to Nina’s story in her own words over at NPR as well.