Sep 24, 2020 - Sale 2546

Sale 2546 - Lot 107

Price Realized: $ 594
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 500 - $ 750
(THOMAS JEFFERSON.) Photograph of a violin thought to be Jefferson's favorite. Silver print, 5 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches, on original mount with embossed stamp of H.M. Brown of Baltimore in margin and manuscript caption on verso: "Thomas Jefferson's Nicolas Amati violin, Cremona 1660, compliments of C.H. Hildebrandt & Son, Balto., Md."; 1-inch tear in image before mounting, otherwise minimal wear. Baltimore, MD, circa 1900

Additional Details

Thomas Jefferson was an avid violin player in his youth. In 1768 he acquired a violin manufactured in Cremona, possibly by the master luthier Nicola Amati. This violin was in disrepair by the time of his death in 1826, but attempts were made to sell it in England to benefit his estate.
The present photograph, purporting to show Jefferson's Amati, is inscribed by a prominent Baltimore music firm. According to a 1947 article in Life magazine, "One day in 1899 a cellist and dealer in rare violins, Albert Hildebrandt of Baltimore, gave a recital in Charlottesville. Next day, while being shaved by a Negro barber, he asked if there were any old violins for sale in the neighborhood. The barber directed him to another Negro, a man 93 years old who lived on the outskirts of the city. This man showed Hildebrandt what looked to be an Amati and explained that it had been bequeathed to his father, a slave, by his master, Thomas Jefferson. Hildebrandt bought it on the spot for a handsome sum. Although there was room for doubt—and there still is—that the violin was Jefferson's own, Hildebrandt remained convinced that it was.' It was donated to the Smithsonian in 1976.