Howard's in Tune with the Demands of Valuing and Restoring Exquisite Stringed Instruments

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

Howard's in Tune with the Demands of Valuing and Restoring Exquisite Stringed Instruments


Byline: By Tryst Williams Western Mail

A violin shop that trades in some of the world's most expensive instruments is back in action - after almost having to bow out of the business.

From a sleepy Cardiff suburb, San Domenico Stringed Instruments has dealt internationally in exquisite instruments worth up to pounds 2m for most of the past three decades.

But from being on the brink of closure after having to move from its previous Pontcanna base when the building changed owners, one of the capital's most specialised stores has found a new home just around the corner.

'It's amazing really,' said owner Howard Morgan, 58, as he explained the global demand for his services, 'A couple of hundred years ago you would have thrown a broken violin away and asked for another to be made but today they're so valuable the work that can go into restoration is almost more than the work making it in the first place.'

The work of valuing and restoring centuries-old string instruments has taken him to many far corners of the globe, including Australia, South America and the Far East. In fact, about 90% of his trade comes from London and overseas. He has even been known to endure the odd long weekend travelling to Seoul and back to offer violins to Korean virtuosos.

The labour of love started more than 40 years ago for the former builder who lives in Old St Mellons.

'I was very keen on classical music in the 1960s and wanted to make a violin,' he said.

'I put an advert in the paper asking for an old violin and thought, naively, if I got one I would be able to work out how to do it.

'Two turned up, both slightly different to each other, and I was hooked.

'They were like two books or two human beings - essentially the same things but so different.'

From that point on Mr Morgan started spending all his holidays at auction houses and began restoring any violins offered to him through his newspaper adverts although he was often surprised by what turned up.

'When I used to advertise for old violins I went to a house in St Athan and saw a violin hanging above the fireplace - and it had been nailed into the wall!

'Another one had taken out their violin and polyeurethaned it and it was still sticky - luckily both these instruments were rubbish.'

In the mid-1970s he opened a shop in Canton's King Road, moving to a bigger shop next door six years later as his business grew.

When that shop was taken over by new owners he moved into his current premises, a former sign writers' shop on Cathedral Road that was once a pub's stables.

Over the past 30 years he has handled violins that composers such as Paganini would have played, and has even delivered a Stradivarius to the Far East.

'When you get to that sort of money - pounds 2m - there aren't many buyers,' he said.

'You have it on consignment, on a sale or return basis, but it will only be one in 100 who are offered it who will buy it.'

Mr Morgan added, 'Some of the top instruments get bought by investors who are amateur musicians.

'Yehudi Menuhin's violin went through a colleague of mine to a guy in California with new money from IT. …

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