How violins can ruin your life

South Korean-born musical prodigy Min Kym was left distraught by the theft of her Stradivarius violin.


Min Kym: left distraught by the loss of her Strad
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2005 Rex Features. No use without permission.)

Practice may still be the best way to get to Carnegie Hall, but for violinists an expensive instrument comes a close second, and they don't come dearer than an antique "Strad". These days, "the finest Strads can sell privately for more than $15m, usually to banks, charities and music patrons, and are loaned out to leading violinists", says Nick Glass of CNN. The violins, made by the legendary 17th-century Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari, are regarded as "exquisitely crafted" and the musical equivalent of a racing car. They are also limited in number, with about 550 left in existence.

Sadly, the small size of Strads makes them particularly vulnerable to theft. One person who knows this only too well is the South Korean-born musical prodigy Min Kym. Her violin, which she mortgaged her flat to buy, was stolen in 2010 from a branch of Pret A Manger in Euston train station in London, she writes in The Sunday Times. Although the thieves were quickly identified using CCTV, by the time they were caught they had already sold it on. The insurance company paid out, but the loss of her prize instrument left her distraught. She cancelled concerts and her career came to a sudden halt.

Even after it was recovered almost three years later, the torment didn't stop there. While the insurance company offered to return the violin to her in exchange for the £750,000 they had given her, she no longer had the money, having used it to buy another violin and pay off debts. In any case "the will to fight had been sapped right out of me". As a result, she agreed a deal whereby a dealership lent her £400,000, in return for a share of any eventual profits after it was resold. While she ended up making £80,000 in profit from the sale, handing the Strad over again made her feel "as if the air had been sucked out of me".

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Ironically, although Strads are so easy to steal and valuable that they are obvious targets for thieves, they can also present problems for those who would chance their arm. "As with most famous works of art, it is very hard to offload a stolen Strad," says Allison McNearney in The Daily Beast. Indeed, "the instruments are so high-profile, so well-known, that it is impossible to sell them at a legitimate auction". Consequently, most thefts are either "contract crimes on behalf of a buyer" or a "crime of passion".

One illustration of this was the Strad stolen from the dressing room of the performer Roman Totenberg in 1980. For the rest of his life, "memories of the lost Stradivarius sparked by old recordings or concert posters would bring sadness to the normally ebullient master". However, in 2011 the thief, who turned out to be a "talented but erratic" former pupil of Totenberg, died. After the thief's widow had the violin appraised, the FBI was able to step in, allowing it to be returned in 2015 to Totenberg's three daughters.

In turn the sisters paid for it to be properly restored, allowing them to hear it in concert this month for the first time in almost 40 years. Given that they aren't professional musicians, they have reluctantly agreed that they will have to sell it. However, in a decision that will warm the heart of music-lovers everywhere, the trio "want to make sure that it ends up in the hands of a player instead of tucked away by a wealthy collector".

Tabloid money why the Queen won't get onboard with a royal yacht

A campaign for a new £100m royal yacht to replace Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997, has one crucial flaw, says Adam Helliker in the Sunday Express. The Queen isn't onboard. A "close friend" told Helliker "she thought the moment had passed and the last thing she wanted was for the Royal Family to be seen as angling' for something that detractors could claim was just another expensive luxury".

Yet, says Helliker, those that have championed the plans "have stressed that a new Britannia would not be a mere royal bauble but would act as a floating embassy to drum up business abroad", and that "such a vessel could help secure post-Brexit trade deals". Donald Gosling, who put his own yacht Leander at the Queen's disposal for her Diamond Jubilee tour in 2012, believes the final cost would be closer to £200m.

"I wanted to buy a sandwich and a cup of tea on a Virgin train the other day, and was told that if I picked up a bag of crisps, I'd qualify for the meal deal and save 40p," says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror. "I didn't want any crisps but was told it was stupid to throw away money." We agreed "what he [the man behind the till] actually wanted to do was pay me 40p for taking a packet of crisps off him". Hearing the groans in the queue, "I grabbed a packet" and ate its 184 calories. "These aren't meal deals, but deals that leave the NHS overwhelmed with wards full of obesity and diabetes sufferers, eventually costing us all a hell of a lot more than 40p."

"Prickly rocker" Sir Elton John, who has been celebrating his 70th birthday, despises the modern record industry, says Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail. He insists that "most heads of record companies are idiots". "They're all about the next fix, the next single. It's like they're having a hit of cocaine every 15 seconds They're sickening actually. They sicken me. They're thick as ****." Well, says Hardcastle. "They all speak highly of you, Elton!"