Oh, Strad, Poor Strad, You've Been Crushed by a Bus and I'm Feeling So Sad
updated 10/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 10/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST
The damage done, Steel gathered up what was left of the fiddle his parents had bought for $35 in a secondhand store 10 years earlier and went to the bus company office to file his claim for reimbursement. There he spotted something that all but unstrung his bow. Inside the wreckage of the violin was a faded sticker that read, "Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat 1715—Made by Antonio Stradivarius of Cremona, 1715." Steel was holding what appeared to be a priceless work of art—or at least the remnants of a priceless work of art. "Seeing the inscription, I realized that it could well be a very valuable instrument worth thousands upon thousands of pounds," says Steel. Indeed. Genuine Strads can go for $1 million.
His sense of humor remarkably intact, Steel filled out the necessary claim form. "Crushed violin," he wrote, "possible Stradivarius." Within a few days, however, experts at Christie's auction house in London determined that the violin was not a Stradivarius, but a masterful fake, valued at $565.
Steel, 18, is relieved. "It would have been absolutely shattering if it had been a true Stradivarius," he says. "I suppose one can cynically say I was disappointed I wasn't going to get a lot of money, but I'll have to take the moral stand and say it would have been a tragedy for me as a musician if a real Stradivarius had been destroyed."
A noble sentiment, Mr. Steel. And the bus line's insurance company couldn't agree with you more.