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Secret of Stolen Masterpiece Revealed : '$100 Fiddle' an $800,000 Stradivarius

May 14, 1987|United Press International

BETHEL, Conn. — A woman today said the violin her "con man" husband bought for $100 and played for almost 50 years before he died was a stolen Stradivarius made in 1713 and now valued at $800,000.

Marcelle M. Hall, 69, said her husband, Julian L. Altman, revealed his secret to her two weeks before he died of stomach cancer in August, 1985.

Hall said Altman told her he was playing at the Russian Bear, a New York restaurant, in February, 1936, when a "sticky-fingered" friend informed him he had just stolen the Stradivarius from Carnegie Hall.

The violin was stolen from the dressing room of its owner, violinist Bronislaw Huberman.

The unidentified man sold the violin to Altman for $100 "and the rest is history," Hall said.

Hall said Altman told her, "You've got to do something about my violin," and instructed her where to find copies of 1936 newspaper clippings describing the violin theft.

"I knew it was a beautiful violin," she said, unaware it was a Stradivarius, "It just has such a beautiful sound."

She said her husband never paid any special attention to his violin, often leaving it wherever he had an engagement and at other people's apartments.

Hall called her husband a "con man" whom she married in March, 1985, two days before he went to jail for sexually molesting her granddaughter.

She said she married Altman so she would not have to testify in court and to get back property she had given Altman "out of love."

Charles Beare, a violin dealer and expert from London, has confirmed that the violin is a Stradivarius made in 1713, Hall said.

He authenticated the violin for its insurer, Lloyd's of London, which paid $40,000 to Huberman and will pay Hall an undisclosed reward.

The Stradivarius, now properly insured, is to be displayed this summer at a festival in Cremona, Italy, marking the 250th anniversary of the death of violin maker Antonio Stradivari.

Eleven of the 60 violins created by Stradivarius around 1713 are missing.

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