The case of Russell v. Anderson represents a rare opportunity for the string instrument world to observe the end game in the sorts of legal disputes that can arise around authenticity of fine art objects. The results of the trial which concluded in September are a matter of public record, and the full, verbatim copy of the judgment entered into may be found here.
The facts leading up to the judgment are as follows:
In the summer of 2000, Kristina Anderson entered into a two year contract with Raymond Russell and George Woodall to purchase a violin, described and certified by Harry Duffy, the veteran dealer, as a J. B. Guadagnini . The total price of the violin was $260,000. Ms. Anderson made an initial down payment of fifty thousand dollars, but she was late in making a subsequent payment, which caused Raymond Russell and George Woodall to demand the return of the violin.
Ms. Anderson did not return the violin, and continued to make the payments, but apparently not fast enough for the seller. At this point Russell and Woodall hired attorney Bernd Schmidt to file suit to reclaim the violin. Anderson hired Christopher Smith, a Santa Cruz attorney to represent her. Anderson also contacted various people in the trade to research her situation and develop some recourse: Roland Feller, Kenway Lee, Jay Ifshin, Joseph Grubaugh, all from the San Francisco Bay Area, Christopher Reuning the Boston dealer, Stefan Hersh of Hersh Consulting in Illinois, James Warren of Kenneth Warren and Son in Chicago and Robert Bein of Bein and Fushi, also in Chicago were all approached for advice and help. As Anderson researched her situation she discovered that serious questions of authenticity had been raised about the violin prior to her contracting to purchase it. It was exposed that Christopher Reuning had taken the violin to the eminent London expert, Charles Beare in an effort to establish its authenticity so that he might offer the violin on consignment. As well as Beare, Mr. Reuning showed the violin to a number of other knowledgeable colleagues, and the conclusion reached was that the violin was a composite instrument, with only the front of the violin being an original Guadagnini. When Reuning returned the violin to Raymond Russell in March of 2000 he told Russell of the unhappy revelations regarding the instrument.
Russell apparently chose to disregard the information which Reuning had given him (he denied he had been given it), and subsequently entered into the contract with Anderson. Once Anderson became aware of the extent of the negative issues around the violin she and her attorney decided to counter-sue Russell on the grounds of Misrepresentation. Both parties aggressively sued for damages, as opposed to the rescission of the original contract. The trial itself saw Christopher Reuning serving as the material witness for Anderson’s side of the case and Harry Duffy as the witness for Russell’s side. Although all of the witnesses other than Mr. Duffy had expressed doubts about the violin, the actual testimony which was weighed by the court centered on these two. When Mr. Reuning was asked to represent the opinion of Charles Beare regarding the violin’s authenticity, the plaintiffs’ attorney objected on grounds the evidence was hearsay. Since Reuning acknowledged that while he had initially noticed the inconsistencies with Guadagnini’s work, and he agreed with the Beare opinion, he had not come to that opinion entirely independently, the Court sustained the objection.
The decision of the Court to let the contract stand, and to award no damages cannot have pleased either side fully, and the suit must seem a costly and time-consuming exercise for what it yielded. How then might this case have been resolved differently…?
- If Anderson’s side of the case had challenged witness Duffy with Charles Beare himself, or in his stead, any other witnesses who, on their own authority, would not support the authenticity of the violin
- If either side sought simply the rescission of the sale, as opposed to seeking damages