It's a mystery which brings together Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the world’s most expensive musical instruments and a small house in Londonderry.
Sold for $3.6m (£2.3m) in 2010, the ‘Londonderry Stradivarius’ was once the world’s most valuable musical instrument. New York-based Anne Akiko Meyers plays it in concert halls across the world.
But a Derry-based author is trying to crack the riddle of how siblings from the city came to buy the 17th century violin.
William and Muriel Anderson held on to the instrument for three decades, storing it under a bed in their terraced house in the city for security.
It is unclear how much they knew of the instrument’s journey through France’s 19th century royal palaces to the US.
Made by Antonio Stradivari in the late 1690s, it was owned by French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, before being passed to his favourite general, Count Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor .
The ‘Molitor’ stayed in the Count’s family until the end of the First World War. After a brief spell at Philadelphia’s Curtis Music Institute, it was brought to Somerset.
In 1957, William Anderson, who lived with his sister in their parent’s modest home in Aberfoyle Terrace in Derry, purchased the Moliter from independent violin dealer, Eric Voight, for an unknown sum.
In May 1988, 83-year-old Muriel donated the instrument to a member of the Red Cross. She had used its meals on wheels service for years. She died in 1992. After a valuation it was sold for £209,000.
Dr Nuala McAllister Hart uncovered the story while researching her book, which went on sale this week.
She told the Belfast Telegraph: “It took 10 years to piece the whole story together. But there are still so many mysteries.
“How did the Andersons afford to buy the violin in the first place, given its hefty — but as yet unknown — price tag in 1957? Did they tell anyone of its purchase? Was it often played at concerts in the Maiden City?”
Nuala has been unable to trace any Anderson relatives.
She added: “It’s a wonderful story. In Northern Ireland — which had its own problems, political, social and otherwise— there was this wonderful, human story going on of this violin and these quiet, unassuming people who did a lot for the cultural life of the city. I’d love to see the violin played in the city for the City of Culture year.”
If you have any information about The Londonderry Stradivarius contact us at newseditor@belfast telegraph.co.uk
From Farquhar to Field Day: Three Centuries of Music and Theatre in Derry-Londonderry, by Dr Nuala McAllister Hart, is published by The History Press
Story so far
‘The Londonderry Stradivarius’ was once owned by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1957 William Anderson, an insurance broker from Derry, purchased the violin for an unknown sum from a dealer in London. For the next three decades it was kept in the terraced house William shared with his sister, Muriel, in Derry. In 1988, an 83-year-old Muriel donated it to the Red Cross.