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FBI special agent David Bass, an expert in art crime, said Stradivarius thefts are reported every few years but most instruments are found — some quickly and in good condition.
A Stradivarius stolen from a South Korean musician in 2010 while she ate at a London sandwich shop was found about three years later at a property in central England. Three people were convicted in that theft.
The Lipinski Stradivarius was taken from Frank Almond, concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as he walked to his car after a Jan. 27 performance at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
Mark Niehaus, the orchestra's president and executive director, said the instrument appeared in good shape, but Almond, who also teaches music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., was out of town and still needed to inspect it.
The violin was on loan to Almond by its owner. Such arrangements are common in classical music in part because most artists can't afford instruments worth millions of dollars. The owners benefit as well because use keeps the instruments in good shape and can add to their value.
"When famous people play these instruments it builds what we call the instrument's provenance," Bonsey said. "It adds to the value of the instrument down the road."