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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Stradivarius tops auction record
Auction-winning Stradivarius violin, The Hammer
The violin is known as The Hammer
A Stradivarius violin almost 300 years old has smashed the record for the amount paid for a musical instrument at auction, selling for $3.5m (1.8m).

The instrument, made in 1707, broke the previous record of $2.03m (1.07m) paid for a Stradivarius in 2003.

The buyer has not been revealed but Christie's in New York said he was a "benefactor and patron of the arts" who loves classical music.

It had been privately owned but was loaned to world-renowned orchestras.

The auction was tense, with gasps punctuating the bidding. A round of applause broke out when the price reached $3m (1.5m).

"I have to admit it took my breath away," said Kerry Keane, head of the musical instrument department for the auction house.

He said the violin is likely to be heard in performances around the world following the purchase.

Superior sound

These violins produce a sound, a tonal quality, that is unrivalled by any other maker
Kerry Keane, Christies
Antonio Stradivari is considered the most distinguished violin maker in the history of the instrument.

He crafted over 1,000 violins, violas and violoncellos, and was commissioned by King James II of England and King Charles III of Spain.

Stradivari's later works are said to be some of his most powerful sounding instruments and the most coveted by musicians.

"These violins produce a sound, a tonal quality, that is unrivalled by any other maker," said Mr Keane.

"When they're played you can hear it at the front of the hall, and you can hear it all the way up at the back in the cheap seats."

The instrument sold at Christie's is known as The Hammer, and is named after Christian Hammer, a 19th Century Swedish collector.

It was made during Stradivari's "golden period" of 1700-1720, and was brought to the United States in 1911.

Before the auction, Christies had valued the violin between $1.5m (800,000) and $2.5m (1.3m).

See the record-breaking violin being played

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