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TICKER - Strings Attached Find Instruments As Fine Investments

The subprime mortgage crisis may have discredited that old saw "safe as houses," but Florian Leonhard is composing a new one to replace it: "safe as violins."

The subprime mortgage crisis may have discredited that old saw "safe as houses," but Florian Leonhard is composing a new one to replace it: "safe as violins." Owner of Florian Leonhard Fine Violins, the leading London dealer in fine musical instruments, Leonhard, 44, is raising $50 million for the Fine Violins Fund, which he hopes to launch by the end of the year. The objective is to build a portfolio of upwards of 25 of the pricey violins -- the auction record is $3.5 million, though some classical violins have sold privately for as much as $6 million -- selling a few each year and using the proceeds to buy additional violins and to distribute profits to investors. Leonhard estimates that violins handcrafted by such 18th-century Italian masters as Antonio Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù and Francesco Ruggeri have increased in value between 10 and 14 percent annually over the past 50 years. Leonhard says he has so far lined up three investors, bankers who are amateur violin players and who have together pledged $12 million. He expects to make a pretty penny -- like those other modern-day virtuosos, hedge fund managers -- charging his investors a management fee of 2 percent and a performance fee of 20 percent. "Contemporary violin makers can't rival craftsmen of the 17th and 18th centuries," says Leonhard. "The result is ever-increasing scarcity and steadily rising prices, with very little volatility."