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The violin has been held at the New Westminster Museum and Archives since the 1980s. ((CBC))

A community museum in British Columbia has discovered a violin in its collection that may be a rareinstrument created by 17th-century maestro Antonio Stradivari.

Theviolin has been held at the New Westminster Museum and Archives since the 1980s, said curator and manager Colin Stevens, who made the find recently.

While gathering the museum's five violins together in preparation for an advertisement, Stevens decided to look inside each one.

"It was in the collection for many, many years," he told CBC News Online."But no one has ever looked inside.

"We know that the chances are very slim that it's a real one, but there's always the fun of hoping," he said. "It's kind of like going to the Antiques Roadshow with your family heirloom."

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The all-important label. ((CBC))

According to Stevens, the violin was owned by Rufus Gilley, who played with the New Westminster Symphony Orchestra from 1916 to 1918. Gilley's widow donated the instrument and another violin to the community museum in 1984.

Hundreds of thousands of Stradivari copies: expert

While the label inside the instrument bears the Latin inscription Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno 1727, so may thousands of others. Many manufacturers worldwide replicated Stradivari's label over the years and pasted them into their own creations.

Countless Stradivari copies were created after the 17th-century Italian maestro's death, saysRichmond, B.C.violin-maker and expert Michael Altshuler.

There are "tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of instruments bearing this label," Altshuler said, "so the chances of finding — in this ocean of fake instruments — to find the real ones … are close to zero."

Experts and historians estimate that Stradivari and his sons created about 1,000 stringed instruments (including violins, harps, guitars, violas and cellos) in his shop in Cremona, Italy, before his death in 1737.

The surviving instruments are considered the gold standard even more than 250 years after they were created. Experts estimate that fewer than 700 original Stradivaris are around, with violins making up about 512 of the total.

Today, disputed violins are authenticated by experts like the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, which conducts careful investigations and in-depth examinations of each instrument's design, craftmanship and the types of wood and varnish used.

Real thing fetches up to $3M US

An authenticated Stradivarius violin typically fetches between $2 million and $3 million US.

Stevens says the New Westminster Museum will let a few local musicians test out the violin before proceeding on a gradual evaluation process to determine if the specimen is a real Stradivari, because of the expense of the final authentication. Next up ishaving an expert determine if the instrument is in fact well made in the first place.

Ultimately, "if it turned out to be real, it's like winning the lottery: everyone wants to give you advice or orders, depending on where they are in the pecking order," Stevens said.

Keeping it for display at the New Westminster Museum, turning it over to a symphony so it could be played and selling the violin to raise funds for the museum are among the suggestions he has heard so far.

"I will cross that bridge when I come to it," he said.