The $3 million (€2.5m) instrument was returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association yesterday after sitting unrecognised for days in the home of Melanie Stevens, 29, who found it on her way to visit a patient.
Ms Stevens discovered the 320-year-old cello in its plastic case a mile from where it had been stolen.
She asked her boyfriend, a cabinet maker, to either repair the instrument or convert it into a unique CD holder. She did not know its significance until she heard a news report on May 7.
“It’s an incredible miracle... Can you imagine it going into a garbage truck?” said the philharmonic’s associate principal cellist, Daniel Rothmuller, who has played the instrument for more than 25 years.
The prospect the instrument could have been turned into a CD holder “is so abominable. I get sick when I hear it”, said Robert Cauer, a Los Angeles expert instrument restorer.
The 1684 cello was one of only about 60 made by Stradivari in his Cremona workshop. The philharmonic association bought it about three decades ago.
CCTV showed a cyclist stealing it on April 25 from outside the house of philharmonic cellist Peter Stumpf. Detectives are still looking for the thief.