Saturday, 12 June 2010

Another Secretive Dealer of Antiquities on the Yahoo "Ancient Artifacts" List (Ancient Resources)

The 2000 or so antiquity collecting members of Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts group are currently busily discussing this ongoing online sale... that includes the "moderator" of this supposedly "responsible" collecting group, Tim Haines (Tuppenyblue) himself. This represents presumably one of the "many highly experienced and qualified members" the list has, "including many of the best antiquities dealers on the net". Well, let us have a look at what the antiquitist Yahoos are so interested in, and to what degree what this seller is offering corresponds to the Code of Ethics which that group purports to apply to its use of ancient artefacts. Or is the latter just empty words?

The series of auctions in question is being run on behalf of the California firm "Ancient Resource" (Gabriel Vandervort, Glendale, CA 91208). Note that use of the word "resource", no notion here however of the archaeological resource being at all finite and damaged by mining for such collectables for Californian dealers to make money from. Google-Earthing the firm's address (given on the auction site) and particularly going to StreetView shows the address to be one of a series of shoddy buildings in one of the most depressing industrial estates that you can imagine. Dirty litter-laden cracking-up streets, some kind of effluent running down the gutter, piles of litter behind the portable loos on the street. A slight difference from Christie's eh? [Generally Glendale is a bit of a dump, outside the indstrial shack area are sprawling housing estates with one house on top of another with in most cases no garden whatsoever around them. Not enough space between the houses even to grow an outdoor bonsai. Really depressing.]

Anyway, what is Mr Vandervolt selling from his Glendale market building? Well, lots of unprovenanced ancient stuff. Coins, scarabs, the usual knocked-off bits and bobs. My eye was caught by a mummified human foot for starters. Just the kind of "ancient art" collectors love, really evokes the period and culture and can be used for scaring the neighbour's little girl (what fun ancient artefact collecting must be). Totally unethical and would be against the law in most civilized countries, obviously in California and on LiveAuctions "anything goes".
Ancient Egypt. A mummified human foot of a youth, Ptolemaic, c.4th - 2nd Century BC. Nicely preserved with most of the skin and nails intact. Second toe missing and ankle bone visible. On the bottom of the foot a thick layer of resin soaked leather, perhaps the soles of a sandal. L: 6" (15.1 cm). From an old Midwest collection. Foot had been wrapped in a 1948 Ohio newspaper which had been attached to the layer of resin.
So the Ohio newspaper is the "provenance"? Maybe there would be a market among US dealers for Polish newspapers of the 1930s and 1940s, there is a shop just down the road from me has piles of them for sale to collectors. Instant "old central European provenance".

Then we have "wearable numismatics", dugup ancient artefacts made into costume jewellry ("Real Roman coin on a rope" type stuff) such as this one (coin of Otacilla Severa) or what might be a Holy Relic on a string (so-called widow's mite, this one is apparently "THE widow's mite from the Bible" no less, yours for 70 dollars). The wearable Constantine the Great coin is on a manly (?) thong. How twee.

Then there are fake coin hoards:
Lot 152 36 Greek and Roman bronze coins in ancient bowl
A group of 36 mixed Greek and Roman bronze coins in a small black slipped bowl dating from the 1st Century BC. The coins date from 1st century BC to the 4th century AD.
Lot 153 Ancient dish with 38 Roman bronze coins A small terracotta dish containing a group of 38 Roman bronze coins dating from the 3rd and 4th Centuries AD. A fun study group!

The dish is not "terracotta" and the coins have been heavily wire-brushed, so I am not sure what the buyer would have there to "study", probably how not to buy ancient artefacts. Making up fake assemblages to use up items unsalable in themselves is unethical dealing (as would be splitting real assemblages).

Lots of complete 'Roman' glass vessels, these of course almost never are found in such a condition in settlement sites, the "best" place to get them in this state is grave-robbing. The same goes for this seller's lamps and pots.

Lots of pre-Columbian imported stuff, notably very little that looks like local Native American cultural material on sale in this eclectic assemblage of artefacts from all over the ancient world. Are the ancient cultures of California not part of the ancient world (not "ancient resources")? Or would their undocumented sale from a Glendale market stall be more problematic in the USA than items removed from far-off source countries outside the purview of US law?

Not a single item at which I looked had any up-front mention of any documentation confirming licit origins, provenance or export licences referring to that specific object.

Do take the time to look at what this guy has on his website and consider how some of those items came onto the market (of course the seller does not say). Balkan metal detected items (others "found near the Danube River in Eastern Europe"), shipwreck items, cuneiform tablets and foundation cones (website section currently empty), "Viking" (sic) artefacts from the Baltic states etc etc. In other words this Glendale dealer offers a fairly full selection of the sorts of artefacts on the no-questions-asked market of current concern. Most of them are sold with no up-front reference whatsoever to provenance. So why is it being promoted by and presumably patronised by the so-called "responsible" Yahoo group?

Vignette: Mr Vandervort uses a coin like this as his company's logo. The one here is from a teacher's resource created by Florida's Center for Instructional Technology I wonder if Ms Carter, who prefers to use real dugups, knows about it?


Anonymous said...

I don't wish to appear rude, Mr. Barford, but Gabriel is a good friend of mine. Has been for some time, and I can assure you and all who wish to buy from him that his business is legit and all his antiquities are genuine and authentic. Where he resides has nothing to with whether or not his artifacts are genuine, and if his business is, as well. Not all collectors and sellers wish to have a store front business where it invites criminal activity. I understand you wishing to make buyers aware of non-legit sellers, but do some more research before you commence to making negative remarks and accusations against someone. You have a wonderful blog, but it's not always a pleasure to read the bad stuff. Thank you, and blessings to you and your family!

Paul Barford said...

Thanks for that comment. My concerns were not so much whether the objects were fake or not - I happen to think there are other critera by which dealers in such items should be assessed than those applied by could-not-care-less collectors. Mr Vandervort is not the only one doing things like this, there was a discussion going on over on the Yahoo "Responsible" Antiquities Collectors list about something he was selling, this was my contribution to that discussion.

Perhaps, having clarified that, you might like to re-read what I wrote, about the mummy foot, the artefacts turned into wearable 'jewellery' and so on. It's not about "fakes" but a wider ethics of dealing with the archaeological record, somebody else's heritage, treating it merely as a quarry for items to be bought and sold in this manner.

Perhaps, without being rude, it is you who needs to follow your own advice: "do some more research before you commence to making negative remarks and accusations against someone". There was a discussion going on and I looked into the background of that transaction, and present here what I found.

"it's not always a pleasure to read the bad stuff"
It is certainly no pleasure writing about the bad stuff, and it would be good to see more collectors questioning the sort of practices we see going on in the antiquities market so I would not have to. But pigs will fly first I suspect.

Em said...

As a complete newcomer to the idea of buying egyptian antiquities, where would I begin - to ensure I am looking in the right place, buying genuine items? I'm no art collector, but someone very deeply moved by genuine antiquities and ancient egypt.
I would love to hear any thoughts or recommendations you would be willing to share.

Em said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Barford said...

I rather think you have chosen the wrong blog, Mr Em. I suggest you look further for the answer to that question, you'll not find it here.

If you want my suggestion, I'd spend the money instead on going there and walking and learning. If you need accommodation in Luxor, try Jane Akshar - you'll not regret it.

Em said...

Thank you for your time in responding. Best wishes.

Unknown said...

I found your blog actually while specifically searching for reviews on mr.vandervorts business.As I'm sure you are well aware (being an archaeologist), "ancient" artifacts for sale especially online are almost always synonymous with "easy to fake" decor items. I think, often, people forget that the primitive nature of items such as the ones that compose the majority of businesses like his, make it exceedingly easy to recreate an "original", often using the same original materials.example, taking a random stone that has fallen off an Egyptian monument and paying a local a few dollars to carve it... technically the thing is then "ancient" because of the stone or wood, but the actual "finished product" lacks any provenance other than "originating from so-and-so's private collection, a neat way to add intrigue, but no substance.
The average person doesn't take into consideration the THOUSANDS of years between the "ancient" and the "modern". They don't take into consideration the fact that until VERY recently, it was perfectly acceptable to snag stones, which, looking at only ONE small period of the time spectrum... the grand-tour eras (18th 19th centuries) it's easy to see how TONS of "artifacts" could have been fabricated. Egypt and Egyptians have, throughout history continued their traditional crafts, and taking into consideration the financial status of the average Egyptian throughout history, lack of regulations and the desire of plain old local's to make some easy money are tempted by visitors desire to take home a souvenir. (Excuse the runon sentences the mobile format doesn't allow me to read what I've already typed)...
But, I do have a question...
I notice that some comments have been removed, but the ones surrounding it have remained which raises the question, do you have a reputable source for such items or do you disagree completely with private ownership of artifacts? I'll confess, as an American (yeah I'm a scaredy-cat), it simply isn't a good idea to "go and learn" in Egypt. Aside from heavily guarded and extremely generic tours, it is really difficult to gain access to that part of the world without potentially putting your life in danger. (Call it whatever you want, American hysteria, media propoganda, whatever, but regardless it IS scary)...
So people like myself for instance, HAVE to rely on knick-knacks and IMAX movies and books and pictures to have the "Egypt experience" ...
If my next abstract example makes any sense at all, you'll understand my logic but this is kind of like Elephants and Ivory... we know elephants are going extinct because of the over exploitation of ivory. Pretend we are down to the very last elephant on the planet, but you have the opportunity to purchase a piece of Ivory (regardless of its origin, maybe the last elephant is killed for it, maybe it's antique, who knows).... do you buy the ivory anyways because this is your only opportunity to do so and you KNOW you'll be able to care for and enjoy it, or do you NOT and risk NEVER being able to see or own a piece, relying ONLY on the UNguarunteed access to public museums?
Do you see what I mean? Or is my example too abstract? To be more specific, I live in the middle-of-nowhere Texas. A place where (try not to laugh), the average person LITERALLY does not know where France is on the globe... or even really what it is at all ... regardless of how ethical or unethical the purchase of antiquities may seem, is it not more important to spread the knowledge even if it IS through unofficial or undocumented means? In an even more whimsical scenario, what if travel was (for whatever reason) totally impossible, and the ONLY "museum" that locally existed was that of someone's private collection... in the hands of someone who genuinely enjoys and cares for the items, again, regardless of ethics (in my opinion, ethics often parallel "red tape").

Paul Barford said...

If I remember correctly, the comment was removed by its author because he posted the same thing twice.

No, I do not 'disagree completely with private ownership of artefacts', but for me the only ones people should be collecting are those verifiably of licit origins.

> it simply isn't a good idea to "go and learn" in Egypt [...] it is really difficult to gain access to that part of the world without potentially putting your life in danger <
Rubbish, several of my best friends are there at this very moment, out in the desert. One of them took her new-born baby three years ago, and if I did not have so much work to do, I'd be there with them this year. Go, you'll havbe a great time. Contact Jane Akshar (Luxor flats) - she's living there and has done for many years and has nice flats in Qurna for rent and I guarantee she'll make sure you have a pleasant 'Egyptian experience' and no trouble.

[but if you go, don't try to bring real artefacts back....]

Ivory, I would NEVER buy any ivory object - it is a sick idea.

> this is your only opportunity to do so and you KNOW you'll be able to care for and enjoy it, or do you NOT and risk NEVER being able to see or own a piece, <
and my life would be no less complete without owning any. I really think people are more than just what they 'own'.

I simply do not accept that individuals owning artefacts bought on the dodgy market today they are in any way 'advancing knowledge', 'caring for the past, 'spreading knowledge', 'helping others learn' or any of the other lame self-serving arguments they trot out. In our societies, stupid people are stupid for a reason, and that reason is not that there is a paucity of places to gain knowledge.

Educating rural Texans about the world is the task of schools and public information programs, not artefact collectors.

> the ONLY "museum" that locally existed was that of someone's private collection... <
are museums the only way to learn? In fact does the average bloke actually 'learn' anything from museums anyway? You see the Mona Lisa and what have you 'learnt' that you cannot get from a picture album of 'the Works of Leonardo'? I do not see your point.

> regardless of ethics (in my opinion, ethics often parallel "red tape"). <
Oh really?

Unknown said...

Mr. Barford,

I just wanted to say you sir are a hero. I feel the same way, this obsession with having to own a piece of history is disheartening. The arguments made by some about their genuine interest in "enjoying and caring" for these objects is more about their control. They have it, therefore someone else cannot. The whole point of a museum is so that the public can be properly inducted in the history and impact of these artifacts, it's for everyone not simply the single collector. Honestly how can they guarantee being the guardian of these pieces when they are limited by their own lifespans, where as a museum is a sort of public trust that will hold them for future generations to value. In short human history is not decor or a centerpiece for your coffee table. It's not about bragging rights but it's about us to cherish as a species, to learn from, and to ensure that future generations can do the same. That I feel is the only ethical solution.

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