Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dugup Munchkins Answer Back

"A helmet offered in Gorny and Mosch’s
June 25 auction was reported in German media as
looted, but the auction firm said
it came from a private collection
 with a provenance back to 2002
. It failed to sell

According to an article in Coin World:
A cultural property battle is raging in Germany, and one archaeologist is attacking auction firms and the antiquities trade in general, saying their efforts help finance terrorists. Auction houses and art dealers are fighting back, though. They say that the issue is grossly inflated, and that such businesses work to ensure proper title and origin of all items they sell.
Dealers deny these concerns have any basis in fact and stress that "laws are followed". In particular, the Munich firm that figures in a DW video and online report vehemently denies the insinuation that it is involved in the handling of any kind of antiquities and coins of doubtful origin:
“We are dismayed to see that a broadcast that is based on such poor and biased a research was to be watched on a broadcaster under public law and that its unsubstantiated assertions have made their way into the [television] news magazine ‘Tagesthemen’ as well,” according to a statement from the firm. “Deliberate false statements and manipulative collages of interviews, case studies that are taken out of context and are out of date, partial witnesses and allegations without evidence make for a mixture that we deem a justiciable defamation of the legal trade in ancient objects”.

Let's have a look at some of the documentation of that offered upfront on the website of just one Munich dealer for their current auction (in no case I looked at was the existence of any supporting documentation such as original export licences receipts, or anything else mentioned).

Millefiori bowl. Central or Eastern Mediterranean, 1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D. Provenienz: Aus britischer Privatsammlung, 1980er Jahre.

Elegant globular flask with white applied trail. 1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D. Intact. Provenienz: Erworben auf dem Londoner Kunstmarkt 1993. 

Collection of nine small bluish glass bottles with globular bodies and short cylindrical necks. Eastern Mediterranean, 1st - 2nd century A.D. Partially sintered, otherwise intact.  Provenienz: In Wien von Privat erworben, vor 2000. [where, archaeologically, do you get intact fragile glass vessesls from, and when do they become 'sintered'?]

Small globular bottle.Greenish clear glass. Eastern Mediterranean, 1st - 2nd century A.D. intact.
Provenienz: Gekauft in München 1997.

Collection of Kutahya ceramics, Osmanic Period, 18th century A.D. Provenienz: Aus westdeutscher Privatsammlung, 1970er Jahre. [and before that? No collecting history?]

Number 630 Attraktive kleine Sammlung antiker Objekte (incl. Östlicher Mittelmeerraum, 2. - 1.Jt.v.Chr.): Provenienz: Seit den 1960er Jahren in der westdeutschen Sammlung K.B. 

Collection of marble idol heads (Kiliya type). Western Asiatic, about 2700 - 2400 B.C.  Provenienz: Aus deutscher Privatsammlung 1981.

Collection of bronze age axe-heads. Central Europe, 2nd millennium B.C. Provenienz: Ex Sammlung M.F., davor schwäbische Privatsammlung seit mindestens 1960er Jahre.  [but all central European states had legislation vesting ownership[ in the state before the '1960s', so which laws are shown here "not to be broken"? Which central European states?]

and many, many more pieces with similarly vague and seemingly unsupported  "Provenienze" ......
Which "laws" are here guaranteed not to have been broken? In what way can it be said that, if this is as far back as the sellers can trace these objects that their "proper origin" has been "ensured"? How can it be so absolutely stated that no laws were broken earlier on in their undocumented collecting history? Mindful of the reputation for order and thoroughness I note the absence of the word "all" in "laws are followed". There is a huge gap between what is merely legal (and often exploiting legal loopholes) and that which raises no ethical issues - no more so than Germany where the whole point of the recent media activity is changes are perceived to be necessary in the existing legislation to remover some of the loopholes.

While certainly these items (if the collecting history given can be verified) left their country of origin (wherever that was) before ISIL was formed. that in itself does not solve all the problems. But indeed,can these "provenances" be verified independently? I think German dealers need to try a good deal harder than this, especially if they are going to start threatening people who raise wider concerns as the above press release seems to do.

Is it just "one archaeologist" in Germany that is thinking and saying these things about the no-questions-asked trade there?

The author of the article seems to think that if the auction firm said something had been dug up before 2002 (Provenienz: Vor 2002 für bayerische Privatsammlung in München erworben) is an indicator it is absolutely certain it was not looted. He is obviously an aficionado of the ADCAEA approach to "due diligence". The Icklingham bronzes and Salisbury Hoard as well as the Wanborough coin deposit were all dug up before 2002 and are infamous looted items from all-too-liberal Great Britain, it depends where this Sassanidischer Spangenhelm was dug up, when and by whom and under what circumstances it entered the market. Starck does not enlighten his readers about any of that. 

Jeff Starck, 'Archaeologist in Germany claims auction houses support terrorism', Coin World 19th November 2014.

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