Friday, 15 May 2015

Antiquities from Palmyra on EBay today

As we all watch events around Palmyra with concern, I thought I'd have a look at what's on offer on EBay from there. Using the search facility we find some stuff under that name. It has been worse, perhaps the dealers are keeping their bits from here at the back of the cupboard for a while. David Gozlan (Protomysta) in Paris has a 21-cm miserable-looking terracotta figure he says is from "Palmyra".  It's white slipped and suitably rubbed, a knock-down (he says) at $945.00 or $158 for 6 months. No specific  mention of collecting history or export licences. I'd question what you'd do with such a thing.

Aphrodite Antiquities Brooklyn, New York, United States will, for $600 ship "worldwide" a 48cm hunk of carved stone "Ancient stone relief stele of a man" (nicked off a grave he forgot to say). He says it is unconditionally guaranteed to be original - and who are we to argue with that? Look at the style and decide for yourself though - then look at what he cites as the parallels. He wants US $13,500 for the stone. The collecting history (I use the term loosely) is "Ex:(sic) European art market; Early American private collection, 1960's (sic)". He assures his buyers and stakeholder observers:
All objects we buy have been legally acquired, with clear titles, and if imported by us to the United States, has been done so in accordance with international laws concerning the trade in antiquities. Our buying sources are private collectors and major auction houses worldwide".
And if not imported "by us"? I am a bit puzzled though why, if the only collecting history given puts in in Europe and then the US, why the final photo in the sales offer is of documentation of export from Beirut issued at JFK airport in the US in October 2006. This is not a Lebanese export licence but an invoice  for unspecified "antiques over 100 years old, glass, ceramics, bronze, marble, mosaics" (not a single mention of a limestone stele) issued by Guidone Customs Service, inc., a New York importer. The items are to be delivered to an address in Brooklyn. Despite an attempt to delete the details with a felt pen before scanning, the consigner in Beirut and the importer in the US are men of the same name. In addition, that name corresponds with that of the founder of Aphrodite Art. So why is there a mismatch between the reported collecting history (in Europe in the 1960s) and what one of the documents show? That's a legitimate question, isn't it? Where did this item really come from and in what way is it "grounded" and following what procedure was it exported from the source country? 

Finally, a setup called "Ancient Gifts"  ("Association for Archaeology and Anthropology" - sic) from Lummi Island, Washington, United States has seven silver provincial (Syria) Roman issues of Septimus Severus etc mounted as "ready to wear" history (my favourite kind) and for those items of pretty low (in terms of collectibility) quality are trying to make a profit by mounting them on a chain. The enormously long and digressive sales spiel is presumably intended to make you feel that you can read up on it and then while wearing it you can hold forth at parties and appear erudite - instead of crass. The seller claims:
Most of the items I offer come from the collection of a family friend who was active in the field of Archaeology for over forty years. However many of the items also come from purchases I make in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) from various institutions and dealers.
The Egyptian ones suggest that the "institution" is Khan El-Khalili and he wants to get his flintwork as well looked at by somebody who knows.

Palmyra (but the New York one) has other collectables too - Angel Moroni monument and Hill Cumorah postcards among them...  


lalbertson said...

Paul, I wrote on this piece on ARCA's blog in November, but at the time had not seen (maybe they added) the import license.

The Oct 12 2006 date on the document you pointed out seems to contradict the "Provenance- Ex: European art market; Early American private collection, 1960's" statement.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks, I knew of the piece about the Palmyra bits which you did, but did not make the connection. I was just curious what was on offer right now as disturbing news comes in from the city. Actually I am a bit dubious about this piece, the carving is IMO "not quite right" - it seems buyers with 13k to spare have similar misgivings.

lalbertson said...

I am not an iconography expert so I would be remiss to comment on its authenticity, but I find the idea of a funerary relief with such mixed collection history troubling given the situation in that area.

My advise to collectors is that times have changed, and collectors need to change with the times and start collecting art with clean known provenances.

It is no longer excusable to turn a blind eye furthering the trade by purchasing suspect pieces simply to catch a good deal on something beautiful and rare. Tainted antiquities should be treated the same way we have come to treat blood diamonds. They may be purdy, but do you really want their method of extraction hanging over your conscience?

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