Friday, 17 June 2016

"Antiquities Market"

Interesting experiment. Try and find out what the British antiquities market in general looked like before the Internet and metal detectors (so let us say 1920s to 1970s). The catalogues of the big auction houses only give a view of the 'upper end' of the market, the postal catalogues of the smaller shops tend to concentrate on coins. There are not many of either here in Poland of course. So what does Mr Google say? Type in "Antiquities market" and you get a series of articles on looting, illicit trade etc. While that's nice, one wonders what that says about the existence of this "legitimate market" one hears so much about (from the dealers). Where are the texts relating to that per se? Oh there are lots of apologetic texts ("we-are-misunderstood-and-not-like-those-nasty-archaeologists-say"-type stuff from Mr Ede and his fellows), but not much in a way of characterising what that market looked like in the past and what it looks like today. Why would that be? Something to hide?

If I walked into a provincial antiquities dealer's shop in the 1960s, what would I have found?  My first visit was to one in Brighton in 1979, and I remember shabtis, scarabs and 'Luristan' bronzes - the man was very nice, served tea and explained that 'Luristan' was a trade cover-all term for "don't really know what this is and where it's from". I do not recall being then particularly shocked, this was a time when I was just beginning my 'adventure' with metal detectorists and visiting their clubs. There were two coin shops in my local town which had Roman and medieval coins among the shinier modern ones. The blokes that ran them were very nice - but then started saying too much about what metal detectorists were doing, and what they were bringing in which was a bit of a turning point for me. I recall stone axes in another shop about this time. What else? What would have been the ratio between 'local' and 'imported' antiquities on the trade as a whole in the UK?

Are there any studies on this I should try and get hold of? 


kyri said...

hi paul,i have a collection of sothebys antiquities catalogues from the 1930s.i have 3 catalogues from 1931 alone.i think they had at least 5 sales a will be surprised at the details of the catalogues.most pieces have provenance ie;name of collector selling and find spot sometimes!.in each sale they had hundreds of lots large and small,cypriot ,greek vases ,roman/egyption pieces and even south american.the sales were bigger than they are now with hundreds of lots on offer,i guess they had a bit of a monopoly in those days.not many pictures,each catalogue has 4/5 plates with about 20 pieces ,mainly greek vases pictured but to me it looks like there was an active market in antiquities pre the 2nd world war.i also have some magazines "CONNOISSEVR" from 1912/1914 they have the odd dealer advertising antiquities with spinks being one of the main players with ancient coins.none of the dealers apart from spinks are still trading.the only research i can think of is vinnie norskov "greek vases" a decent job on the sales of greek vases over the last 80 years
ps the odd thing about the sothebys catalogues of the 1930s NO ESTIMATES on anything ?

Paul Barford said...

Thanks, I was looking at Helios antiquities, one of the few to give something like collecting histories for most of the objects. that was quite an eye-opener. Material that was listed there as on the market in the 1960s and 1970s is in fact a pretty restricted range of object types. And very few British.

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