The dealers who suggest that in the past 'nobody bothered about keeping documentation of where items come from' ('so it is impossible to supply it, so there!') may not be telling it like it is. Take the case of a prominent New York dealer in the news today (Tom Mashberg, 'Prominent Antiquities Dealer Accused of Selling Stolen Artifacts', New York Times Dec 21st, 2016) and her alleged attempts to camouflage the history of certain objects which she reportedly had on sale:
In a complaint filed in Manhattan Criminal Court, prosecutors with the district attorney’s office say that [...] upon the death of her mother, Ms. Wiener inherited hundreds of illicit items at their gallery, discarded their records, and arranged for inaccurate ownership histories.The evidence (negative perforce) on which that allegation is based is not yet clear, nevertheless, this produces a model that is worth exploring for the light it can shed on business practices which may be general in this market. The objects concerned come from the stock of her mother's store. Doris Wiener was a dealer in 'Asian art' who started in the 1960/70s and who died in 2011. If this allegation proves to be true, this would mean that, despite what dealers assert now, according to past business practices of businesses like Doris Wiener's, records were available for many objects dug up and moved from country to country in the past, but the reason why when objects surface now, that documentation is missing, could well be due to a more general use of the practices alleged here, that the documents were deliberately destroyed. I think it is fair to suspect that there really can only be one reason why anyone would do that.
Vignette: Asian art