Friday, 20 January 2017

The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930

Fredrik Hagen and Kim Ryholt: The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930. The H.O. Lange Papers. The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Scientia Danica. Series H. Humanistica. 4 vol. 8. 2016. 335 pp. Lavishly illustrated. Price DKK 300  (preview here)
The book presents the first in-depth analysis of this market during its “golden age” in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is primarily based on the archival material of the Danish Egyptologist H. O. Lange (1863-1943) who, during two prolonged stays in Egypt (1899/1900 and 1929/1930), bought objects on behalf of Danish museums. The travel diaries, and the accompanying photographs, are complemented by a wide range of other sources, including contemporary travel guides and various travel memoirs, which together paint an extraordinarily detailed picture of the extensive antiquities trade.
The book looks at the laws governing trade and export, both in theory and practice, and the changes over time. The practicalities of the trade are described: its seasons, the networks of supply, the various methods available for acquiring antiquities, and the subsequent routes of transmission of objects, as well as the different types of dealers operating in Egypt. The geographical distribution of dealers is mapped, and the role of the Egyptian state as a dealer is investigated, both through official sale rooms, and as a seller and exporter of more or less complete tomb-chapels.
The final part of the book contains a list, with short biographies, of over 250 dealers active in Egypt from the 1880s until the abolishment of the trade in 1983. Most of them are described here in detail for the first time.
It also provides not just an excuse for all those collectors with private collections (the usual old crap about "how many objects were sold in teh past") but a challenge, if they want to claim one of those 250 dealers "might have been" the origin of the items in their collections, how many of them can give us proof that an object they now own came from one one of those dealers? How many objects in personal collections today can be assigned a legitimate collecting history back to any one of those dealers? 

Vignette: Lecture flyer


RobertoDevereux said...

Dear Paul,

as I wrote before, I don't understand the logic of your argument. If there were 250 dealers in egypt and there was a trade for more than hundred years + salerooms in the Cairo museum and in Alexandria, why should the burden of proof to be on collectors? This is logical not convincing. The egypt goverment sold antiquities in an industrial extent for a very long time. Ergo: If Egypt claims nowadays that a certain piece is illegally exported, they have (because of their previous behaviour) to show that this piece was illegally exported. Otherwise there could be the obscure case, that Egypt perhaps demands a piece back, what Egypt sold only 40 years ago.

The burden of proof could only be on the "collectors-side", if Egypt didn't have done this.

I'm very interested what in your arguments!

Best wishes,


Paul Barford said...

>>as I wrote before, I don't understand the logic of your argument<<
Apparently not.

Surely though it should not be up to any foreign government to show that this or that piece is illegally owned. Surely it is up to the people who make a living selling these things to collectors to ENSURE that the objects they are handling are legally-acquired before adding them to their stock. No? And it is up to collectors who decide to enter such an ethical minefield as antiquities collecting to ENSURE that they are not buying illegally acquired items for their collection. Is that so difficult for you to understand?

If a question arises about an object, then the dealer or collector should obviously be in a position to show that any accusations are false, by providing the documentation on the basis of which he or she ENSURED its legality before they acquired it.

It's like in a traffic stop, when the policeman asks you to show your driving licence, vehicle's registration, insurance and roadworthiness documentation. We want the drivers who've lost their licence off the road, we want the stolen vehicles off the road, we want drivers with no insurance off the road and we want people driving unroadworthy vehicles off the road. We do not want drivers in our midst who cannot provide these documents when asked. We also want artefacts with no documentation of licit origins off the market. Where is the problem in that? You get stopped without a driving licence, and it is not up up to the State to "prove they never gave you one" or "prove you lost it through being caught DUI" (!). You get out of the car, you leave it to be towed away to a police pound and if you cannot provide it, then pay a fine for driving without a licence. It is not up to the state to prove your guilt, but up to you to demonstrate you have the paperwork. Any problems with that?

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