Monday, 16 January 2017

To an Antiquities Seller who thinks I "have to" change my Style

A Danish collector objects to my tone when I provided him with copies of my correspondence with about a former 'owner' of an artefact he'd carelessly bought. Readers will remmember that it was the fact that this previous owner was an Egyptologist that convinced him that the objct "must be" licit despite the lack of any paperwork. here's my reply:

> I do not appreciate your sarcastic way of communicating to me. If we shall have some kind of communication you have to change your style. <
Since the 1970 Convention, it has been very clear to everyone [Denmark since March 2003] what is and what is not a licit artefact both to sell and to buy, and that relies on documentation. Any collector who chooses to ignore that and replace that with other arguments really should not be surprised to receive criticism.  I provided you with information you clearly had not bothered to obtain yourself. I do not feel that it is I who should be criticised here. I haqve not allowed myself to become the current owner of this controversial item.

You indicate that your “due diligence” in buying it (and the others) went no further than your “feelings” ( You wrote:
“I can hardly believe that an intelligent person like Geoffrey Metz has obtained anything illegally in his collection bearing in mind he is an egyptologist, and that he sells his collection it in a public auction”. 

You can “believe” what you like, but that is a subjective judgement, not objective documentation. I know nothing about the man’s “intelligence”, we know he bought that shabti from Portabello Road (a London street market - ) and the Museum he worked briefly for now refuses to vouch for him, and since they have been made aware of his involvement in this sale has now removed his name from their website.

Nobody MADE you buy this object, you yourself took the risk of buying an artefact taken from the Valley of Kings which can only be traced (and that, by hearsay) to a London street market in 1992 (well after Egypt’s antiquities laws of 1983). The best you can do to support your belief that you did not buy a looted and smuggled artefact is to say it was “bought from an Egyptologist”. It could have been bought from the chief of Egyptian tourist police and still be an illicit artefact. 

And you propose selling it on to somebody else and can offer them no other assurance or documentation other than that – passing the problem onto them. But as collectors become more responsible and the standards they set more rigorous, at some stage somebody is going to be left with an unsaleable paperless artefact on their hands. Pray that it is not you.

Paul Barford
Vignette: Set animal.


RobertoDevereux said...

Dear Paul,

I'm reading your blog very often and I found it usually quite interesting. But I think you are totally wrong in your approach despite the ‚danish collector’.
Danmark accepted the Unesco Convention in 2003. So every material which was in the country before this date (‚1992’) is not ‚illicit’ according to the danish law.

The tomb of Sethi I was allready discovered 1817 by Belzoni and the shabtis of this king are now in museums, the art market and in private collections since 200 years. I find it very ideological to claim, that such an object was possible looted after 1983, the year egypt stopped his own sale of antiquities. The egyptian goverment sold antiquities in an industrial dimension until 1983. The egyptian museum in Cairo had a saleroom, where they regulary sold the excavated pieces, which were not interesting for the museum. P. Piacentini (University of Milano) published a very interesting articles about the antiquity sale in egypt: „The antiquities path: from the Sale Room of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, through dealers, to private and public collections. A work in progress“.
You can not sale millions of pieces over a period of 100 years (Egypt had 250 certified dealers, which where allowed to sell antiquities) and than claim later that a certain piece might be looted. If egypt would have had a very strikt antiquity law since for example 1850, such claim would be possible perhaps, but not, if a nation sold such pieces a very long time. The logical consequence of this fact is that of course egypt has to show that a certain object is a looted one.

I’m very interested in your opinion!

Best wishes from germany,


Paul Barford said...

Dear Heiko/Robert...
The object was bought by a Swedish collector, but in London. The UK accepted the 1970 UNESCO Convention 01/08/2002 - so you want to tell me that an object which is illicit (according to Art 3 of that Convention) is magically 'made licit' by taking it to another country? Eh? If a car is stolen in Hamberg but sold without paperwork in a dodgy used car lot in Manchester it is any the less a stolen car?

The date of Belzoni opening the tomb is irrelevant, how do you know this shabti came FROM the tomb, and was not a fragment picked up and pocketed from the rubble outside in the Valley where it was dumped in the 21st dynasty tomb-clearance? This is the point, to assess the licitness of this object, we need to know the collecting history. Without it, the licitness can neither be shown nor assumed.

The Egyptian Museum saleroom is a well-known cop-out for modern collectors. Thanks for the P. Piacentini reference.

No, I think the onus on proof is on the dealer who sells stuff. In order to sell an object as licit, he has first to ascertain that it IS. The prood of that should be passed on to the buyer. The buyer should demand to see it before handing over the money. Because if he does not, he's going to end up like the Danish collector, an object on his hands that he cannot sell to any careful buyer. As I say, the definity=tion of the standards by which we judge licitness has been in black and white on paper since 1970. If dealers and collectors have spent nearly fifty years ignoring it, and not bothering to document it for the pieces that pass through their grubby hands, then that is their lookout, not mine.

'Licit' is licit. An object for sale can only be licit if it can be shown to be licit. That goes for used cars, dead pigs, and protected species. And antiquities cannot be treated as an exception just because 'past collectors could not be bothered'.

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