Friday, 10 October 2008

Global Economy and the Antiquities Market

It is well-known that there is big money involved in the antiquities market. Antiquities (being - fakes aside - a finite and non-renewable resource) have often been seen as a good (sic) investment. The recent Sotheby's sale of the so-called Guennol "Lioness Demon" statuette is a thought- provoking example of this tendency which has probably got many people in some "source countries" for similar antiquities reaching for their spades.

The recent financial crises affecting some countries in the west (fortunately not the one in which I am writing this) has provoked a lot of discussion on collectors’ forums about current and future trends in the price of portable antiquities. Some people say prices will go up as they are a ‘sure fire investment’ in an unstable financial world. They foresee the values of the objects in their own collections rising. Other collectors disagree, they argue that as more people feel the financial pinch on their spare cash, there will be less demand and prices will therefore drop – and that includes the resale value of items in their own collections. Others predict that the market will become replete with material deriving from the liquidation of old collections in order to raised cash, others that anything out there which has investment value will be snapped up by rich buyers against which other collectors will be competing. This is an ongoing discussion and auction houses and dealers are sharing their observations, but the overall picture is rather confusing. We also have to consider that the market is a continuum between two extremes, high (Classical sculptures etc) and low (ancient and hammered coins, metal detected finds etc).

One thing is certain, whatever happens to the market, the digging up of new items to fill it will probably go on as long as somebody out there will buy them no-questions-asked.

How odd it is that collectors of antiquities claim they are collecting "only out of an interest in the past/ other cultures", but when it comes down to it, what they talk about is the money.

Photo: Mesopotamian Lioness Demon, provenance unknown, current location unknown, sold at Sotheby's recently for about enough money to run Britain's whole PAS for seven decades. Photo from: The Specullector Archive for the ‘young collectors’ Category, but presumably originally copyright of Sotheby's images.

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