Monday, 9 February 2009

'Wennebpawepwaoetdjeseroeiamet' is going back - but where?

A few days ago I posted here the sad story about what seems to be a textbook example of the relationship between no-questions-asked collection of unprovenanced antiquities and what appears from the available (necessarily anecdotal) information gathered to be a probable case of recent looting. As a result of the contradictions in the stories about where these items come becoming clearer, Dr Bron Lipkin one of the dealers mentioned on this blog posted the following this evening on the AncientArtifacts Forum (quoted with permission):

As we now know that more of these shabtis have turned up on the market and with different apparent provenances I think it has to be admitted that the provenance issue has become very blurred indeed! I have emailed Cedric and asked him to return the few he bought from me. I have removed the other four I had on my website and will return them and those that Cedric has, from whence they came. Perhaps each dealer in the chain will do likewise. Certainly I know that the dealer from whom I obtained these will do as I do, as the information he had does not appear to be as reliable as we would want it to be. I would say very firmly to all collectors, that the background of these little shabtis is now so uncertain that they should NOT buy them. There is simply not enough information now to be able to say that they are not recent finds! I'm sorry that my information has turned out to not be as solid as I initially thought.I had not mentioned a specific provenance when I previously showed the four on my website as it was not that I could name a specific collection. I was relying on the good faith and judgment of another dealer whose previous provenance information was very reliable, to the extent of being able to double check some of it. By the way Cedric had posted that I had said that I knew where hundreds were. I didn't and don't. I was told by another dealer that quite a few more were available elsewhere a few months ago [...].

Several points, first of all it is very gratifying to see such prompt action to attempt to untangle to some extent the penetration of these items onto part of the market while their origin is so unclear and suspicious . In addition, a warning has been issued by one of the dealers in the chain to collectors to heed or disregard as they see fit. Dr Lipkin expresses his belief that his wholesaler too was duped. We note however that we still have no name for the UK dealer which apparently - despite the denials in hindsight - had a substantial number of them.

Now dealers have declared that they will be returning these items to their original suppliers, it will be interesting to see where these shabtis turn up in future, since the starting point of that new chain will presumably indicate the point in the previous chain of ownership at which a buyer knew that what he was aiming to sell was of dubious origin and thus he is unable to return them to his supplier. None of us are naive enough to imagine that these objects will end up back in the hands of the original supplier in Egypt, or that at some stage the ethics of the antiquities trade will prompt any of the gentlemen in this sorry chain to alert the Egyptian Antiquities Service so they can investigate. Nevertheless it is an indication that dealers can and should take responsibility for any failure in diligence to establish whether items have a secure provence which shows they do not derive from recent looting and illegal export.

I should mention that I have also received a message from Rolf Kiaer who has also withdrawn his Wenneb shabti from sale and is considering returning it to the vendor (who turns out to be an "antiques dealer in Copenhagen") as "its not in my interest to have legit stock contaminated with recent plunder!" Quite. It's in nobody's interest in fact that any antiquities dealer should have "recent plunder" in their stocks. [Dr Lipkin's link still works at the moment, but he assures me this is a temporary web design problem and the objects are now no longer on sale]

To come back to the main point of my original post, the lack of immediate enthusiastic praise on the forums of the gesture of these two dealers withdrawing these items from sale reinforces what I was saying about the current prevalence of a could-not-care-less attitudes among collectors. I get the feeling that many of them in fact suspect that if the flow of recently looted and recently smuggled artefacts to the market was substantially reduced by this kind of responsible behaviour by dealers, there would in fact be very little for them to actually buy and collect. This is at odds with their unproven claims that all the currently unprovenanced items on it are of legitimate provenance because "Petrarch collected coins" and other such arguments. We need more transparency about where the archaeological artefacts in the market today are coming from and where they are going.


Unknown said...

As of 15th April2013 the wenneb shabti at Heliosgallery is still listed for sale.

Paul Barford said...

I do no see one currently there, can you supply a link?

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