Thursday 11 March 2010

Collectors' Activists Mum About Mummy Case

A 3,000-year-old Egyptian coffin was seized at a U.S. airport and was returned to Egypt on Wednesday but US collectors' rights activists are notably silent about it. Not a peep on their blogs or discussion lists.

Basically what happened was that Customs officials in Miami had asked the importer of the antiquity, a Spanish gallery owner, to prove ownership when it arrived at the airport from Barcelona in October 2008, the object was seized when he was unable to. Probably 99.9% of collectors would be unable to do so either if they were challenged, because they just do not care. Most habitually do not look at the seller's ability to prove legal origins at the time of buying, so are unable to provide those who obtain the articles from them with verifiable information on this. No questions are asked. But if we did start asking questions, as in the case of this sarcophagus, then a lot of people are going to end up with some expensive geegaws on their hands that they cannot get rid of. This is why the supporters of the maintenance of a no-questions-asked market in antiquities are keeping very, very quiet about this case (pun not intended), hoping its implications will not occur to the average collector who we imagine sitting enthralled at the dealers' feet soaking in every golden word of absolute wisdom they utter about the "impossibility" of running the trade in any other way.

The Barcelona dealer at the core of the case decided not to contest the seizure in court, he therefore decided not to assert the "rights" of antiquity traders to do as they please with artefacts like this. So he took exactly the opposite path from the ACCG collectors' rights activists in their Baltimore illegal coin import stunt. It would be interesting to know whether this decision (damaging finacially as well as the seller's reputation) was taken because the seller was certain not only that they would lose, but also the case would set a precedent like the McClain case . Or perhaps the international antiquities business is in such decline that the dealer could not afford to fight in court for their "rights" to trade like this. Maybe the ACCG should set up a fund to help out fellow antiquity dealers in moments like this. After all, they are all in this together.

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