Friday 30 April 2010

Where's the rest?

In his post Photographic Archives and Antiquities on Looting Matters, David Gill discusses investigation of the archives of just a few dealers caught with illegally obtained artefacts on their hands. These include the 4000 or so infamous photos obtained in the September 1995 raid on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici. These were presumably used by the dealer to advertise what he had on offer to interested buyers.
These images, some Polaroids, have been used by the Italian authorities to identify objects that have passed into public and private collections. By my estimate less than 1% of the items identified in the photographs have been returned to Italy.

So where are the rest? What kind of a business is it that has no records of the transactions beyond a pile of photogrraphs that might or might not have passed through the owners hands at one time or another?

I was reminded of a post on Moneta-L where a coin dealer is describing what he saw at the Chicago Coin Fair last week. While most of it concentrated on the aspects of the "shape of the market" like he was discussing the potato and wheat market in Wisconsin, there was one remark which gave pause for thought:
What I found to be very noticeable was a lack of Fresh hoards on the market. Thinking back, I don't recall seeing any significant new large groups of coins, and most of the smaller groups were remainders from groups that have been around for several years. The one exception would be a group of Alexandrian 1st and 2nd century tetradrachms, but even those have been around since at least late last year.
There are two points here, the casual mention of "fresh hoards" rather belies the oft-repeated (Petrarch collected coins) mantra that the majority of the coins on the market come from the splitting of old collections. Here we see that in previous years US coin fairs like this are the medium by which the coins from "fresh hoards" taken from "source countries" are introduced on the market. Secondly how can coin dealers say that they cannot provide provenances for the coins they sell because they never know where they come from? Here we have a case which shows this is a lie. The dealers selling and those buying coins from those "fresh hoards" know they were found in a group in a particular place. The provenance is attainable in thse cases. How many of the individual coins from that "group of Alexandrian 1st and 2nd century tetradrachms" are now identifiable as such scattered in ephemeral personal collections from sea to shining sea in the USA?

What is clear is that there are indeed cases where the provenance or part at least of the "collecting history" of individual objects could be traceable - the fact that isnot is because dealers do not care enough about this to make that information availble. Or perhaps there are "good reasons" (sic) to hide the information where an object actually come from. The way to curb the market for illegally obtained artefacts is for collectors to interest themselves in the hygeine of their acquisitions and make it clear to dealers that fudging the issue of the origins of the finds they offer no longer has a place in today's ethical and responsible antiquities market.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"because dealers do not care enough about this to make that information availble."

I fear that logic suggests worse. If it's a fresh dugup then SOMEONE in the supply chain knows exactly where it came from and if the location has become "lost" in transition it wasn't an accident it was deliberate. Everyone in the supply chain must therefore know that fresh + no provenance = dubious (to say the least).

Let us put the blame squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of any dealer who sells a fresh dug up without precise location details and any collector that buys it from him.

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