Sunday, 21 November 2010

Advice for Buyers of Art or Artefacts


Palm Beach Daily News has some good advice for those "thinking of making an alternative investment in art or artefacts while prices are lower and [the US] economy [is] uncertain". It is "Be careful", be safe.

"U.S. federal agencies are cooperating — perhaps more so than ever — to reclaim artifacts that represent cultural heritage and to crack down on art fraud. Plus, more countries and ethnic groups are seeking to reclaim artifacts that represent their cultural heritage. [...] “We will continue to be vigilant about finding and prosecuting those who would rob a nation for personal gain,” vowed Alonzo R. Peña, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy director.

The FBI has gone so far as to dedicate 13 special agents to an Art Crime Team, supported by three special trial attorneys for prosecutions. It also recently started a National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of reported stolen art and cultural property. You can search this database by typing National Stolen Art File into the search engine at

The nonprofit agency Saving Antiquities for Everyone was created in 2003 to raise public awareness of the critical issue of preserving our endangered cultural and artistic heritage. The New York organization debuted following the ransacking of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

So what can you do to avoid perpetuating crimes involving art and artifacts — besides checking the FBI’s stolen art database? Familiarize yourself with what you can and can’t purchase: Visit Keep in mind that rules constantly change and are very complex.

Experts say that your best protection [as a consumer] may be to get a money-back guarantee from a merchant or dealer. Of course, you also need to check out the dealer you use. Contact the Better Business Bureau and If you encounter objects you suspect to have been stolen or illegally imported, contact your local FBI office or law enforcement.

SAFE, the nonprofit, encourages you to ask museums and dealerships their acquisition policies and procedures. If you collect antiquities, make sure the items you purchase have proper documentation and export permits if required. Be certain that your receipt for a valuable object states specifics — including the composition of an item and a history of its ownership.

Sacred burial, spiritual or funeral items may be legally protected. So may artifacts you’ve found on federal land or a reservation".

By Gail Liberman, 'When investing in artifacts, make sure you have legal rights', Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010.

Vignette West Palm Beach.


Jee said...

"Experts say that your best protection may be to get a money-back guarantee from a merchant or dealer."

Yes, it would be fair to say it is impossible to be an ethical trader without that.

But of course, such a guarantee wouldn't be meaningful and quite possibly insincere unless accompanied by a means for the purchaser to know when he's entitled to claim his money back. The only way that can happen is if he is informed of the name of the dealer's supplier so he can check it is ethically sourced for himself rather than just be assured by the dealer.

As a rule of thumb "I can't break my supplier's confidence" can be taken as meaning "there either is or could be a crook in my supply chain but I don't want you to be able to establish that!"

Anonymous said...

Your advice is admirable but a bit short of the mark. The proper federal agency to contact is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They are the agency who has done more than any other plus they have primary jurisdiction at U.S. ports of entry. And since this is a cross-border issue, they have the best tools in their arsenal.

The FBI database is not as complete as the Art Loss Register or the Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database, which is available to the public for free. Remember, looted archaeologicaal items are not be in anyone's database since their provenience was never established.

Paul Barford said...

I am not quite sure whether "James" (Profile Not Available)'s advice is aimed at me or the Palm Beach Daily News, or SAFE...

I just noted the news article.

How odd isn't it that the collectors stress so earnestly the HUGE amounts of stuff "legitimately" already in the USA but all the time when the subject comes up its those pesky "trans-border" issues that keep getting poked.

Nonetheless, the FBI is making a contribution to the struggle with art crime in the US. It was the FBI who seized the forged paintings Liberman mentions, the looted Mesopotamian pieces were seized by the FBI:

but I agree the stolen art database is a joke when it comes to archaeological artefacts (search for "coins" and see what I mean - 30 fuzzy photocopies of no use to man nor beast and highly amateurish descriptions).

The point about none of them being any good for picking out the freshly-dugups is why the article insists on collecting histories which demonstrate the object in question is not fresh out of the ground. This all comes down to responsible trading and responsible collecting - or should I say a question of business ethics?

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