Sunday, 19 June 2011

Anonymous Helmet Collector Stays Low

The story of the Crosby Garrett Helmet made international headlines writes Maev Kennedy, ('Shock and awe: Nijmegen helmet gives Carlisle museum a boost', The Guardian 14 June 2011):
Its fate exposed a gaping hole in Britain's protection for archaeological finds. If gold or silver it would have been declared treasure, the finder and landowner compensated, and museums entitled to acquire it. But the bronze was not treasure, and so the finder sent it to a Christie's auction last October, where its mesmeric beauty drove the price far beyond the top estimate of £300k. It was eventually bought by a still anonymous UK collector for £2.3m. Many of the country's most senior archaeologists wrote demanding a review of the treasure law, which the government has promised but still not implemented.
Back at the beginning of October soon after the sale, somebody calling themself was writing comfortingly on the BBC website:
As someone who knows who the buyer is, and is familiar with their views on Artefacts such as these, I am fairly sure they will choose to display it. Things like this take time to organise, people just have to be patient.*
In actual fact, the helmet itself is now completely untraceable. The collector who bought remains anonymous and it is refusing to answer any correspondence about it:
"I have written repeatedly through the auction house requesting if not a loan, at least to be able to take measurements so we could create a replica, but we have heard nothing. We still have absolutely no idea who bought it," Hilary Wade, museum director, said sadly. "We would really love them to get in touch."
The History Blog is blunter:
they wrote asking if they could at least take some measurements so they could create a replica to display in the new Roman gallery. No answer. Rat fink.
Well, of course if Britain's crazy system of liaison with artefact hunters really was "working" and producing any useful effects, the measurements (and much more) would already be in the public domain.

* Maria14's further comments in that thread are also of interest, typical collector (Good Home/Antiquarian Roots) arguments :
As it was a struggle for Tullie house museum to raise £200,000 I think it's probably a good thing that the artefact is going to be owned by someone who has the means to ensure it is correctly preserved and maintained, and isn't reliant on hand-outs. Remember, museums started out as private collections that were opened to the public by the owners.

1 comment:

Mo said...

I had noticed the posts by Maria 14 on the BBC site and found them very patronising. Do you think that she really knows who the buyer is? People write things under an avatar that they would never write under their own name. It could be just bull or a wind up.

I have great difficulty in understanding why anyone would wish to own this helmet. It has achaeological and historic value and would have attracted many tourists to Cumbria. However as a "decorative object" it just would not do it for me.

As a conversation piece, well once you have talked about it thats it. I always think that when people buy items for conversation pieces that they are stuck for something to say. It's a bit like "coffee table books" that are just for show.

You can't wear it (well you could try but it would fall to pieces and you would look pretty silly).

It has absolutely no utility.

So for me as a possession it fails on all levels. I can only conclude that the buyer bought it just because they could.

There is another reason for items to be kept in the public domain.

Perhaps the Staffordshire Hoard is a better example. Designers use artifacts etc. from museums as inspiration for their work.

Archibald Knox used Celtic designs in his work. David Andersen's Saga Series was based on Viking objects in Oslo Museum.

The aesthetics of these items are important to future designers and this will be a great loss if these artefacts are hidden away in private collections.

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