Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Defending a No-Questions-Asked Industry


  There is a website attempting to gain signatures (target 1000) on a public "petition" created by some "Very Concerned Collectors" (sic) addressed to "Any agency which could take up the matter and remedy this problem" (sic!) about a New York dealer who sells antiquities online. There's a whole lot of fluff about it on the collectors' forums and I'm not going to link to it here - but the reader can find it easily I am sure. Neither am I going to mention the dealer by name here (ditto). These people accuse said dealer of selling a large proportion of fake artefacts, with a few probably genuine ones thrown in for good measure. They say 95% of the things he sells from his Manhattan store (though much of his trade seems to be done online through three separate outlets - listed in the petition) are fakes, tourist souvenir type fakes in particular. The dealer has been in business over 30 years, and his items cost between $50 and $90,000. This dealer, if the authenticity of an artefact he has sold is challenged, will immediately return the money, no questions asked. The petitioners label their site "a matter of great concern, longstanding art fraud" though as far as I can see, many of the products offered by this particular dealer are far from being "art". The petitioners assert:
We speak for a large number of collectors who are very concerned about this. What do you think about this? What should be done? We feel that this matter should be taken up by the relevant authorities. Please leave a comment in the box when you sign. Thank you!
So far on the second day of the petition, there are about sixty signatures. Number one (Mar 05, 12:12) was: Mr. Carlos Regueira, FL (RIVAL DEALER - Minerva Ancient Art), followed by (those who admit to buying from this dealer in the past are indicated with an asterisk):

Mr. james brenchley, United Kingdom
M. nicolas chiriacescu, Switzerland
Mr. Edward Shapiro, NJ *
Mr. Timothy Ross, Colombia
Mr. Frank Boehmer, Germany
Dr. Joel Hurwitz, MA
Ms. Dana McCall, NC 
Rick Madge, ON  *
Tim Haines, United Kingdom  (RIVAL DEALER)
Ms. Robyn Burr, WA 
Mrs. Diana Towler, CA  *
Ms. Pee Moran, United Kingdom 
Name not displayed, Belgium
Dr. Gary Todd, China
Lev Venislavski, Israel
Noel Billiet, Belgium  (RIVAL DEALER -  nb-numismatics)
Paul Shapiro, NJ
Dr. Irwin Tanenbaum, NY (Rabbi)
Mr. Jack Forbes, ON
John Erbland, Alameda CA
Dr. Bron Lipkin, United Kingdom (RIVAL DEALER)
Michael Rogal, Conroe, TX
Name not displayed, Cyprus
Julian Fass, Germany
Mr. Konstantin Trubin, Russian Federation
Mr. Graham Rogers, Hong Kong
Mrs. Pam Boland, GA
Name not displayed, CT
Ms. Emma Visser, Netherlands *
Mr. M S, NY *
Mr. david yingling, MD
Ms. Laura Saxon, FL
Dr. Kerry Drew, CA (RIVAL DEALER)
Mr. Kevin Groenendijk, Netherlands
Dr. Richard Burgess, ON
Mr. Darren Gold, FL
Joseph Jerkins, CA
Robert Dodge, CO (RIVAL DEALER)
Bradley Keyser Jnr, UT
Robert Pearson, CO
Jeroen Eekhout, Netherlands  *
Dr. Peter Meloncelli, AB
Mr. Nils Anders Lunde, Norway
Gabriel Vandervort, CA (RIVAL DEALER)
Emily Cunningham, RI
Mr. Pekka Erelt, Estonia 
Mr. David Tattersall, United Kingdom
Mr. Steve Stevens, United Kingdom
Mr. Petri Pitkä, Finland
Ms. Rhonda Yearwood, ON
Mr. Robert Brenchley, United Kingdom
Rod Rogers, NY
Mr. Lee Stevenson, Sweden
Doug Hill, MIMr. John Rieske, OH
moheb salem, EgyptMs. Heather Helbig, VI

So only six of these people (mostly Americans) had actually bought something from, and then felt cheated by this dealer (note also an interesting number of people from the Low Countries signing - why?). Quite why the others are concerned is less clear. Why are these people signing their names under this petition? One wonders if they are not all no-questions-asked artefact collectors. From their comments it seems many of them are unaware this is a petition and to whom it addressed, others make clear that they are unlikely to have been fooled by any of the products sold. I fail to see where this is "fraud" if one collector says in his comments: 
I'm (sic) a serious collector of Greek and Egyptian antiquities for over 15 years, and I can tell with certainty that his his artifacts are not genuine.
Caveat emptor. Perhaps the buyer sees what he wants to see. Surely the idea when buying art is not look at the money (or 'investment') but "buy what you like, buy what you are comfortable with". (and all antiquity collecting forums say "buy the book first"). Caveat emptor.

Perhaps the clue to this conundrum is the number (six so far) of dealers signing. As one of them,  Edgar Owen, NJ, notes in his comment:
I agree there needs to be a full investigation by the press and relevant law enforcement agencies. Large scale sale of fakes as genuine antiquities harms the business of all legitimate dealers.
Really? How? You see, these dealers calling themselves "legitimate" do not gain that "reputation" by the way they sell their items (with provenance details, collecting histories export licence details etc etc up-front). That's because (that's why) they rarely offer such information, neither upfront or at all. They gain their reputation by their reputation. So the NY dealer who is the subject of this hate-attack has a different 'reputation' in the antiquity collecting world. So, my question is, if the "reputation" of one dealer is enough to absolve him from ever having to demonstrate why one should "trust him", why should the anti-reputation of the other not be enough to protect the market? One's reputation is (allegedly - that's what these clowns say) enough to protect the market against being infiltrated with looted and smuggled goods, while the other's anti-reputation is not enough to keep the fakes off the market? Can somebody explain the difference? The logic seems to be entirely lacking here.

Also lacking in logic is the whole idea of addressing a vaguely-written  "petition" to "to whomsoever this may concern" as a means of fighting what is stated to be fraud. If somebody has been the victim of fraud, there surely is in the United States of America a way for the victim to get law enforcement agencies to investigate, put a stop to the scam and if necessary prosecute. Where is the problem? If on the other hand somebody has reported him over the past thirty years, then obviously the business has been investigated and no crime was found to have been committed (so basically the way all antiquity dealers in the USA want to be treated/seen). Perhaps the real issue is that the guy has good lawyers and in fact - despite what these collectors might think - technically operating within US law? He offers after all what are only "opinions" on the authenticity of objects bought from other suppliers, and it is his opinion ranged against the opinion of others that the artefacts are not genuine that a law enforcement agency would have to bring charges over. What would be on the charge sheet "having the wrong opinion"? How to prove culpability in the no-questions-asked antiquities trade?

It is not clear what these "Very Concerned Collectors" actually want done. One conspiracy-theory dealer is on record as saying that the US gubn'mint is deliberately ignoring what he sees as criminal activity in order to weaken the antiquities market. Another petitioner (Keyser Jnr,) vindictively wants to see the man on the street "If he suddenly had to refund money to everyone who bought a fake with a certificate of authenticity he would go bust overnight". Another (initials M.S.) writes: "I hope he is forced one day to open his books and provide refunds to all customers!" and dealers who buy and sell smuggled artefacts no-questions-asked?

Anyway, anything that weakens buyers' confidence in the no-questions-asked manner of buying antiquities is to be welcomed. If the NY dealer had to have proper answers to the question"where exactly has this come from and can you show where it was through the first few thousand years of its existence?" he would have little chance of palming off cheap and nasty fakes on unsuspecting buyers. If dealers in all dugups had to have proper answers to these questions, selling freshly-surfaced looted material as "legitimate" would be made much, much more difficulty. THAT is why these dealers want the market to be cleared of fake sellers as they create an atmosphere when 'a-nod's-as-good-as-a-wink-trust' between buyer and seller is not going to be enough to attain a sale.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
For later posts on this topic, see "Dugup Antiquities, Defining "Criminal Activity"..." and the one about collectors' response to the post below: "Erant Vexati, et Iacentes Sicut Oves non Habentes Pastorem".

UPDATE 13 March 2013:
It seems some antiquities dealers (duh) are having problems "following the link to the petition" in the above post. The rest of us can see that the link is not intended to go to the petition, but the identity of the people who started it, these alleged "concerned collectors" (who is in fact a dealer). It is not my intention to give this document free publicity, if rival US dealers want to get more than 69 (as it is today) signatures on this malicious petition libelling and hounding this fellow, they can do their own work.The rest of us can only look on with bemusement.


Paul Barford said...

I am editing out the name of this one:

"George Tsatsos [] has left a new comment on your post "Defending a No-Questions-Asked Industry":

Dear Sir,
Although you mean well by trying to keep the playing field level, [name of hounded NY dealer] is not honest. I myself have purchased artifacts from collectors-who purchased from [name of hounded NY Dealer]. In ALL cases-the items were fake. They were good fakes-not discernible from regular photographs.
The people whom I purchased from were cheated-even if they received their money back later.

Remember [the Hounded NY Dealer] returns only some items-those discovered-thus maintaining a dishonest profit.

Are you advocating the dilution of market that already has fakes with even more fakes? As far as "fresh pieces"-they are still real & not fakes-so I don't see your point."

Paul Barford said...

I see a lot of people as less than honest in the antiquities trade, that includes those who are deceiving themselves.

What, actually is the difference between "real" and "fake" in this business, where an "it is what I say it is" approach dominates?

I'd far rather see collectors go after those who sell dodgy dugups which may be looted and/or smuggled than those who sell comic-looking items as real antiquities.

I think we'd all very much like to see photos of the objects you say were bought from this gentleman which were "good fakes". Can you put them online with a detailed description of how you determined them to be fakes?

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