Sunday 13 April 2014

Special Pleading about the Antiquities Trade from James Ede

James Ede of Charles Ede Limited, London ('In Defence of the Antiquities Trade' Apollo Magazine Apr 11, 2014) responds to Christos Tsirogiannis’ post of 2 April about questionable antiquities appearing in the London salerooms. He starts off badly, he says he thinks the Becchina and Medici archives should be more generally available, and the "fault" for apparently dodgy antiquities appearing on the market is not that of the dealers who buy stuff that they cannot later demonstrate is of licit origins, but those who keep them from checking whether there is a need to because it figures on the flag-up-attention archives. As usual, it's "somebody else's fault" (and "two wrongs make a right" you see?). Dealers cannot take responsibility for their own actions. Ede says:
"Tsirogiannis does not mention the intense efforts made in the last 25 years by the auction houses, the trade and in particular the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, to stop illicit material coming on to the market. The latter has the most stringent Code of Ethics and due diligence requirements of any market organisation. On a number of occasions, those who failed to meet the standard were invited to give up their membership. We in the trade would be absolutely delighted if all antiquities had documentary provenance but the reality is that enormous numbers of objects without documentation have come on to the market in the last few hundred years, and they have every right to be in free circulation". 
Well, no they do not. Not at all on a market when there are known to be others (equally without documentation) of illicit origins and resulting from the commercial destruction of the archaeological heritage and smuggling, potentially by organized criminal groups. Why is that so difficult for a reputable antiquities dealer to understand?

If the sellers cannot prove licit origins of dugup antiquities, because in the period after the 1970 convention, they were careless to have bought something which has no documentation, then how can a buyer possibly do the due diligence required to verify that they are buying licit objects? No documents, no due diligence, no DD, no purchase by reputable dealer. Simple. What "reputation" should a dealer aspire to? As a dealer who sells all manner of stuff which he has not verified as of legitimate (licit) origin?  Or as a dealer who has verified, and can demonstrate licit origin of everything he handles? as a dealer willing to handle unverified material to keep the profits coming, or a dealer who places total propriety over profit?

It seems to be escaping everyone's notice that the licitness of dugup antiquities as a whole does not rely on whether they do or do not appear in the Becchina and Medici archives. This is an irrelevance, though when they do appear in the archive, it is a pointer that we really do need to know more about its collecting history, and this is where the no-questions-asked buying and selling of antiquities falls down. .

Mr Ede adds
The best way to fight the illicit traffic is to support and encourage the legitimate trade, not constantly denigrate it. 
Nobody is denigrating a trade in demonstrably licitly-obtained dugup antiquities, what is under criticism are the people (like Mr Ede himself) who insist that artefacts somehow "surfacing" (from "underground") on the market now with only the vaguest of unsubstantiated and stereotypical alleged "collecting should somehow be accepted as "licit by default" whingeing that some past owners were culpably careless with documenting the licit origins of the item.  A truly reputable dealer who cares about promoting, protecting and being part of the legitimate trade would have nothing to do with it. On what else would the use of the adjective "legitimate" depend?

Here's my post on the philosophy of the  IADAA (see also here), their rather patronising and unhelpful position over Egyptian looting, they supported the ACCG over their Baltimore Illegal Coin Import stunt, and this is my discussion of their ineffectual facadist so-called Code of Ethics.

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

TWJ Apr 13, 2014 at 3:00 am
"I am astounded every time I see situations where one of the most basic tenets of American law – a presumption of innocence until guilt is proven – is so blatantly ignored".

American law? But the dispute here is about LONDON (that's London in the UK) auction houses and a Cambridge (that's Cambridge in the UK) scholar's challenge to them, and Jamie Ede of Ede's in London (that's London in the UK) to defend them.

Somehow TWJ seems a bit lost about which country he's writing about. America does not run the world.

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