Monday 9 January 2017

An Egyptologist as a Collector [Updated]

Hans Nielsen in Denmark has a 'Royal ushabti fragment' for sale (Thu Jan 5, 2017 4:08 pm) .
a mount makes all the difference
Hello to You all [emoticon] It is with sadness that I am selling my royal ushabti fragment of Seti I. Ushabti head fragment in bright blue glazed faience with a bluish core and black painted details including a striated wig. Identified as part of an ushabti belonging to pharaoh Seti I of the 19th Dynasty. (Confirmed by Peter Clayton due to the core and distinctive decoration). Right half of head, face and right shoulder missing along with the lower portion of the figure. Seti I’s ushabtis have been found in fragmentary condition throughout the Valley of the Kings and beyond. A rare opportunity. H: 4,5 cm. A confirmation email from Mr Peter Clayton will follow the ushabti. Provenance: was earlier owned by Swedish egyptologist Geoffrey Metz. I am selling it for highest offer. However, if I think that the offer is not good enough I will keep it or attempt to sell it elsewhere.[...]
As a collecting history 'was earlier owned by Swedish egyptologist Geoffrey Metz' is no collecting history at all. We may presume that Dr Metz was the one who sold the fragment which is how it got into the Danish collector's hands (directly or through an intermediary?) but first of all how did the Egyptologist (in fact  curator of the Victoriamuseet för egyptiska fornsaker) get his hands on a fragment of a royal shabti, and how did it leave Egypt? Secondly, why is an egyptologist engaging in the trade of ancient Egyptian artefacts? If Dr Metz had a fragment in his hands (maybe bought it at a car boot sale where the seller had no idea what it was), and there is no evidence the object left Egypt legally, surely his obligation is to hand it over to the Egyptians. No? Why is the object on the open market when the seller can offer no more assurance of legal origins than 'was once owned by...'?

Unfortunately, it gets worse. On contacting Mr  Nielsen, who was very forthcoming (thank you, rare in a collector), we find out that the item in question was bought in March 2016 from an auction house in Roskilde as part of a job lot of faïence tat. But what is interesting is the description of the sale of which the item formed a part:
Samlingen er opbygget gennem de seneste 40 år af en professionel egyptolog. Auktionen er den største af sin art i Skandinavien med mere end 1.200 genstande, og indeholder mange typer oldsager, som f.eks. amuletter, Uschabti-figurer, et mumificeret katte-hoved og mange andre spektakulære effekter. [Mr Google makes it clearer: about the collection The collection is built up over the past 40 years by a qualified Egyptologist. The auction is the largest of its kind in Scandinavia with more than 1,200 items and includes many types of antiquities such. amulets, Uschabti characters, a mummified cat head and many other spectacular effects].
 The collection appears to have been sold anonymously, but we now have a name. The auction catalogue states that the former owner bought the object at 'Tetragon, London 1992 ' - that's a dealer in 'Inexpensive, well provenanced Egyptian and Classical antiquities, including ancient coins', Saturdays only 9am–4pm  Harris’s Arcade, 161 Portobello Road. If the object was bought 'well provenced' (ie with a full collecting history), it is not any longer, and it seems the missing link was the Egyptologist.

It gets murkier and murkier. I contacted the museum where this 'qualified Egyptologist' was working, and this is the reply I received from Dr Marika Hedin (Museum Director of the Gustavianum University Museum of Uppsala), Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 3:58 PM
Thank you for your enquiry. Goeffrey Metz, who is a student and does not hold a PhD, is no longer employed by us and was in fact on permanent leave 2012-2014, after which his contract was terminated. Our curators are of course not allowed to deal in antiquities, bit I cannot answer for policies, or lack thereof, that were in place before I took charge of this museum, in late 2013.
This leaves rather unclear just what kind of qualifications this 'egyptologist' actually has - this being the only claim the present seller had on which to base his 'confidence' the object is as legitimate as he says. Also if the owner of the collection was an undergraduate student, how is it possible that the collection he acquired was built up over '40 years' according to the auction house? Something is very odd about this whole thing.

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