Thursday, 1 November 2018

Viking Hacksilber Sold by Anonymous Dead Dad Heirs in Mayfair Raises Many Questions

TimeLine Auctions: LOT 0563: VIKING SILVER HACK (sic)  'HOARD' GROUP 9th-11th century AD 
A hoard of silver and ceramic items comprising: a chatelaine with pendants (ear-scoop, tweezers, hammer, pelta-shaped plaque, axe-head); a group of twenty-nine small fittings and fragments; seventeen belt fittings (buckles, clips, stiffeners) and bell-shaped studs; seventeen wire hair-rings; a group of small coins and fragments including dirhems and an English short-cross penny of Ethelred II converted to a pendant with suspension loop; thirteen larger dirhem coins; twenty-eight dress fittings with pendants and earrings; six penannular hoops, two annular and a knop finial; three twisted rod arm-rings, two with curved flange finial; fourteen mainly twisted rod bracelets and fragments; twenty-one large pieces of hack-silver and ingots; forty-eight smaller ingot fragments, bars and a looped wire; twenty ingots, mainly square- and D-section; a quantity of irregular molten silver lumps; a quantity of coarse ceramic fragments (the vessel in which the hoard was stored?). Silver: 2.1 kg, ceramics: 1 kg, chatelaine: 91mm overall (Chatelaine: 3 3/4"). [393 (330 silver, 63 ceramics), No Reserve]
Condition Fine condition. Provenance: From the family collection of a London gentleman; formed in the late 1940s-1950s; thence by descent.
Estimate GBP (£) 7,000 - 9,000
 Auction Venue: The May Fair Hotel London Stratton Street Mayfair London, W1J 8LT Viewing from noon Thursday 22nd Nov. 2018 Champagne Reception: 6pm - 9pm Friday 23rd Nov. 2018 10am 
No paperwork is mentioned upfront in the sales description. I was just wondering, is there any documentation of this Dead Dad Collection, like, just for example, a Treasure Trove inquest? If there is a modified Short Cross coin of Aethelraed II (978 -1016) in it, the hoard is hardly likely to be "ninth century". Where was this found? Has the ceramic been examined petrographically? Why is the only photo of the object in the sales offer so fuzzy and small that you cannot see the details of the individual objects the potential buyer is going to actually receive? Are there any objects that are specific for particular regions of Europe perhaps? What kind of a description is that?  Have the sellers documentation that this find was properly declared and moved from its place of origin before the Anonymous Dead Dad bought it?  If they do not, what steps have they taken to determine the circumstances of how these objects came on the market in the first place before selling it?

Objects 'surfaced' in late 1940s/1950s
just after Nazi Occupation of much of
 the area where such hoards are found in Europe. 
Why have TimeLine Auctions placed the word 'hoard' in inverted commas in the description? Do they have doubts that Anonymous Dead Dad was being honest in representing this group of objects as a single find? Do they have reason to doubt that when he bought it from somebody representing themself as a representative of the Derbyshire ditch-digger (say) who found it (say) in a field somewhere that he was not being cheated? Are these objects, that reportedly surfaced on the market in the Late 1940s, actually genuine ancient objects? What analyses support this claim if they've been above ground seven decades, who has examine them in that time? Or, by using those 'scare quotes', are Timeline hoping that if they do not outright admit it's a hoard and make an undocumented (?) claim that it was found a long time ago, that nobody will be taking any interest about the legality of it appearing on the British market (Treasure Act sections 1 and 4)?

If , however, they surfaced on the market in the late 1940s and are not a British find, what relationship do they have with the Nazi Occupation just a few years earlier of a large area of Europe in the previous decade, including a large area around the Baltic and North Seas where such hoards most commonly came from? How and when did these objects enter Britain, and via which countries? One might raise the concern, is this perhaps Nazi loot sold off to support a war-criminal in the post-War period? Was it stolen from a private Jewish collector's property in Holland (or Breslau) for example, or was it dug up when a killing squad got  group of condemned men to dig their own mass grave in a forest before shooting them all and the commanding officer walking off with the loot? What has been done to check that these are not WW2 conflict antiquities? Who did the Anonymous Dead Dad do business with anyway in the decade after the Second World War? Indeed, since the mention of the Anonymous Dead Dad is the only link in the collection history of these objects we are informed about by TimeLine, the buyer may justifiably be concerned to know where that person himself  spent the War and how the family made the money to be acquiring a 2.1 kg silver hoard in the times of austerity following the end of hostilities, how and from whom? If there are no answers, may one justifiably wonder why not? 

Still need to take great care to avoid
buying heirloom loot of Nazi art thieves
Why, given the timing of when these objects were (reportedly) acquired,  is nothing said allaying such concerns or the issue even mentioned in the sales description?  These are perfectly reasonable questions to ask about objects that allegedly just appeared from nowhere just after 1945, and when there is still a lot of interest in returning Nazi-looted artefacts and art to their rightful owners. Where were these objects before 1945 and why is the seller not particularly concerned to explicitly say? Potential buyers have every right to know the actual origin of this material being flogged off in Mayfair this month, don't they? Has the Treasure-watching British Museum done anything to find out whether all is as it seems in this transaction about to take place just down the road - and if they have, why does Timeline Auctions not say the find has been vetted by British authorities and declared kosher and clean? We wonder.
Hat tip: Thomas Kamphuis

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