Tuesday 23 February 2021

On What is "Reputation" Based, if not by Proper Due Diligence?

Some academic institutions seem to have problems holding onto what's in their teaching and research collections. Yesterday we were discussing Oxford University's custodianship of Egyptian artefacts, now it's Yale. Apparently someone has been selling coins from the Dura-Europos collection at the Yale Museum under the table.

"We believe that these coins are the property of Yale University". They were the property of Syria.    Note the tiny little point that CNG are skating around... how they determined that the person supplying the coins on offer actually had title to sell, that the coins in their auction had been legally sourced. Note the withdrew the whole auction, suggesting that these six coins were not the only ones for which cast-iron documentation of licitness had been supplied at the time the coins were accepted by this "reputable firm" for sale. As professor Erin Thompson observed:
What’s notable here is that the coins pulled from the auction were identifiable as coming from Yale’s collections. So whoever sold them from Yale was not especially covert about it - they trusted that no one would pay enough attention to catch them.
i.e., nobody in the antiquities trade and antiquities collecting worlds really gives a tinker's. 

hat tip, Dorothy King mentioned this yesterday.


Unknown said...

These coins were sold at public auction in February of 2020. They came to us from the successful bidder in this auction. The first thing I did was contact Yale to learn their history. Yale confirmed that the curators sold coins from their collections at the time to fund other purchases. The entire sale consisted of coins that once resided in the Yale collections. We all knew this (including Yale). It was not until the sale "went live" that discussions began about the fact Yale would now like to have the coins back. It was a very cordial discussion and we agreed to work with them, and our consignors, to see that they did get them back, sold legitimately or not. And, in fact, no one knows as the records are incomplete from the time period in question. So yes, this "reputable firm" did exactly as it was supposed to do.

Paul Barford said...

"Unknown" and "we". Any chance you could indicate who you are - like signing you anonymous posts? If you have a "reputation", there's no need to hide.

Unknown said...

I am Mike Gasvoda, owner of Classical Numismatic Group. I didn't realize my post would have come from "unknown".

Paul Barford said...

Welcome to the blog. You have to set it up to be publicly visible, if it's not it appears as just an anonymous comment, and in general, I disallow anonymous comments as there is too much anonymity in the Internet. I write under my own name here.

Paul Barford said...

So basically the consigner had no detailed documentation of what specifically had been acquired and how from which source, nor did you setting up the auction require it from them when agreeing to handle this sale? And Yale itself had not proper documentation of transactions involving ancient artefacts in their care? When did you find that out?

I think this illustrates exactly what I am talking about. These artefacts (archaeological evidence until somebody ripped them out of the ground to put on the antiquities market) are all the time being sold like potatoes. Even by "reputable firms" - and that raises the question of how that reputation is earned. Maybe the problem is that the no-questions-asked buying and selling model is in itself disreputable when dealing with such a class of material. Like human organs.

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