Friday 23 April 2021

Query about Museum Engagement with Item from Hanson's Artefact Sale 25th February 2021


Sent to Executive Director of Derby Museums, Friday 23rd April 2021 16:33

Do: 'TonyB [....].org'
Query about Museum engagement with item from Hanson's Artefact sale 25th February 2021

Dear Mr Butler,

I was not sure which member of your staff would be best to approach with this query, I hope you can pass this on to whoever deals with such matters. [I have already been in touch with the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (DENO)]

I am a researcher based in Warsaw, Poland investigating the archaeological and conservation implications of artefact hunting and the antiquities trade and the entanglements between the interests of various stakeholders in the archaeological heritage as related to its unsustainable exploitation merely as a source of  collectables. As part of this research, and in connection with a text that I am currently writing on the antiquities trade in Europe, I came across a case in which your museum was involved that seems to embody some of the problems I am writing about concerning the process of the commercialisation of archaeological artefacts.

The case involves a Late Iron Age so-called “harness-brooch” (mount) recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme unit based in your museum under the number  DENO 2BAD-49 []. There are grounds for questioning a number of aspects of this sale and this it was suggested threatened to lower the interest of potential clients and put them off bidding. The appearance of the legitimising DENO PAS record at the last minute (at a weekend, just four days before the sale) helped the auctioneer out and the piece subsequently raised a price substantially above the estimate of £6,000 - £8,000. The item sold for £55,000.

 In February and March 2021, I covered this controversial auction, and events leading up to it, as well as a number of the implications in twelve posts on my blog: . [See also Andy Brockman’s critical piece]

Despite my best efforts to elucidate the situation, there are several things that are unclear. I was hoping that the Museum could answer a few questions.

At the time of the auction, I attempted to obtain information from the person apparently most directly involved, the DENO PAS FLO (Megan King) who curtly fobbed me off and referred me to Michael Lewis in Bloomsbury, who seemed (not surprisingly) not to know what had been happening in Derbyshire. Your Museum’s FLO did not reply to my second letter seeking information. Two months have passed with no reply and now I have to finish my text, so I would therefore be grateful if another member of the Museums’ staff could clarify the following issues.

1)      Why was only this archaeological object recorded by the DENO PAS from the Hanson’s Historica 2 sale of 25 February 2021? There were other items of the same date and importance that were ignored.

2)      Was DENO FLO approached by the finder to get this recorded?

3)      Was DENO FLO approached by the seller to get this recorded? If so, how then was contact made with the finder?

4)      What was the involvement of Julia Farley of the British Museum in the record being made? Did she contact Michelle Ray, the recorder?

5)      Why was the DENO PAS record made by Michelle Ray who had until that time only created nine records on the PAS database? Does she have any expertise in this area? I cannot find any archaeological publications under her name.

6)      Under whose supervision was this done, the DENO FLO or Michael Lewis?

7)      Does/did Michelle Ray have independent access to make unsupervised entries on the PAS database?

8)      Is there any connection between the timing of the price-boosting DENO PAS record of this item and the charity auction that Mr Hanson had earlier organised for Derby Museums fundraising []? Note article published on the same day as this controversial auction of archaeological objects.

9)      Why is the DENO PAS record, instead of being a first-hand description by the recorder, based almost entirely on copying out, pretty much verbatim, the text (probably by metal detectorist Adam Staples) of the auction catalogue and using photos that are the same as those in possession of the auctioneer? The DENO record says the find was “returned to the finder” when in fact it was already in Hansons’ saleroom.

10)    Did Michelle Ray actually meet the finder? How and where? If not, how were the circumstances of finding of the object verified?

11)    Did Michelle Ray have the object in her hands when she made this record?

12)    Why, when the object was reportedly found in Buckinghamshire, was the matter of making a PAS record (including reportedly talking to the finder), not referred to them? Why did it have to be created in Derby?

13)    Does your Museum have a formalised policy concerning interaction with and involvement in the commercial trading in archaeological artefacts by companies such as Hanson’s? If so, was what happened here in line with existing museum policy on that subject?

Sorry for any inconvenience in this busy time as UK lockdown eases, but thank you in anticipation for your cooperation.


Paul Barford


Brian Mattick said...

So what has been the upshot of this?

Paul Barford said...

Actually, rather unsatisfactory. The questions remain unanswered. Not even an acknowledgement of receipt. The Museum seems to think that answering such questions are beneath their dignity, and they are not in any way morally obliged to be in any way accountable for their dealings with the antiquities trade.

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.