Monday, 28 March 2022

The Journalist, the Customs Official and the Dodgy Antiquities (part 2)

Continued from Part 1. Having failed to send the artefacts a first time, the journalist announced they were going to have a second go, and that this time, I'd get the artefacts. In the meantime I managed to persuade them to make a set of as high resolution photos in daylight as possible with their phone. I do not know whether what I received were made in daylight, they were rather muddy. I should have thought and asked them to put a scale in, a ruler would have done. But I got about seven photos from different angles for each object At least we sorted out what had been in the packet and what lay behind those mysterious designations. The reference to “plastic” was that one seal was accompanied by a dealer’s impression in some material. If one played with the colour and contrast of what I received, I felt I could get a fair idea what the items were. There were three seal matrices (two scarabs) that had not been photographed from the sides enough for me to envisage their three-dimensional shape, so I asked for a video – “sure thing, tomorrow” was what I heard in response.

Nothing came, no videos, no package. I sent a polite reminder about the videos and an enquiry about when the package was due, after all, if I was to film myself looking at them, I’d need to tidy my desk (!) and set some time aside. But there was a mysterious silence on both counts. Meanwhile, the date of production of the video was inexorably approaching.

So, after waiting three weeks for information that the package had been sent (in the course of which War broke out next door to Poland), I decided to marshal my thoughts. I set aside a day to examine the photos and to look up the comparanda and think about it all. The results were thought provoking. The first item was an “Amlash” ring that the first photos had led me to think was a fake (because in the dealer’s own catalogue photo and another I had earlier received, the corrosion looked like chemical patina). The new photos showed that there was no reason not to see that corrosion as that of a dugup artefact. I concluded that (though I am not happy with the designation as “Amlash” – a made-up category) that when I had it in my hand, I’d decide it was most likely going to be a dugup without any paperwork. The next metal item was misdescribed by the seller and I decided had chemical patina, so the lack of paperwork is no surprise. The next three items were bits of Roman metalwork (Roman plate brooches in the form of cute animals) that had been sold as a lot, two seemed to be fake, and one a dugup. Two items in this lot were western European in style, one was Pannonian in type. None had any paperwork. The sixth item was a scrappy late Period shabti of pretty non-descript form and no paperwork. From the material I had, I was not sure whether it would turn out to be real or fake (but my bet was on the latter, the faience did not look very faiency). Then there was the intaglio chalcedony seal matrix with “figures”, no paperwork (and that impression). Whoah. What it had was a really crappy attempt at Egyptian hieroglyphics, and inscription that said nothing, involved non-existent hieroglyphic signs and had to my eye been cut with a high-speed rotary cutting disc (like a Dremel). Similar things are turned out in Thailand. Yuk. Sold as authentic by a well-known UK dealer, possibly with eyesight problems. Then there were two scarabs. There is an overseas dealer out there that puzzles me, has been selling for a number of years now lots of coins and all sorts of little MENA things that to my eye looked entirely convincing and it is odd that they have access to so much. None of them have a provenance. But these two recently purchased ones are to my eye definitely pretty bad and obvious fakes and with that in mind, looking over this dealer’s current offerings raises a lot of questions about what in fact we are looking at. Has the source of their supply run out? Interestingly, this dealer seems to have buyers’ trust still, despite that (and the lack of paperwork for their goods).

So, I wrote all that up longhand with an ‘executive summary’ and the proviso that when I received the videos and the artefacts I’d be able to say more and with more confidence. I sent it with a question when the package will be here.

That was 6th March. The journalist did not do the courtesy of replying to that email and attachment, not to the one when I re-sent it a while later (15th March). A ‘thank you’ for all that work would have been nice.

So basically, after this experience I have had it with journalists.  You waste a lot of time, generally get misquoted, and occasionally, you can end up potentially out of pocket and even in hot water through trusting people like this to be professional, know what they are doing and how it will affect those who agree to volunteer time and expertise to collaborate with them so they have material. 

[And it's not even the case that I've got my hands on some informative paperwork for all my efforts, as its legal status is far from clear to me in the circumstances].  

Vignette: The Thesaurus has a word for it.

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