Friday 22 April 2022

"Dear Seller..." [Updated]

The reason why this blog is not monetised is that instead of save-the-planet products, The Internet Gods would stuff it with antiquities for sale adverts by a whole load of shady people selling dodgy stuff. I try to keep popups away from anything I am reading, but... and among the ones that do get through are antiquities (let me put that in invertaed commas: "antiquities"). For a long while a persistent culprit was Artemission (ugh) and now somebody else has started to annoy me by their intrusive crap.

As far as I am concerned, the Internet is here for everybody to share information, views and opinions (for good or bad). Today it seems to be being seen by a lot of people merely as a marketplace, a place to advertise stuff they want to sell, and persuade you that you really, really "want to buy". OK, but then they should be aware that by posting up their stuff openly for assessment they are exposiong it to assessment not only of the people that want to buy 'cool antiquities', but also people that actually know something about what dugup antiquities do and do not look like, and people that see the trend towards trashing sites to dig them up for saleble collectables as a highly negative phenomenon, and one that needs to be actively challenged. So here I am, falling into the last two groups, with a blog on the very same internet to boot, and some numpty is posting their goods on a site that thrusts pictures and details (I use the term loosely, see below) right in my face. I tried to ignore it the first few times... then I looked for the "make this stop" button to click on, found none. So thought I'd take a closer look. So somehow a site called "1st Dibs" has got me on its "send stuff to" list. Maybe its the Twitter handle (portantmatters - "portable antiquities matters - important", get it?) maybe the blog name, maybe some old searches activated some cookies, but several times a day, I keep getting this cute "cat-headed pot" thrust into my face somewhere in a news item I am reading about the Ukrainian War. So in the end, I clicked...

The problem for numpty anonymous seller with their stuff plastered all over the internet is they DO NOT OWN the internet, and since they are not controlling who gets to see their stuff, neither can they claim any right to be able to control what is thought and said about it. I am not going to buy this thing, I am not interested in whether Bob the Replacement Window Salesman from Ohio buys it or not, so I offer no commercial advice, but I do think that as somebody involved in discussions of the antiquities market I can (and indeed, from some point of view, should) say what I honestly think about it.

So (warning, I cannot guarantee you'll not subsequently get amusing little 1stDibs popups too) click here, and if Bob's not snapped it up, you'll see a picture of a "Pre-Columbian Pottery Vessel with Cat Heads" and seven more pictures and the purchase price of €1,030.22. for what is being marketed as a dug-up antiquity (most likely from a tomb) exported from Mexico.

Clicking on 'more details' (below 'purchase') gives more information:
"Presenting a lovely piece of Native American antiquity, namely, a Pre-Columbian pottery vessel with cat heads. From circa 13th-14th century and probably made by the Mayan’s (sic) in the Mexico area. The bowl is very simplistic in form and shape with a baluster shape with narrow rim and opening. It has the most glorious pair of cat’s heads on the sides. It sits on 4 pointed feet. In great condition for it’s (sic) age. Some minor nibbling, especially on the rim. One foot repaired.

Dimensions  Height: 5.25 in. (13.34 cm) Width: 9.5 in. (24.13 cm) Depth: 6 in. (15.24 cm)

Style  Pre-Columbian (Of the Period)

Materials and Techniques Pottery, Hand-Crafted

Place of Origin  Mexico

Period  15th Century and Earlier,  Date of Manufacture 1400

Condition Good Repaired: One leg/foot repaired. Wear consistent with age and use. Minor losses. Good original condition. Some minor losses to rim with age and one foot repaired.

€65.86 Standard Parcel Shipping Delivered by a parcel delivery service such as UPS, FedEx, or DHL. to Poland 03-287, arrives in 8-17 days. We recommend this shipping type based on item size, type and fragility. View Options Customs Duties and Taxes May Apply."
You'll see that the seller has "other items", is a "platinum" 1stDibs seller and... that's it. No name is given, no indication of their expertise in assessing Postclassic Maya pottery. They say it is "Precolumbian", one assumes that they mean that was made, used and buried before "Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue". Nothing else. in fact there is a question her whether they mean (made in pre-Columbian times" or "made in pre-Columbian style". There is a difference and that imprecise term without any explanation is ambiguous. No collection history, nothing. Just the bold description. But the latter is not even that. It is an interpretation, not backed up by any supporting evidence. I myself would say if the seller has a cat that looks like that, they should take the animal to a vet straight away, not least to get a second opinion. The animal depicted is a canid, most probably a coyote (whose range today is Central and North America). The vessel itself is not "baluster-shape", and our 1stDibs platinum seller art connoisseur cannot spell "Maya", "baluster" or "its". Nevertheless, taking advantage of the fact that the seller proclaims helpfully that [instead of being there to make a profit by selling cultural objects] "I'm here to help! You can ask me about additional images, more detailed dimensions, best price, condition details, or shipping information", I thought I would check what information was available from Texas, though I am not so much interested in "dimensions" or "best price", but the things that should be being said here:
Dear anonymous antiquities seller, For some reason, and despite me never clicking on anything to say I actually want to view such content, 1stDibs is pushing images of this vessel as an intrusive and annoying popup onto websites I view. It has done it so many times I am intrigued and tried to look at it. But I find so few relevant details - like who the "seller" actually is and on what they base the identification (culture, age, origins?). Why specifically "cats"? Is there any collection history and paperwork (excavation permit, official export papers) that you can let the buyer have? I am a bit disturbed by the fact that the images are not zoomable, and hardly comprise the basis for a prospective buyer to actually judge what they are getting. At the scale visible some of the "manganese deposits" supposed to confirm burial look like circular inkspots. Could you comment on that? As a seller do you find that using a venue that operates through intrusive unsolicited advertising like this benefits your business? Do you have a contact address please? Thank you. Paul Barford
Watch this space for any answer the author of this blog gets about the export documentation and  apparent inkspots (for the latter see the post below).

UPDATE 23.04.2022
The blurb says "typically replies within an hour". So it must be atypical that a day later, even allowing for timezone differences, I still have received no reply. Perhaps they are still trying to find the paperwork I asked about to send me a scan to prove that all is kosher with this item. But on the inbox where the reply should appear, there's a little dropdown thingy that tells us that the dealer's name is: "Rockwell Antiques" and there's quite a bit about them in the internet, they are based in the Dallas Design District, Dallas, TX 75207. Here's the website and proclaims "French, European, British and Asian Antiques a speciality", but not dugup pre-Columbian artefcts, I guess.

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