Friday, 5 August 2022

Catawiki Seller Changes his Tune: The Seven Points of Licit Antiquities and Responsible Collecting


     Austro-Dutch Smoke and Mirrors        

The Dutch company Catawiki profits from selling off collectables, including artefacts ripped from the archaeological record. The way this is done has been commented a number of times on this blog. The sales go on... like this oddly-labelled item sold yesterday: "No. 60730115 Ancient Roman Silver Extremely Rare Massive Legionary ''Knee'' Fibula- 29,5g. or 10 Silver Denarii-Legions Monthly Salary" ( "Purchased by the current owner in 2015 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1970's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki"). But look at the sidebar where it says:
The seller guarantees and can prove that the object was obtained legally. The seller was informed by Catawiki that they had to provide the documentation required by the laws and regulations in their country of residence. The seller guarantees and is entitled to sell/export this object. The seller will provide all provenance information known about the object to the buyer. The seller ensures that any necessary permits are/will be arranged. The seller will inform the buyer immediately about any delays in obtaining such permits".
Now look at the photos. They avoid actually showing the structure of the spring mechanism of this brooch, but enough of the tooling to show it has been very inexpertly cleaned... the fourth photo is of an official "certificate" of some kind. This very clearly shows what complete morons this seller takes his clients for. Look at it more carefully.

The questions involved in buying licit antiquities are:
1) In which country (ie under which legislation) was this object dug up (how is that documented) or is that information being suppressed?

2) Was this object legally excavated, when, where and under what circumstances (how is that documented) or was it looted?

3) Did the person who put it on the market in the source country acquire legal title that was passed to the first buyer (how is that documented) or was it placed on the market without any process to establish legality?

4) Is there a paper trail confirming legal origins and legal transfer of ownership and its date (what does it consist of)?

5) If the object is now being sold outside the source country (see point one) can the seller show when and how that took place and that proper export procedure for that source country was followed (how is that documented) or was the object smuggled?

6) Can the person handling the object in the market country demonstrate (with what documentation) that they are not handling illicitly-obtained objects stolen from the source country [where such country mandates state ownership of resources such as archaeological material] and not the product of trafficking/smuggling?

7) Can the destination of the funds generated by commerce in this artefact be demonstrated and established (not merely assumed) not to be an organized criminal gang, extremist political group etc ?
Now look at the nonsense of a declaration Catawiki supplies. The first group of fields establish nothing. The second ("Provenance (sic) Informatioon") that this artefact was bought in Vienna in 2015 from a "private". Private could mean anything. Mafia men, drug dealers and human traffickers are very private too - as are right-wing politicians that sell antiquities, no doubt. In 2014 and 2015 there was a lot of looting of Roman sites going on in several countries of central Europe and the Balkans, probably very many antiquities coming onto the market from these, so how does this declaration help show that Mr (or Ms) Private was not in Vienna trafficking them?

The third block of fields... ("Previous ownership history"). Woah. Having been told that the provenance (origin) of the object is dated to "2015 in Vienna" we now learn that since then it has been in a private collection ("Old Austrian private collection D") since the 1970s (!). Eh? It seems the seller is muddled. What they want to say is that the object has no known provenance (uh-oh) but that it was in a collection "in the 1970s". What does that mean? 1970/71? 1978/9/80? And it was in that "Old Austrian private collection D" (what does that even mean?) for at least 36 years before it was sold by a "private" (so is that "D" or somebody else?) to "somebody" who had it another seven years, somewhere before the catawiki seller gets it. Or is the catawiki seller that anonymous hidden someone? I think this seller has simply not grasped the basic concept of "ownership history" and "paper trail". Nothing in their declaration makes any sense and certainly contributes zero information to work out whether that piece can be shown as licit. But look at the next bit: "documents that corroborate this ownership OR provenance" (should be AND)... a Cerificate of Authenticity that will be supplied "on request". Just think about that a second, they acquired somehow somewhere an antiquity that has one of these famous "Antiquities dealer's Certificate of Authenticity".. and though they sell the artefact, they'd prefer to hang on to the COA. Why? A souvenir? Surely this should pass automatically (no?) to the new owner as part of the corroborating documentation THEY will need when they in turn try to sell the antiquity. It is difficuult not to suspect that this COA in fact is one that does not yet exist, and will be created (like this pathetically inadequate declaration) by the Catawiki dealer. Is that the case? Note they do not say anything about whose COA that is and when it was issued (1970s? 2015? Another time?).

Note the three "seller ensures" tickboxes. Weasel wording alert. Seller ensures any necessary permits are arranged. Necesary is an export licence if that item was exported from specific countries (the UK to Vienna for example). Has the seller got that? If they have why is it not listed? And look at the first one, the seller ensures the "seller has familiarised himself that (sic) in line with the laws and regulations in his own country it is allowed to export this object". Regardless of whether or not it got theere by trafficking, he means.

It seems to me that both Catawiki and this Catawiki seller have got themselves in a right mess. Basically, the latter seems to have acquired an artefact that cannot be documented in any way to answer the seven criteria of considering an artefact licit. In fact, not a single one of them. I am sure if confronted they'd start whining how difficult they find it with the business contacts they have at the moment to get artefacts with paperwork. That of course raises questions (point seven) who those business contacts are in fact in contact with? I would say that a dealer that connot establish the contacts with suppliers who can provide demonstrably kosher artefacts with the proper paper trail and verifiable back stories, they should not be in the antiquities business. All they are doing is bringing the whole trade into DISrepute.

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