Wednesday 27 September 2023

British Museum: It is Worse than we Thought

It is worse than we thought: Paul Glynn ( Entertainment reporter), 'British Museum asks public and experts to help recover stolen artefacts' BBC 26.09.2023.
The British Museum has asked the public to help identify and recover ancient artefacts that have gone missing from its collection. Last month a member of staff was sacked and police launched an investigation after around 2,000 treasures were reported "missing, stolen or damaged" over a "significant" period of time. The museum has now said most are Greek and Roman gems and jewellery, and shared pictures of similar items. Sixty objects have been returned. In a statement, the museum added that 300 more had been "identified and [are] due to be returned imminently". In an attempt to recover the rest, it has put details and images of the types of objects that are missing on its website. "If you are concerned that you may be, or have been, in possession of items from the British Museum, or if you have any other information that may help us, please contact us," the website said.
(recte: says). Oh, so there are reasons why they cannot actually find in their archives the photos of the actual items that were in the collection and now are not? They can only show you the "types". We are furthermore told that "as well as classical Greek and Roman gems, there are rings, earrings and other pieces of jewellery - some dating back to the Late Bronze Age". 

So if my sister had bought for 843 GBP an ancient Greek earring from a London-based dealer who swore ("nudge-nudge-wink-wink") that it was from "an Old European collection by descent", she's supposed to wonder if hers is one of the BM ones, and contact the Museum and ask them if they are interested in looking at it? And then if the BM says "yes, it is one of ours stolen in 2017 - you have to give it back"... what recourse does my sister have? Does she get her money back? Or does she have then to spend money getting a lawyer and suing the dealer - who may well contest it and ask my sister to prove it (at which point my sister discovers that the BM does not actually have watertight records identifying this, precise, earring as the precise one that went missing from their collection at a time they cannot precisely define)?  
The museum also said it would work alongside an international panel of experts to identify and recover the items, and had placed them on the Art Loss Register. James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries at the Art Loss Register, said the museum had "carefully balanced the need to provide information to the public to assist the recovery efforts with the fact that providing too much detail risks playing into the hands of those who might act in bad faith".
Ahhh... so that's why. Of course the Museum and ALR are ignoring the fact that there may be dealers out there who are honest and acting in good faith, and might themselves (for their reputation) prefer to find out about and weed out stolen items from their stockroom if they have them. Which group is bigger? Because it seems to me that this decision is prejudiced agianst the needs of the latter group - and therefore the general public.

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