Skip to main content

Lord Renfrew calls for transparency

The sale of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet for £2.2 million ($3.6 million) has started to raise some uncomfortable questions. It is now clear if the helmet was found by "a young guy" (Georgiana Aitken of Christie's) or "an unnamed father and son" from Peterlee County Durham (The Independent). Dr Roger Bland of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has talked about "the real gap" in The Treasure Act (1996). (Indeed the real issue is the term used for the act.)

A month ago Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn called a review of The Treasure Act in a letter to The Times (London).

On October 20, 2010 Lord Renfrew tabled a written question:
To Ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will review the definition of "treasure" so that major heritage discoveries, such as the Roman parade helmet found at Crosby Garrett and recently sold by public auction, should fall within the scope of the Treasure Act.[HL2515]

Baroness Rawlings (the President of the British Antique Dealers' Association [BADA]) presented a written reply:
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport plans to review the Treasure Act Code of Practice and this will include the definition of Treasure contained in the Treasure Act 1996. This review will take the form of a public consultation and so will provide the opportunity to consider whether it would be appropriate to extend the definition of treasure to include items such as the Roman parade helmet found at Crosby Garrett.

Lord Renfrew has now returned to the theme in the House of Lords by asking the question (November 11, 2010):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the definition of “treasure” in the Treasure Act 1996 in the light of the sale at auction of the Roman parade helmet recently found in Cumbria for £2 million.

Baroness Rawlings reminded Lord Renfrew of her written reply. In response Lord Renfrew noted:
It is strange that a national treasure can be sold at public auction by an anonymous vendor to an anonymous buyer.
But he then added a question that must cause concern for those dealing in antiquities within the United Kingdom:
will the Government consider reviewing the law on antiquities at sale by auction in favour of some transparency?
Transparency would mean auction houses and galleries providing full details of collecting histories and vendors.

Lord Redesdale returned to the issue of the Crosby Garrett helmet:
My Lords, are moves afoot to look at the practices of the auction houses, given that this helmet was found in many pieces and an enormous amount of archaeological information was lost when conservators put the pieces back together without consulting archaeologists? Is that a practice that auction houses should undertake, given that loss of information on a very rare artefact? Are the Government looking at sales of antiquities through internet sites such as eBay? That is becoming a real source of worry, as much of our heritage is disappearing abroad without any record whatever.
The restorer's report on the helmet is indeed enlightening and I am very grateful to Georgiana Aitken of Christie's for sending me a copy. There is indeed real concern that such an unusual object - could we use the term 'national treasure'? - was not put in the hands of an archaeological conservator.

But Lord Redesdale also raises the issue about eBay. He appears to be suggesting that archaeological material from the United Kingdom is slipping abroad. Are these just chance finds? Or are there those who make a deliberate search for archaeological material? And are all these items recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme? How much material goes unrecorded?

Baroness Rawlings responded by talking about 'provenance' (or more accuratley 'collecting histories'):
It is in the interests of both auctioneers and dealers to check that the provenance of items is acceptable to reduce any risk of prosecution for handling stolen goods or dealing in tainted or mended goods.
This brings us back to Lord Renfrew's point for the need of greater transparnechy in the market and the full disclousre of documented collecting histories when archaeological material is offered for sale on the market.

The sale of the Crosby Garrett helmet may well be seen as a turning-point in the debate over the market in archaeological material.


Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Dorothy King said…
I agree - transparency is very important

But I'd also like to see some transparency from academics too, and wonder if perhaps, those that collected antiquities in the past, should come clean about their own collections?
Also, how about some public "shame sheets" for archaeologists who excavate, but never get around to publishing material, and for that matter, what about some transparency concerning the condition of artifacts in archaeological storehouses. Archaeologists want all this transparency concerning private collectors, but never talk about archaeology's dirty little secrets.
David Gill said…
Peter
I was doing this topic with my postgraduate students today as part of their professional responsibilities.
Dorothy King said…
Most archaeologsts do publish their finds - it's publish or perish in academia. It's easy to complain about those that don't but they are a very small percentage

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…